Cubby Wrap-Up


Let’s take a look at what we’ve covered:


It’s the beginning of your story. A “what if” fantasy that will be explored through four distinct phases:

  • Neutral (you’re just establishing that “what if” fantasy)
  • Positive
  • Negative
  • Resolution

These four phases will directly coincide with the four acts of your story.

  • Act 1 = neutral, established, fantasy.
  • Act 2 = positive aspects of your fantasy.
  • Act 3 = negative aspects of your fantasy.
  • Act 4 = resolve the fantasy.


Your main character, and your major supporting characters, should all have a collection of traits:

  • Individual flaw – a weakness that affects just the character.
  • Moral flaw – a weakness that affects other characters.
  • Arc – the character changes over time, from one thing to another.
  • Ghost – something from the character’s past that still haunts them.
  • Passion – something the character really cares about.
  • Identity – how the world sees the character.
  • Essence – who the character really is, under the surface.
  • Emphasized cubby – a part of the story that is being exemplified by the character(s).
  • Character web – all the characters will share a common trait, connecting them in a web.


The world of your story has four concerns:

  • Location (with a metaphor)
  • Reality
  • Time Period
  • Duration

Where’s it take place?
What’s the reality of this place like?
What’re the limitations the time period puts on it?
How long does the story span?


When making a moral argument you have three different methods:

  • Pro/Con
  • Inverse
  • Four Point Alternation

Pro/Con – you argue the positive, and the negative, of one particular idea.

The death penalty’s bad.
The death penalty’s good.

Inverse – you argue one statement and its opposite.

Guns should be universally banned.
No they shouldn’t.

Four Point Alternation – you basically argue one idea vs another.

You do this by focusing on a particular statement for idea 1, as well as its opposite. And a particular statement for idea 2, and its opposite.

Marriage is the natural state for humans.
No it isn’t.


Bachelorhood is the natural state for humans.
No it isn’t.


One main primal desire, that is then broken up into sub-desires.

One sub-desire for each act of your story. These sub-desires act as stepping stones on the path to the main desire.


There are four different categories of conflict:

  • Man vs. Man
  • Man vs. Self
  • Man vs. Nature
  • Man vs. Society

You should have one main overall conflict:

Say: “Man vs. Man.”

Then sub-conflicts that incorporate the other three categories. One sub-conflict per act.

Main conflict: Man vs. Man

  • Act 1 = Man vs. Self emphasized.
  • Act 2 = Man vs. Nature emphasized.
  • Act 3 = Man vs. Society emphasized.
  • Act 4 = Man vs. Man emphasized.


There are three different methods of revelation:

“Question and Answer” Method:

A specific question is raised, with a limited number a possible answers, and then that question is answered.

Will he take the job?

Possible answers:

  • yes
  • no

Eventually a decision is made.

“Mystery and Reveal” Method:

A mystery is established, with unlimited possible answers, and then that mystery is solved when the answer is revealed.

Who is the killer?

Possible answers:

  • Sue
  • Michael
  • Billy Bob
  • Joanna
  • Cyrus
  • Etc, etc, etc.

Eventually the killer is revealed.

“Unknown Surprise” Method:

Shocking information is revealed, without any previous indication.

“I’m moving to France!”

Then there are many different types of revelation:

  • Character revelation: a revelation is presented to a character.
  • Audience revelation: a revelation is presented to just the audience.
  • Self revelation: a character has a revelation about themselves, as part of their arc.
  • Story twist revelation: a revelation that is so massive, it changes your entire perception of the story up until that point.

You should have one major revelation near the end of each act, ideally at the turning points.

Your main character’s “self revelation,” should be in act four to coincide with the end of your character’s arc.

“Story twist” revelations are usually saved for act four, but they can be moved if need be.


There are eight different genre tones:

  • Comedy = happy
  • Tragedy = sad
  • Drama = serious
  • Farce = silly
  • Action = exciting
  • Horror = scary
  • Romance = idealistic
  • Erotica = sexy


An emotional theme that is primal, yet complex.

You want to explore both the positive and negative sides of this emotional theme with sub-expressions. Smaller emotional ideas that are related to the overall theme.

One sub-expression for each act, while the main theme runs through the entire story.


An intellectual theme based in a stimulating and thought-provoking idea.

You then want to explore this theme through sub-expressions, one per act.


Most stories have an “A” plot with a smaller “B” plot. But you could also have a “C” or “D” plot.

