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Layering the Plot

Once you have the premise, the antagonist, the friends, foes, and overall story problem. It is time to break it down into layers. By coming up with at least ten scene ideas for each conflict layer, you can keep the plot moving forward in satisfying curves and twists, keeping the verbal camera on the move.

Layer One: External Conflict

What is the main story problem that all of your characters are dealing with? 

These conflicts will test the protagonist’s courage, nerves, and determination.

List at least ten things that will happen to escalate this conflict: snags in the plan, unexpected discoveries, increasing levels of threat, and arrange them in an order that will make the most impact with the final scene being the resolution.

(Examples: finds gun, interviews suspect, confronts best friend, goes on date, looks for answer, can’t find someone).

At each step is the protagonist moving toward or away from the goal?
Layer two: Antagonist Conflict

How will the protagonist and antagonist face off? Use these scenes to reveal how they will pursue and evade or influence one another. 

These conflicts will test the protagonist’s knowledge, ingenuity, and strength. 

They are battles of will and wit. If the story involves multiple points of view and the antagonist is one of them, these scenes would be written following his or her point of view. All of the conflicts lead to the climactic confrontation with the protagonist.

List ten ideas.

Is the protagonist moving toward or away from his goal?

If these scenes follow the antagonist's POV, is he moving toward or away from his goal?
Layer three: Interpersonal Conflicts

How will the protagonist be affected by his friends and foes? 

These conflicts will test the protagonist’s friendships, and loyalties.

Friends and foes can be used in any combination of scenes that fit with your story line. Make a list of Interpersonal Conflicts and who they will be with. Remember, not all are negative. There can be positive encounters. 

List ten ideas. 

Which friend or foe is involved? Are they helping or hindering?
The fourth layer: Internal Conflict

These scenes test the protagonist's will to continue the fight.

These scenes explore the personal dilemma of the protagonist that will lead to the point of change. He can do this through internal dialogue or dialogue with someone acting as his foil. 

This is where you reveal the event that happened in the past and how it changed him. This is him dealing with the death of his partner, the loss of his wife, the child he didn’t save. These scenes can show him struggling with a habit or addiction or an ailing parent or wife. 

This often culminates in the section after the climax, where we find out if the protagonist is going to live happily ever after. It can also culminate just prior to the climax. That does not mean other characters cannot be in these scenes or that he is not doing anything. It means his thoughts, reactions and actions illustrate the dilemma that is driving him toward his point of change. 

List ten ideas. Is the protagonist solving or complicating his dilemma?
Now arrange the conflicts in the order that work best for your story. Try not to stack too many scenes of any one type together. Keep the flow steady.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

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