So You Think You Can Write-Part 4.4: Dan Wells’ Seven-Point Plot

ghostface

Dan Wells is a famous horror and sci-fi author as well as one of the hosts of the podcast Writing Excuses. He also has a series of videos about story structure on YouTube.

Since Dan Wells is known for his horror novels, let’s analyze a horror movie tonight! One of my favorite horror movies is Wes Craven’s Scream, one of the best self-aware horror movies from 1996.

  • Ice Monster Prologue: This is an optional plot point. This gives the reader a “sneak preview” of what kind of world the story takes place in. The opening of the movie shows Drew Barrymore’s character, Casey, on the phone with a stranger as she makes popcorn. They talk about horror movies, which, at the time, was a unique, self-aware concept. Then the killer challenges Casey to a trivia game while holding her boyfriend hostage and attacks her. The scene where Casey gets killed and gutted is horrific, even by today’s standards.
  • Hook: Sidney, the true protagonist of the series, is established as an ordinary high school girl whose dad will be leaving town for the weekend. She has a boyfriend named Billy who wants to have sex with her. However, since this is a horror movie, Sidney is a virgin and won’t have sex. In a subversion of usual horror virgins, however, Sidney has a legit reason for not wanting to have sex, which is explained later in the movie.
    • Character Arc: Dan Wells also says that there are things that need to be interspersed throughout the story, such as subplots and character arcs. This is when we find out that Sidney’s mother was apparently sleeping around on her dad and that Sidney found her mother’s bloody corpse.
    • Subplot 1: Sidney’s circle of friends gets introduces. Aside from her boyfriend, we also meet her best friend, Tatum, her brother, Deputy Dewey, Randy, the movie geek, and Stu, Tatum’s boyfriend.
  • Plot Turn 1: Something happens that upsets the stauts quo. Sidney gets a call from the killer while waiting to hang out with Tatum. What really makes this personal for Sidney is that the killer claims to be the one who killed her mother.
  • Pinch 1: Sidney goes to the police station to file a report on Billy and encounters Gail Weathers, a tabloid journalist who is advocating for the innocence of Cotton Weary, the man accused of murdering Sidney’s mother. Over at Tatum’s house, Sidney contemplates whether or not Billy is the one who tried to kill her.
  • Try/Fail Cycle: A type of plot point that combines character arc with action. In Scream, Billy gets released from police custody. Gail connects the recent deaths to the death of Sidney’s mother. Sidney overhears two girls gossiping about her in the girls’ bathroom and then gets attacked by Ghostface. School lets out early, but a city-wide curfew gets established.
    • Subplot 2: The school principal gets murdered by Ghostface after disciplining two students pulling pranks. Sidney and Tatum have a talk about whether Cotton is truly innocent and whether the rumors about Sidney’s mother were true. Stu and Randy speculate on who the killer could be at the local movie rental store.
  • Midpoint: This is when the character decides to take action. This happens at Stu’s house. Billy arrives in hopes of talking with Sidney. The two of them go upstairs, one thing leads to another and…well, you know.
    • Subplot 3: In the midst of the party action, Gail places a camera to watch the party from her van, Tatum gets killed by Ghostface, and Randy relays the rules to surviving a horror movie. One of them is that you can never have sex, which implies that Sidney is in huge trouble for sleeping with Billy.
  • Pinch 2: The jaws of defeat appear and things go very, very wrong. The partygoers flee to see the principal gutted and hung on the football field. Ghostface attacks Billy and chases after Sidney. Ghostface kills Gail Weather’s cameraman and stabs Deputy Dewey in the process. Then Sidney confronts Randy and Stu, who plead innocence. Horrified, she hides in the house. This is when the real killer gets revealed.
    • Character Arc 2: The killer reveals his motives behind killing Sidney’s mother. The killer also plans to pin the blame on Sidney’s father.
  • Plot Turn 2: Taking advantage of a moment of distraction, Sidney gets her and her father to safety and hides, taking the Ghostface mask and voice disguiser with her. She turns the tables on the killer and starts fighting for her life.
  • Resolution: Billy gets shot in the chest and is supposedly dead. However, Randy points out that in horror movies, the killer comes back to life for one last scare. But before Billy gets his second win, Sidney shoots him in the face.

I hope this outline helps you in creating your story.

 

 

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