The 8 C’s of Plotting: Preparation and Problems

This is Part 5 of The 8 C’s of Plotting. Read parts onetwo, and three first, if you please. Click here for the whole series on the 8 C’s. Click the image below to be taken to the General Fiction Feed.

I’m back! This week has been a bit crazy, but here’s Preparation and Problems for you, which is usually the longest section of the book.

After the Complication (C3), the action has started and the adventure has begun. (Or the lovers meet, or the protagonist begins a journey of self awareness. I’m going to go with adventure stories as examples because I know them best.)

Preparation and Problems

This is generally the longest segment of the narrative, when the protagonist makes friends and enemies and learns new skills. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone, for my friends across the pond that got the original HP series), this is where Harry meets Ron, becomes friends with Hermione, is pitted against Snape and Draco, plays Quidditch, plays chess, etc.

If there’s a skill you protagonist needs to know, or if your protagonist needs a certain tool or ally in order to WIN THE STUFF,* then he or she will acquire that during this section.

*You know, defeat the bad guy, get the girl, that sort of thing.

You can throw in some backstory here if you want, or you can be like William Goldman and wait to add all the backstory for secondary characters (Inigo, Fezzik) until the Gloom section. (We’ll get to that next week.)

The Preparation and Problems is also where the Protagonist’s problems will intensify. Think of it as a two steps forward, one step back movement. Those “step backs” are setbacks or confrontations with the/an antagonist. Don’t let your reader forget the antagonist and what is at stake for the protagonist!

Let’s review the Preparation and Problems for The Lion King and The Hunger Games.

In The Lion King, Simba meets Timon and Pumbaa, he learns Hakuna Matata and grows up into a big strong lion. This is upward movement.

Don’t get too comfy—The camera shoots back to Pride Rock to remind us that there’s still a problem Simba’s going to have to face. This is the first Pinch Point. Highlight between the brackets to see the text, which may contain spoilers: [Zazu and even the Hyenas aren’t happy with the way Scar runs things.].

Here’s what Larry Brooks has to say about Pinch Points:

pinch point allows the antagonistic force of the story roaring onto center stage to announce itself and remind us of its dark intentions and inherent threat to the hero’s quest.  To stick it right into our face so that we may fear and [loathe] that which the hero fears and [loathes].

…Every story has a hero.  Every hero has a journey, a quest, a problem to solve, a need to fulfill.  There are obstacles in the way of that quest, often (usually) embodied in the character of an antagonist, or the bad guy.  A pinch point is when the primary opposition to the hero’s quest comes front and center in the story, showing itself to the hero and to us.

…If the hero is being chased by a bear, the bear will show up at the pinch point.  If the story is about an airplane crashing, something that reminds us we’re about to crash will show up at the pinch point.  If the story is about trying to win back lost love, the pinch point is when the departed lover turns up in the arms of another.

—From “The Help” – Isolating and Understanding the First “Pinch Point”

Then there’s the stargazing scene. Simba thinks about his dad, Rafiki has a realization, and Nala shows up. Can You Feel the Love Tonight?

Now, when I first plotted out The Lion King, I put the love ballad in the slot for “Elation.” Except it isn’t. Nala showing up isn’t the real confrontation. She’s more of a set back in Simba’s plan to forget his past. The real confrontation? We’ll get to that next time.

In The Hunger Games, [The Games begin. Katniss nearly dies of thirst (1), she dodges fireballs and gets burnt (2), she takes refuge in a tree and Haymitch sends her ointment for her burn].

You’ll see that there are two big problems that Katniss has to overcome while trying to stay alive during the Hunger Games. The second one is the pinch point—it’s when we are reminded that The Capitol controls the games. In the movie, the Gamemakers get their own scene.

When you have a pinch point—and there are at least two—you have a choice. You can either have another character remind the protagonist about it (Nala telling Simba what is going on at Pride Rock), or you can actually show it, unfiltered by the protagonist’s eyes (A scene devoted to Scar, showing him doing mean, awful things). The latter is more powerful because the reader will experience it for him or herself.

Depending on the length of your book, I’d shoot for two pinch points BEFORE the Confrontation. One can be direct, and one can be indirect. The rest of the time, you can move the plot along by throwing in other obstacles, like general problems or minor antagonists.

Next time we will be talking about the Confrontation, Elation, and Collapse, and we will relate them to the 3-Act Structure’s Midpoint. I can’t make any promises, but I think I’ll publish another post about the 8 C’s before next Friday, since this post was late.Stay tuned, and Write Now!

