Conference Session #2 – The Plot Clock

In a recent post, I wrote about my first writers conference. I attended three sessions which were extremely engaging, and I promised I’d share with you what I learned. You can find my post about Session #1 here.

Now, I’ll do my best explaining the Plot Clock, taught by Jamie Morris, which was probably the most useful thing I learned during the entire conference (this happens to be what I’ve been struggling with lately).

blank plot clockThe Plot Clock gives writers the opportunity to decide whether or not their idea for a novel is worth pursuing. Its purpose: to determine whether your story has all the elements it should.

The Plot Clock is a circle divided into four sections. Your starting point is at the top of the circle. (Move clockwise around the circle.)


Act I

  • Ordinary World (the main character’s life circumstances prior to her story’s start)
  • Author establishes the MC’s skills, strategies, strengths/weaknesses, need/goal
    • Establishes setting and introduces characters
  • Inciting incident takes place in Act I
    • The first glimpse the MC (or the reader) gets of the Special World

Binding Point: the moment when the MC finds himself/herself committed to the Special World

  • Point of no return
  • Signals the end of Act I and the beginning of Act II

Act II

  • Special World (the new circumstances presented by the story and through which the MC struggles on her way to making a change)
  • Tests/challenges FAILED
    • The MC’s strategies/survival skills (established in Act I) may not work

Low Point Entry: the period when the demands of the Special World have brought the MC to his/her knees

  • MC struggles
  • MC experiences true change

Low Point Exit: MC has experienced internal change or has made a meaningful sacrifice

  • Signals the end of Act II


  • Continuation of Special World
  • “messy middle”
  • Tests/challenges PASSED
    • MC is getting stronger, developing new strategies/skills

Turning Point: the event which forces the MC to face the final battle of the Climax

  • Signals the end of Act III and the beginning of Act IV

Act IV

  • Climax (the “battle to end all battles,” occurring between the MC and the antagonist)
    • The MC does not necessarily have to win the battle
  • Denouement (day-new-ma: literally “unknotting.” The final resolutions of the intricacies of the story and the lives of the characters)
    • Need/goal of the MC is satisfied


I believe the Plot Clock is a fantastic tool for writers. It is a reminder that the protagonist of the story is always working toward something, moving forward, even if he/she faces stumbling blocks and conflict along the way. Every character and every scene should make it around the Plot Clock. By using the Plot Clock to quickly outline a scene, you can be sure you aren’t wasting words or time because you have already identified its purpose in the story.

Thank you, Jamie Morris!


Three Act Structure FinalOther Helpful Articles/Links: 

(*Keep in mind that the Plot Clock has various formats – it is also called the Three or Four Act Structure)

The Plot Clock

Story Brainstorming Sheets

The Five Essential Story Ingredients

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