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Joyce at a book signing

I’m thrilled to share information from another one of Joyce Sweeney’s amazing workshops. Dialogue and humor are some of my writing strengths, but I’ve always had to work extra-hard to plot my novels well.  I love brainstorming a story idea and jotting down character traits ahead of time, but have never been a fan of outlining.  I was thrilled to see how well Joyce’s Plot Clock works for me—on existing manuscripts I want to rewrite and before writing new manuscripts.  It’s a tool I plan to use throughout my career!

Speaking of helpful tools…don’t forget to read all the way down to the bottom of this post, to see how you can win a critique from Joyce Sweeney!

Before I describe Joyce’s plot clock, fill in this important sentence about your novel:

My book is about _____ who grapples with _______ and discovers _________.

*Make sure it’s the external main plot, not an internal one!

**If there are flashbacks, the main plot is what is happening in real time.

The Plot Clock has four acts (picture a circle divided into four equal parts).  The length of the acts in your manuscript should be even, or at least close to even, if possible.


Show the ordinary world, and that something is wrong (something needs to happen).  Readers need to feel a lack, a need, just before the inciting event…which is the new thing that comes into the character’s life and changes everything.  The main character resists the change.

If very commercial, the inciting incident has to come up soon!

End of Act 1 is the binding point.  You can push characters into it, have them trapped, or some external event can make them want to do it.

*Note: Start putting the external events you know on the Plot Clock first.  Don't rush--you don't want to cram your own events in.  You might find that they're missing on the clock and you have to brainstorm a new scene

~That’s what happened to me!  I had trouble finding the binding point on the MG I brought with me…and it led to a huge discovery about my character that I was able to weave through the entire novel.  I had a misunderstanding between my MC and her best friend, where the friend got mad that she didn’t tell her important things.  It used to be that my MC was embarrassed, and just didn’t have the chance (or didn’t go out of her way) to tell her…but after looking at the Plot Clock, I now see how important it is for her to not tell her friend on purpose, for fear of losing her after having her last best friend ditched her a year ago.


Characters usually try to use their old techniques to solve this new problem.  But not doing the right thing causes losses or failures that escalate in a sad way.

At the low point between Act 2 and Act 3—characters think they can’t make it through this.  They change!  Try something different.

ACT 3: 

You can’t go straight from the low point to the climax—this act shows progress.  Things start getting better!  To counteract that, you escalate the stakes. As the protagonist gets stronger, the antagonist gets stronger, too. The second half of the book should signal where the climax will be. We pretty much have a clue what will need to be fought—what's right, wrong, etc. But you still need to keep the reader in suspense!

End of Act 3 is the turning point.  Joyce says most people don’t know anything about the turning point.  It raises the stakes and affects the climax in really important ways.  I wish I could go into more detail, but I’m trying not to give away all of Joyce’s secrets.

I feel so lucky to live close enough to attend Joyce’s weekly workshop, plus her other local events.  I’m really excited that she now has a virtual class that starts on Monday, February 11th.  I’m signed up and ready to take my writing to the next level, and I hope to see a lot of my online friends in the class forum!

In order to celebrate the launch of her virtual class, Joyce has offered a ten page novel critique or a picture book critique as a prize!  And guess what…if this awesome giveaway receives more than 50 entries, she’ll add a grand prize, which will be revealed on Wednesday, when I post an interview of her—AND IT WILL BE A MUCH LARGER CRITIQUE THAN THE ONE ALREADY LISTED!

Enter using the Rafflecopter link below.  You’ll receive one entry for:

*Leaving a comment on this post or on Joyce Sweeney's website

*Signing up for Joyce Sweeney's free monthly newsletter

*Plus one entry for each shout out on a blog, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. (Please list where you’ve shared it in the comments of this post).

                                        CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!

Don’t forget to come back on Wednesday to read an interview with Joyce where you’ll find out more about her virtual class, plus see what advice she’d give writers who keep coming close to getting an agent or editor, but haven't received that magical ‘yes’ yet.  You’ll also find out what incredibly generous grand prize could be added to the giveaway.  The winner/s will be announced on Sunday, February 10th.  Good luck!

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( 40 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jennifer Estes
Feb. 4th, 2013 02:32 pm (UTC)
Mindy, thanks for hosting this contest! Joyce sounds fantastic and her class looks amazing. The Plot Clock is a really interesting idea -- and here I am in revisions. This might give me a new way to look at this manuscript. Cheers!
Feb. 4th, 2013 02:52 pm (UTC)
Re: Awesome!
You're welcome, Jen! I absolutely love the Plot Clock. I hope this helps with your revision. I'm sending tons of good revision vibes your way.
Feb. 4th, 2013 02:36 pm (UTC)
Very Interesting
This sounds like a great opportunity; thanks for sharing the info.
Feb. 4th, 2013 02:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Very Interesting
You're welcome, Sylvia. Good luck!
Feb. 4th, 2013 02:54 pm (UTC)
Tick tock - time for plot!
Thanks Mindy - I always appreciate a fresh perspective on a better way to plot! Shared on FB with PiBo and Children's Book Hub. :-)
- Cathy