The 8 C’s of Plotting: Worksheets


If you haven’t read Part One, the introduction to the 8 C’s, read it here!

Use these worksheets to:

  • plan out the main plot skeleton of a novel
  • reduce a complex novel into one, overarching plot
  • understand the main plot of your novel, all the better to pitch with
  • get an idea of what to put in your synopsis
  • recognize how virtually all movies and novels use a similar structure
    • (and how each modifies the structure to fit its own needs)
  • make your other writer friends jealous of how organized you are

Do not use these worksheets to:

  • make money publishing or reposting my work
  • create your own blog post on the 8 C’s without linking back here
  • make paper airplanes (unless you recycle, of course)

Continue reading

The 8 C’s of Plotting: Introduction

Fiction Posts

Plotting Methods

There are plenty of methods to plotting out a novel or script. You’re probably most familiar with Freytag’s Pyramid: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion. That’s the one I was taught in school. I’d always get confused about the climax, though. The “turning point” or the “point of no return” is how it has been described to me. But is the climax an emotional one, the point at which the protagonist is at his best or happiest? Is it the point at which the protagonist defeats the antagonist? Is it the point at which the protagonist has everything she needs to defeat the antagonist? Maybe I’m the only one who had this confusion.

The 3-Act structure is adhered to in virtually any screenplay.

There’s Donna MacMeans’ W-plot, which charts the emotional journey of the protagonist.

And recently I came across two plotting techniques by Jim Smith in The Writer’s Little Helper, the Tragedy vs. Triumph method and the Ten Scenes method. (If you can grab a copy of that book, buy it.)

Five different methods. And crazy me decided to combine them all into one MOTHER method. It’s called the 8 C’s to plotting, and I hope that it will help some of you writers out there. Today I’ll post the overview, next week I’ll give you printable worksheets, and the weeks following I’ll go into more depth with each C.

Plot Chart

The 8 C’s of Plotting: Overview

Think of the 8 C’s as less of a formula and more of a structure for building upon or adapting. The 8 C’s apply to the protagonist’s main storyline, not all of the other storylines, and though all eight usually occur in the same order, the length between them, and the extremity of them will vary among works. Still, I have found in my sampling of plots of novels and films that each has every one of the 8 C’s.

The horizontal line is a line of normalcy. An upwards direction denotes progress. Downward equals crisis.

Plot Chart: the beginning

Prologue—Optional content for the story either placed in the first chapter or (possibly skipped by the reader) in the “Prologue.”

(C1) Captivation—Whatever hooks the reader, making him or her want to keep reading. Occurs within first 5 pages.

Opening—Hint: Make the Status Quo interesting by giving the Hero rooting interests and an unfulfilled desire.

(C2) Change—The inciting incident that starts the story. Life will never be the same. Occurs in the first 10%.

Reaction—The Hero refuses to act or makes unsuccessful plans.

(C3) Complication/Campaign—This forces the hero to act or change plans. Ends Act One, usually 25%.

Preparation and Problems—The Hero learns skills and acquires both allies and enemies. Several small problems occur and are overcome. This is the longest stretch of the book and may include backstory.

Plot Chart: the middle

(C4) Confrontation—The Hero succeeds against the Antagonist in a small victory.

Elation—The moment of greatest confidence. The midpoint or turning point, at 50%, usually happens either in a moment of reflection here (an internal decision) or during the Collapse (an external impact).

(C5) Collapse—The hero receives a near-fatal blow and plunges into…

Gloom—It can’t get any worse than this (though sometimes it does).

(C6) Comprehension—The awakening. When all hope seems to be lost, the Hero learns new information, regains consciousness, or gets help from someone or -thing. Ends Act Two.

Action—The Hero gets up and fights back with new vigor.

(C7) Curveball—The Hero must overcome an unexpected obstacle.

Final Battle/Final Exam—The climactic scene: a final face-off between the Hero and antagonist, or when the Hero has to prove the theme or how much they’ve grown as a character.

(C8) Culmination—The climactic moment. The Hero defeats the antagonist victoriously. (In Tragedy, the Hero dies.)

Resolution—What happens after the climactic moment; the new normal. (Optional in short fiction, but expected in all fiction)

Epilogue—Extra information to satisfy curiosity about characters or tie up loose ends. (Optional)

Click here for Part 2 & a Printable Worksheet!

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