Dan Wells’ Seven-Point Story Structure

sevenpoint story

Because we’re talking about Dan Wells’s Partials this week, I thought it would be the perfect time to introduce you to one of the BEST story analysis tools EVER! This story analysis tool wasn’t exactly created by Dan, but he did make it his own and popularized it through a lecture you can watch here. (I do recommend watching his lecture, just keep in mind it’s an hour long.)

This tool is great because it helps you find a good skeleton of a story. It fits in perfectly with the most common story creation/analysis tool, The Three Act Structure (which will be covered in an upcoming post), and is a great framework to keep in mind when reading a book.

Just a note, the way Dan uses this structure to create a story is by working backwards. Keep in mind that he is teaching this method to writers, not to readers (although, they’re often one-in-the-same). (I won’t be running through it backwards, like him.)

According to Dan, every story must have at least these seven elements at its core:

The hook is what should motivate the reader to read past chapter one. The hook begins with the your characters in a state opposite of the resolution (which will be discussed later). This way they have a lot of space to grow and change for a nice, round character arch. Let’s use The Fellowship of the Ring as our example piece.

In the beginning of The Fellowship Frodo is surrounded by friends in his lovely, peaceful home in The Shire. He’s practically oblivious of the world and dangers around him, but yearns to be a part of an adventure like his uncle. (You’ll notice later how his physical state as well as his emotional state from hook to resolution are almost polar opposites.)

Plot Turn 1
Plot Turn 1, or the “call to adventure,” is the point at which the plot asks the character to become more than they are now. This is what starts them on the novel’s journey.

This is when Gandalf explains the power of the Ring to Frodo and tells him to get this out of here now! or everyone will be burned and die and evil will crawl across the face of the earth forever. No pressure.

Pinch 1
This is the first time that the character (or characters) is really put under pressure and has to stand on his own two feet. This is a stepping stone that will eventually begin a snowball of action, leading him hurdling toward the resolution at full force.

Soon after Frodo & Co. leave The Shire, they meet up with the dreaded Nazgûl at Amon Sûl and Frodo gets gutted (… in the shoulder…) by the Witch King of Angmar. Talk about applying pressure! The race begins and many characters must choose to trust each other and work as a team to save the Ring Bearer’s life.

The Midpoint is when the characters move from reaction to action. Without this change, the book your reading will be insanely boring because a character is supposed to drive the plot, not be driven by it.

It’s easy to see this Midpoint change is in The Fellowship of the Ring. When little Frodo stands up in the Council of Elrond and proclaims “I will take the ring!” his plans change from reaction:

“I gotta get rid of this thing because Gandalf told me to.”

to action:

“Someone’s got to defeat Sauron. Why not me?”

When characters become truly active, it adds tension and depth to the plot. It also gears up the audience to cheer/cry for the hero when they succeed/fail because the action itself makes them more compelling.

Pinch 2
Dan summarizes Pinch 2 like this: “The bad guy shows up, beats the crap out of batman, burns down his house, kills everyone he knows, and then goes and terrorizes the city.” Yep.

Pinch 2 is the lowest point for your character. Everything that can go wrong does and it looks like there is no hope. This forces a growth in the characters that brings them into who they will be at the end of the book, be this for better or worse.

The second pinch in The Lord of the Rings is when Gandalf goes down with the Balrog in Moria, causing devastation and grief to infect the fellowship like a plague. The loss of a mentor is an extremely common Pinch 2.

Plot Turn 2:
This is when the characters learn that last bit of information that they need to stop the bad guy, go crazy and kill their wives (Dangit Othello!), or simply finish the story.

This Plot Turn often takes the form of “You’re the One, Neo! The Power is in You!”

At the climax of The Fellowship, Boromir tries to take the Ring from Frodo, but Frodo evades him. He uses the power of the Ring to get away, but he’s not consumed by it the way Boromir is. This affirms that he’s the only one who can really finish this thing and take the ring all the way to the end (The power is in you!) which ends up forcing his resolution.

The resolution is exactly what you think it is. The end. When analyzing the resolution of a story, think “Where does the character end up? Does he get what they wanted? Something different, but better? Is he happy? Does he go crazy and murder his wife and then commit suicide?” (Okay, I’m officially done talking about Othello.)

The Fellowship ends with poor little Frodo leaving the company of his friends to take the ring to Mordor with only Sam for company. But Frodo doesn’t want to go to Mordor, all he wants is to be home and he’s afraid he’ll never be there again.

Final Overview
So, we’ve got all the parts of our Seven Point Structure. Let’s see how it looks:

As you study this table, you can see that it in no way encompasses every single piece of the story. To use the Seven Point structure to best effect, one list could be made for every separate story thread. For example, you’d have one structure encompassing the Main Plot, one encompassing two characters’ Romance Plot, and another for a side-plot thrown in along the way. You can line it up in order of events and see a clearer picture of the whole story.

This process, however, takes a while. (If you want to see what it looks like to line up several plot point, you’ll have to check out Dan’s presentation.) It’s fun to do, but really only useful (in my opinion) for learning to write good literature. For analyzing purposes a Seven-Point Structure for only the main plot is plenty.

Why Use the Seven Point Story Structure?
The Seven-Point allows you to easily pinpoint where you are in a story. It also causes you to think about how each small plot piece fits together to create a big picture and also about the growth of the character.