What are the specifics of your narrative’s traits?

  • Perspective?
  • Scope?
  • Stakes?
  • Timeline:
    • linear or non-linear?
    • If non-linear, then are you using any of the following:
      • Flashbacks?
      • Flashforwards?
      • Montages?
      • Co-Current Timelines?
        • If so, then you want to use an anchor.
  • Storytellers:
    • If so, is it a narrator or an internal monologue?
      • If a narrator, then is it in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person
      • Is the narrator inside or outside of the story?
      • Is it justified or unjustified?
      • Is it speaking in the past tense or present tense?
      • Is it verbal or text?


The particular way in which you execute the other cubbies of your story.

It gives your story its unique identity. A useful short hand is the “fill in the blank” method:

Your story is a:_____________.


25 steps total.

ACT 1:

  • Set up
  • Inciting Incident
  • Raise the Dramatic Question
  • Debate and Decision
  • Turning Point 1

ACT 2:

  • B Plot Introduction
  • Plan
  • Shenanigans
  • Commitment Confirmed
  • Turning Point 2

ACT 3:

  • B Plot Convergence
  • New Plan
  • Destruction
  • Point of Desperation
  • Turning Point 3

ACT 4:


Symbols are when you use one thing to represent something else, or a constellation of other ideas.

There are three different types of symbols:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Action

Visual symbols = something you see.
Ex: mailboxes representing home.

Auditory symbols = something your hear.
Ex: rushing water means impending danger.

Action symbols = something that happens.
Ex: the act of playing catch means two people are connected like family.


Moments create a sense of reality. Making your story feel real, instead of manufactured.

Two main ways of creating moments:

  • Intentional Flaws
  • Extraneous Beats

Intentional flaws = any imperfection on the part of a character that makes them seem more human.
Ex: bumping into a door or misspeaking.

Extraneous beats = a beat added to your story that isn’t absolutely necessary to the plot, but makes your characters feel more real.
Ex: having a character check to see if their gun is loaded three times, just to make sure.

You want to have one major moment that defines the soul of your story. It’s the moment in your story that captures the essence of what this entire tale has all been about.
Ex: father and son fishing on the lake at sunset.

That’s it Animals! All of the cubbies in one go!

Moment: The Soul of Your Story

The moment cubby gives your story realism and soul.

How’s that?

When an audience experiences a story, part of the ritual is: suspending their disbelief.

They know they’re watching a large screen in a theater, or a bright screen in their living room. They know that the people on that screen are actors playing out scenarios designed and determined by a whole fleet of other people. Everything is polished and perfected before being put in front of that audience. It’s not real life, and they know it. They suspend their disbelief.

The moment cubby, is all about purposely and specifically injecting some “less-than-perfect” into your story.

Putting some humanity back in.

There are many ways to accomplish this. But two of the easiest are…

  • Intentional Flaws
  • Extraneous Beats

Intentional Flaws

These are mistakes.

You are purposely putting mistakes, flubs, missteps, into your story. But these aren’t just any kind of mistake.

These are mistakes that specifically do not move the story forward in any real sense.

Damn near useless, in pushing the narrative along.

What’s that mean?

You’ll commonly see mistakes used in stories for an important story purpose.

Like the best friend accidentally tells someone a secret. Oh no! Everything’s ruined! It just slipped out!

That’s a mistake. But it’s the kind of mistake you see all the time in stories. The kind that is there to advance the story. If the best friend doesn’t spill the beans, then the girlfriend never goes to the secret meeting, and the story doesn’t move forward.

What we’re talking about here, with intentional flaws, is a different kind of mistake.

We’re talking about a character saying “when’s the lime getting here?” instead of “when’s the limo getting here?”

Does that advance the story? No. Does it feel like the kind of flub people make in real life? Yes. And it’s endearing. It’s unusual. It feels real. Like suddenly you’re not watching a polished practiced performance. Instead, these people are authentic in a way they weren’t just a moment ago.

I’m sure you can think of examples from your favorite movies. But if you can’t, here’s one:

Boogie Nights – William H. Macy’s character (Little Bill) finds his porn star wife having sex with another performer in the driveway.

A friend tries to talk to him about purchasing a zoom lens for the film shoot the next day, but is irritated that Little Bill seems distracted.

Little Bill:
“My fucking wife, has an ass in her cock in the driveway Kurt, alright?”

He flipped the words around. That’s 100% moment cubby material. It’s not there to advance the plot, or the story at large. It’s just a very human screwup in the words being used. It’s great.

