Writers in the Storm

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December 2, 2020

7 MORE Plot Structures for Pantsers

by John Peragine

Last month, I shared seven plot strategies, and received many responses that people had not heard of a number of them. With the beginning of the year fast approaching, many of you will be ready to start your new book for 2021. Here are seven more structures to choose from. There are many more out there, but these seven are a good place to start.

1. Dan Harmon’s Story Circle

Dan Harmon the creator of the television show Community. He has developed a method that is sometimes known as  ‘The Embryo,’ ‘The Dan Harmon Story Circle,’ or just ‘The Story Circle.’  For more information check out this link. It is a variation of the hero’s journey.

  1. A character is in a zone of comfort,
  2. But they want something.
  3. They enter an unfamiliar situation,
  4. Adapt to it,
  5. Get what they wanted,
  6. Pay a heavy price for it,
  7. Then return to their familiar situation,
  8. Having changed.

2. Gwen Hayes Romancing the Beat

This is a great structure for romance novels. If you want a head start, here is a link to a free template for Scrivener that is detailed.

  1. Introduce H1
  2. Introduce H2
  3. Meet Cute
  4. No Way 1
  5. Adhesion
  6. No Way 2
  7. Inkling of Desire
  8. Deepening Desire
  9. Maybe This Could Work
  10. Midpoint of Love
  11. Inkling of Doubt
  12. Deepening Doubt
  13. Retreat Beat
  14. Shields Up
  15. Break Up
  16. Dark Night
  17. Wake Up
  18. Grand gesture
  19. What Whole Hearted Looks Like
  20. Epilogue


  1. Phase 1: Set Up
  2. Phase 2: Falling in Love
  3. Phase 3: Retreating From Love
  4. Phase 4: Fighting for Love

3. Shonen Battle Manga Formula

Manga is very popular these days and here is a formula to help you write most any plot within this genre. Here is a link to explanations and variations to the Shonen Battle plot.

  1. Getting motivated
  2. It's easy!
  3. Maybe it's not so easy
  4. A whole new world
  5. A new path
  6. The long road
  7. Rising competition
  8. Social advancement
  9. Eye of the tiger
  10. Towards the future
  11. Story Arcs

4. Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method

This is a great method when you are started with a kernel of an idea and want to build a plot from it. It works with most genres. Here is a good explanation of the Snowflake method.

  1. First Disaster
  2. Second Disaster
  3. Third Disaster

5. Libbie Hawkers’ Take off Your Pants Method

This can be found in Libby’s book of the same name. It begins with a character flaw and adds to it to make the core of your story. Here is a great outline you can use to begin.

  1. Opening Scene
  2. Inciting Event
  3. Character realizes goal
  4. Display of flaw
  5. Drive for goal
  6. Antagonist revealed
  7. Goal thwarted
  8. Revisiting flaw
  9. Repeat the cycle
  10. Ally aids
  11. Girding the loins
  12. Battle
  13. Death (of character flaw)
  14. Outcome (new world)

6. Victor Piñeiro Screenplay Structure

Victor Piñeiro uses a three-act structure to create screenplays. Here is a Slideshare that explains the structure and elements of his structure.

  1. A Day In the Life
  2. The Spark
  3. Do I Stay or Do I Go?
  4. Into the New World
  5. What is Love?
  6. Melt Their Faces Off
  7. Crossing the Rubicon
  8. False Victory
  9. Long Journey Into Night
  10. Rock Bottom
  11. From the Ashes
  12. Time to Kick Ass

7. W Plot by Kenneth Atchity

This is another three-act structure that is made up of five points. When plotted on a graph, they look like the letter ‘W’. Check it out here.

  1. Trigger Event
  2. 1st Turning Point
  3. 2nd Triggering Event
  4. 2nd Turning Point
  5. Resolution

Final Thoughts

The great thing about these plot structures is that they are tried and true but, at the same, flexible. You can use these structures to get your story started and then add your own twists and turns as your narrative calls for. These structures are supposed to be supportive rather than confining, so use them any way they make sense to you.

What is your favorite plot structure? Which ones, of the seven that I mentioned, have you tried?

* * * * * *

About John

John Peragine has published 14 books and ghostwritten more than 100 others. He is a contributor for HuffPost, Reuters, and The Today Show. He covered the John Edwards trial exclusively for Bloomberg News and The New York Times. He has written for Wine EnthusiastGrapevine Magazine, Realtor.com, WineMaker magazine, and Writer's Digest.

John began writing professionally in 2007, after working 13 years in social work and as the piccolo player for the Western Piedmont Symphony for over 25 years. Peragine is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. You can learn more about his books at JohnPeragineBooks.com

His newest book, Max and the Spice Thieves, will be released on April 20, 2021. Click here for a free first chapter. (The new cover is below!)

17 comments on “7 MORE Plot Structures for Pantsers”

    1. I like taking stories I have already written and try to see if they plot out- sort of reverse engineering.

  1. I just hit 'the end' of my draft. I'll go back over it on my editing pass and see if I hit any of these structures. I kind of follow the 'throw bad stuff at the characters' system, and then resolve it all by the end.

    1. Terry- I get that--- in my mind I am just watching the action and then transcribing it- it's like a movie and I get excited by the twists and turns as they happen.

    1. I tend to lean toward Hero's Journey- it is the embedded LOTR reading as a kid I guess. I read them over and over. It's sometimes hard to watch movies with others because I am predicting what is going to happen next based on that structure. It is used A LOT in epic cinema over many different genres. This holiday season I have seen commercials actually playing on the Romance Plot structure- https://www.facebook.com/LumeDeodorant/videos/291301642146699/ It is worth a watch- it is brilliant.

  2. Love these pithy little summaries, John--so helpful! And I really love how they illustrate that there's no one "right answer"; I don't believe in writing "rules" or dogma, and this illustrates how many roads can lead us to where we're going in story. I shared your last post in my editorial newsletter and will share this one too.

    1. Thank you so much Tiffany. I hope in the new year to share other resources and tools for writers that are practical and easy to use.

  3. Wow! Love some of these story structures. I write romance and see that I basically follow Gwen Hayes structure for romance beats, interweaving those through the Hero's Journey for my fantasy romance. Hayes structure is similar to Jami Gold's Romance Beat Sheets. She has an excellent chart that shows where approx in the story the beats should hit. You can enter your own word count and see where you stand. Here's her link https://jamigold.com/for-writers/worksheets-for-writers/

    1. Thanks for sharing that Barb- I did mention Jami Gold's Romance beats in last months post- but this tool is brilliant. Thank you for sharing!!

  4. I probably run closest to the W method. I can't write a story in a linear fashion so I've learned to just write all the scenes I know and then apply a combination of 3-act structure and the W model to smooth everything out. If I had to tick all these beats out beginning to end on the first run, I'd never finish anything!

  5. The Gwen Hayes Structure is along the lines of what I do. I also have some craft books which have similar structures.

    Thank you.

  6. Working backwards, the novel I'm currently querying falls in the W plot strategy, the one I'm currently editing would fall in the Dan Harmon strategy. As a pantser it's super interesting that there was somewhat of a methodology behind both --Thank you!

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