For instance, it was by plotting out The Hunger Games using this method that I learned why I never really liked Katniss Everdeen. Every plot point I logged was not Katniss doing something, but Katniss running from something or hiding from someone. For a game about children murdering each other, she’s pretty passive. I admire that she doesn’t want to kill, but the dialogue in her head suggests otherwise. I feel like it would have been a great conflict if she had killed someone and then had to spend the rest of the book dealing with the emotional consequences. But no, she sits in trees and runs from fires and hides in caves. Meh.

For a second example, when I plotted out The Lord of the Rings, I learned something about Tolkien’s story telling that I didn’t think about before. Most of the stories I read are about a character overcoming a problem, but in LOTR it’s different. Almost every conflict, it seems, isn’t solved by only one character. It’s solved by many. When things look dire (like when Frodo gets stabbed or, later in the series, the battle at Minus Tirith looks bleak) it’s not one character who rises to the challenge, it’s many. All the hobbits, Aragorn, and Glorfindel helped Frodo get to Rivendell so he could receive Elrond’s treatment. At the battle of Minus Tirith, when things look bleak, who should come to the rescue but Aragorn and his team of rangers. I think that’s one reason we love these stories so much. They feel big and wonderful because so many people are involved. So many people care about the fate of the world. And there is WAY more than one hero.

I really hope this wasn’t confusing. I know it was long. But it really is a great resource that I’ll be referencing a lot. Please do leave me feedback on this post with questions if you didn’t understand anything. I am planning on editing this post in any way I can to make this very confusing structure make sense in your mind. That’s how important I think it is. :)

9 Responses to Dan Wells’ Seven-Point Story Structure

  1. Bryan Kelly says:

    That was a great summary! And really valuable considering how time-consuming it can be to watch an hour lecture; a brief rundown like this actually gets a lot of the critical information across for someone to get a general idea of what the concept is, and how they can apply it. I know my feedback isn’t exactly the most valuable, as I have already seen the lecture, but it helped seeing it paired down and used for another story, and also helped remind of some of the details I’d become foggier on.

    As for any potential edits from my read-through, the only thing that stood out is you may want to add something to the “Resolution” section comparing it to the Hook and contrasting the two. When discussing the Hook you mentioned that this would be addressed later, but it never got fully fleshed out. One can see the differences if one looks, I just think pointing them out my help tie together that particular aspect of the plot structure.

    Overall though, I thought it was good. Really enjoyed the application of the structure to Lord of the Rings; well-chosen events for each part of the structure. Was that a story Dan used, or did you do that? I haven’t seen the lecture recently enough to remember. ;)

    • Abigail Endsley says:

      Thank you so much! I’ll put that on my list of writing schtuff to edit that resolution section. ;) Nope, I came up with the LOTR outline. The first time I wrote this post, I outlined three different stories (LOTR, Star Wars IV, and The Hunger Games), but that drug on WAAAAYYYYY too long… so I just stuck with the one I thought the reading community would be most familiar with. ;)

      • Bryan Kelly says:

        That’s a lot of words! Most impressive, but probably a wise cut. ;) And LotR is always a wise choice; it has a wide range of readership while also being a deep and defining piece of literature. Many things are one or the other. ;)

        One thing you could do to flesh the Seven Point Plot out a bit more is to outline a book with it whenever you do a review. (For example, including a small table at the end of your Partials review just outlining what you saw as the 7 points in that story.) Or you could choose a particular plot point from a given book for review, such as a particular character or relationship arc.

        • R Jazz Biel says:

          Haha– so right about “Many things are one or the other!”

          And yes, Abs, your reviews should totally outline into the 7-point structure– and define each character’s role. That would be so helpful for writers– constant analysis of all the story components, showing how they interact with the story result.

          • Abigail Endsley says:

            Yeah, I’ll definitely start outlining stories more. As I read less… thinky reads (;D) it’s becoming increasingly hard to get a good analysis of the book, but I think making a Seven-Point each time will help.

        • Abigail Endsley says:

          That could be fun! I love using the Seven Point and do so whenever I get the chance. :) I’m actually writing as story right now and wasn’t exactly sure where it was going SOOOO…. I wrote a 7-point for it. ;) Now I have a general direction to work toward and it really helps me stay on track.

          I’d like to do a post outlining, like ALL the subplots of a book with seven-point… it would take a long time though. :)

          • Bryan Kelly says:

            Cool! So how’s the story going? Think you’ll post some sort of linkage here when you’re done with it, or is it more of a personal project?

            Sounds ambitious. I think where I’d get stuck there is trying to decide what is and isn’t a subplot.
            “Well, they *did* mention pipeweed at least a dozen times, so there’s probably an arc in there somewhere…”

            • Abigail Endsley says:

              Haha! I would love to see a post on a “pipeweed subplot.”

              Story is going well! I have one short story that is completely finished. I just need to submit it somewhere. (I would love to email it to you, if you like!) I think I’ll do that this weekend. The one I’m working on now is about halfway through the first draft, but it’s coming along well. I love it!

              Once I get some fiction actually *published*, like, for money, I will ABSOLUTELY put linkage! I will probably link most heavily on my personal blog, Aimless Hyperbole. Until then I feel it shouldn’t go up on the internet. I do believe if a publisher wants to pay me for it once it’s already “out” the piece is technically sold as a “reprint.” I don’t even want to mess with that.

              • Bryan Kelly says:

                Ah, makes sense. I hadn’t considered the idea of keeping it private for actual publication, but in hindsight, that’s really obvious. ;)

                Sure, I’d love to see it! I believe my e-mail is attached to these comments I’m submitting, but if you can’t see it let me know and I’ll just text it to you.

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