Be creative.

Intentional flaws don’t have to be just dialogue. They can be actions too.

Maybe your character backs up into a chair, knocking it over. Maybe they scoop their ice cream with a fork on accident. Maybe they stoop down to pick up a pen they dropped, to realize they didn’t actually drop anything.

Get weird with it.

When you add intentional flaws to your story, you’re adding a bit of much needed authenticity to your story. You’re roughing up the edges. Making it feel real.

Extraneous Beats

These are similar to intentional flaws, in that they too do not advance the story in any appreciable way. But extraneous beats are more about…

Giving attention to a moment that is typically skipped over in other stories.

It’s a moment that just… is.

Like a character excusing themselves to the bathroom during a stressful dinner. They get to the bathroom but don’t really do anything in there, they just take a moment to themselves. Breathe.

Or maybe you have the audience witness the main character eating an entire cupcake in one sitting. No talking, no real facial expressions communicating feelings – just your character. Eating a cupcake. Then they’re done.

When crafting your story, you’ll ideally want your moments to follow some kind of theme.

Perhaps all your moments are comedic. Maybe they’re all intensely private. Maybe they’re all about emotional outbursts, whatever.

Then there’s the central moment of your story. The big one. The major moment.

What’s that?

It’s the one moment that defines your story as a whole. The core. One image, one line, one idea in action.

This, is your story’s soul.

That quirky, unique moment that really encapsulates what your story is, at a fundamental level.

Like an old man and his granddaughter holding hands as they stroll through the park. You let that moment breathe, let it expand. Because that moment, is what your story is all about.

THE moment.

Symbol: The Depth of Your Story

Symbols are complex, deep, and have many different aspects. But for our purposes…

A “symbol” is basically when you have one thing represent something else.

There are three main types of symbols used in stories:

  • Visual symbols
  • Auditory symbols
  • Action symbols

Visual symbols are things you see.

Like an expensive flashy car representing wealth. Or a teddy bear representing childhood.

Auditory symbols are things you hear.

Like a police siren representing authority. Or a certain whistled tune could represent a specific time in a character’s life.

Action symbols are things a character does.

Like saying grace at the dinner table, representing a religious belief system or connection with community. Or a patriotic gesture like saluting someone – a specific movement of the arm and hand representing respect.

These are things seen, heard, or done, that carry more meaning than is obvious.

The surface image, sound, or action is connected to a web of associations that are related to their surface content, but simultaneously more complex, complicated, and hazily defined.

Though many will probably agree that a teddy bear can easily represent childhood, what “childhood” really means to one person or another is going to vary wildly. The teddy bear doesn’t specifically mean a particular set of things that are objectively defined as “childhood” in any scientific sense. Instead they trigger a unique set of associations in each individual audience member. This is what makes symbols special.

They pack a wide range of meanings, into a compact unit.

An image, a sound, an action – when experienced, sets off a whole chain of associations. They’re almost like a shorthand. A way to embed as much meaning as possible into the fabric of your story.

Ideally, when constructing your story, you want to craft a set of interconnected symbols. Different themes and ideas that are related in some way, and all circle around the central concept of your story. So no matter where you look, the symbolic experience keeps shedding new light on the central core of the story.

Your story will have major symbols, and minor symbols.

The only real difference between the two is the significance and frequency of their use in your story.

Major Symbols

In Minority Report the visual symbol of eyes was used repeatedly throughout the film. Echoing the general thematic idea of the pre-cogs being able to “see” the future and the consequences of that fact. That’s a major symbol.

Minor Symbols

What’s a minor symbol look like?

In Batman Begins there is an auditory symbol that is used only twice in the entire film (two and a half if we’re being super specific).

Towards the beginning of the film, a young Bruce Wayne has been rescued after having fallen down a well in the backyard. Thomas Wayne says to a young Bruce:

“And why do we fall Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

Much later in the film, when Ducard/Ra’s Al Ghul has destroyed Wayne Manor – an adult Bruce muses that he wanted to save Gotham, and now he’s failed. Alfred tells him:

“Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

Though the words themselves seem to convey advice worth heeding, the fact that Alfred says this sentence to an adult Bruce Wayne in a time of trouble, is itself a symbol. He’s not just telling him that “we fall down to learn to pick ourselves up.” He’s also reminding him of the fact that he fell down that well once upon a time, and it seemed bad – but he survived. He’s reminding him of the strength of his father. Of the love he had for Bruce. Of the responsibility they both have to try and protect the legacy of the Wayne family. And the fact that Alfred is the one asking, symbolically positions him as Bruce’s father, which he essentially is. All of these meanings, and more, are embedded in the sentence, making it an excellent auditory symbol.