Edited at 2013-02-04 02:54 pm (UTC)
Feb. 4th, 2013 03:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Tick tock - time for plot!
You're welcome, Cathy! I love your subject line. :)

Thanks for sharing. Good luck!
Colleen Rowan Kosinski
Feb. 4th, 2013 03:11 pm (UTC)
I hate to outline, too. I like the plot clock idea.
Feb. 4th, 2013 04:46 pm (UTC)
I hope it helps you, Coll. I can't imaging going back to being a straight pantser again. That's how I wrote my first few novels, and it caused huge plot holes. One of these days, I hope to dust them off and run them through the Plot Clock, to see if I can find a way to save them!
Feb. 4th, 2013 04:00 pm (UTC)
Love this! :)
Mindy, this - and Joyce! - sounds fantastic. LOVE the idea of the plot clock! Thanks so much for sharing this with us. Will definitely help spread the good word on Facebook and Twitter!!!
Feb. 4th, 2013 04:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Love this! :)
You're welcome, Jodi. I can't wait to hear how it works for you. And thanks so much for spreading the word. :)
Feb. 4th, 2013 04:22 pm (UTC)
just in time
THANK YOU for this. I have a few picture book manuscripts that are causing me problems -- I think it's time to plot clock them! (This is from Julie Falatko. I don't know why Google decided to name me ext_1633231 today.)

Edited at 2013-02-04 04:23 pm (UTC)
Feb. 4th, 2013 04:49 pm (UTC)
Re: just in time
You're welcome, Julie! And I have no idea what is up with Google--it did the same thing to Sylvia.

Good luck with your picture book revisions--I hope the Plot Clock helps you figure out how to strengthen them. :)
Darshana Khiani
Feb. 4th, 2013 04:40 pm (UTC)
sounds interesting
Thanks for letting us know Mindy. It sounds like a great class. Will keep it in mind when I start longer works.
Feb. 4th, 2013 04:59 pm (UTC)
Re: sounds interesting
You're welcome, Darshana. The Plot Clock does work great on most picture books, so if you think you might have a plotting issue on one of them, you can use the info I shared in this post. :)
Feb. 4th, 2013 05:13 pm (UTC)
Yay! Great post, Mindy!!!
Feb. 6th, 2013 07:52 am (UTC)
Thanks, Larissa. :)
Feb. 4th, 2013 06:06 pm (UTC)
Joyce Sweeney's class
Thanks for letting us know, Mindy. I highly recommend Joyce. She's an excellent writing coach!
Feb. 6th, 2013 07:53 am (UTC)
Re: Joyce Sweeney's class
You're welcome. And I agree--Joyce is an amazing writing coach. :)
Feb. 4th, 2013 06:19 pm (UTC)
Loved the post Mindy and I'm so excited about what Joyce is doing.
Feb. 6th, 2013 07:55 am (UTC)
Thanks, AMM. I'm excited about Joyce's online class, too. And I've been enjoying her daily writing tips!
Nicole Zoltack
Feb. 4th, 2013 09:16 pm (UTC)
Great post!
Feb. 6th, 2013 07:56 am (UTC)
Thanks, Nicole!
Feb. 4th, 2013 09:21 pm (UTC)
Plot Clock Awesomeness
My ideas tend to run away with me, a plot clock structure might be just what I need to rein them in.
Feb. 6th, 2013 07:58 am (UTC)
Re: Plot Clock Awesomeness
I hope it works for you, Yvonne! I know what you mean about runaway ideas. The Plot Clock helps me keep the heart of the story stronger. And I also run my sub plots through it for my novels--it helps strengthen them and make sure they don't fade too much.
Feb. 4th, 2013 10:53 pm (UTC)
Plot plop
Thanks, Mindy. Plot is an area that I've been focusing on lately. Cindy
Feb. 6th, 2013 07:59 am (UTC)
Re: Plot plop
You're welcome, Cindy. I hope this helps you strengthen your plots. :)
Feb. 5th, 2013 04:34 am (UTC)
Plot Clock
I love the plot clock, but definitely need some help understanding it better. Thanks for the post and for letting us know about what sounds like a great class.
Feb. 5th, 2013 04:43 am (UTC)
Re: Plot Clock
And I shared your tweet. My twitter name is @MargaretGreania
Re: Plot Clock - mindyalyse - Feb. 6th, 2013 08:01 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 5th, 2013 02:20 pm (UTC)
This rocks! Thanks for the notes and for posting about the giveaway! :)
Feb. 6th, 2013 08:03 am (UTC)
Re: Giveaway
You're welcome, Angela :)
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( 40 comments — Leave a comment )


Mindy&#39;s head shot
Mindy Alyse Weiss
I write humorous middle-grade novels with heart and quirky picture books.

I'm an Administrator on the SCBWI Blueboard, the FL SCBWI Newsletter Editor and Critique Group Coordinator, and a proud member of From The Mixed Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors

I've been married for twenty years and have two beautiful daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix pup who was rescued from the Everglades.

I've been published in Highlights three times and placed in the 80th Writer's Digest Competition.


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