Also, the symbol is initially set up, and called back once. That’s it. That’s a fairly minor symbol. Though, given its emotional impact and connection to the characters, it almost feels like you could call it a major symbol.

When crafting your symbols, you should try and tie them to some of your other cubbies.

Which ones? That’s up to you. But this does give you a chance to convey some of the story work you’ve done with the different cubbies, in a non-conventional way. Each of your different cubbies has story information to express. See if you can use symbols to express them.

Another point of note:

Opening and closing images.

Your opening and closing images should be symbolic representations of the entire story. Different images, mind you, but both should represent the story in its entirety at the beginning and end.

You don’t have to do this, but it goes a long way to making your story feel like a complete unit. It makes the tale feel whole.

A kind of prelude, and summary, at the beginning and end.

Plot: Act 4 (part 2)

ACT 4 (part 2):

The last 5 steps of your plot:

  • Self Reflection
  • Race to Climax
  • Showdown
  • Climax
  • New Equilibrium

Self Reflection:

Your main character reflects on his or herself.

Their choices. Their life.

They take a moment to consider everything they’ve been through up until this point. This consideration brings them to some kind of conclusion, or moment of inspiration, and they then get moving again.

Race to Climax:

Your main character races full steam ahead to a climax.

Maybe they’re racing through the city streets in a car, or running as fast as they can to the airport. Whatever their mode of transportation, they’re hauling ass to take one last shot at achieving their goal.


Your main character goes head to head with the source of conflict.

They’ve taken shots at each other during the course of the story, but this is the final battle. They face each other one last time to really have it out.


The dramatic crescendo that resolves the dramatic question we raised back in act 1.

Does the main character get what they’ve been after this whole time? Do they succeed? This is the moment when it happens (or not) and the story is just about over.

New Equilibrium:

The wrap up of your story.

You show the audience the aftermath of the events of the story. It could be long and involved ala the end of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King or it could be very short and succinct ala From Dusk Till Dawn.

Let’s take these steps and apply them to our bank robbing example:

ACT 4 (second half):

  • Self Reflection
  • Race to Climax
  • Showdown
  • Climax
  • New Equilibrium

When we last left our story – Recruiter-Guy sacrificed himself to give our main character time enough to get away. He did. He’s fled, successfully, to their planned rendezvous point. He steals a car, packs what’s left of the money from the robbery, and looking to get out of town fast — when the phone rings. It’s the commissioner. He’s sitting outside our main character’s ex-wife’s house. He wants Recruiter-Guy’s cut of the take.

Self Reflection:
Our main character takes a good hard look at himself. He’s got a choice to make.
If he gives the commish half the money to protect his ex-wife, he won’t have enough left over for his surgery. He’ll die. Another option, is to keep the money and let his ex-wife die. But then the commissioner is still out there, still hunting him. A third option – he could face and kill the commissioner. It’s dangerous. But the only person dying in this scenario is the kidnapping, corrupt, commissioner.

He decides on option three. He’s going to kill the commissioner.

This takes our main character to the end of his character arc. He’s gone from peaceful pacifist — to criminal killer. Ya know, if that’s the arc you designed for him.

Race to Climax:
Our main character races to confront the commissioner with a shotgun, locked and loaded.

Our main character steps into a warehouse. His ex-wife is tied up, he squares off with the commissioner.

They fight, and our main character kills the commissioner. He saves his ex-wife and sets out to leave town with his money.

OR, if ya wanna go a different way…

Our main character kills the commissioner, frees his ex-wife, steps out of the warehouse and is gunned down by the police who’ve finally tracked him down. He’s dead.

New Equilibrium:
In choice A — the commissioner is dead, his ex-wife is free, and he has all the money he needs for his surgery. He gets out of town, gets the medical help he needed, and he’s recovering on a beach somewhere. Peaceful.

In choice B — our main character’s body lies bleeding out on the concrete. It’s quickly zipped up in a bag and taken to the morgue. He’s dead. He lost.

That’s a bit more depressing, but like all the steps in your plot, it depends on what kind of story you’re going for.

That’s it Animals! That’s your plot, in 25 steps.