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Creating an Outline


Here are five tips to creating an outline for your story:

1. Set out five to ten pages, each headed with chapter numbers.

You can do this on a computer, or with ‘real’ paper. Realise that each chapter will expand, and will probably consist of several pages by the time you’re done.

2. Make notes in each chapter along the following lines:

i) What is going to happen in this chapter on the surface (i.e. momentum)?

ii) What is going to happen in this chapter under the surface (i.e. mystery)?

iii) What are the right/wrong choices presented in this chapter (i.e. morality)?

iv) How is this chapter conveying the central message of the tale as a whole?

3. If you’re having trouble constructing a plot along these lines, switch to looking at your characters. What happens to your main character in each chapter? Does anything happen to any other character?

Which of the seven character archetypes are involved in this chapter?

Your protagonist?

A shadow protagonist?

A comic companion?

A female companion?

A warrior figure?

A wise old man or woman?

An antagonist?

4. If you get stuck, take a look at the next chapter or another chapter. Don’t bog down into what seems like an unsolvable problem, move on.

5. If you struggle with the basic framework, cut back to starting each chapter with just a few rough notes, don’t try to flesh each one out before moving on.

Take the freedom to write out your message unhindered by any addition.

Here’s an example, based on the original Star Wars trilogy. Each ‘chapter’ is a portion of a film:

i) A chase scene in which innocent bystander (protagonist) gets caught up. Luke finds himself involved in the conflict between the rebellion and the Empire.

ii) Protagonist prompted into action after action, forms new relationships, discovers something about himself. Luke grows in confidence and meets key companions.

iii) Protagonist chooses to depend upon new strengths which mirror his old ones. Luke destroys the Death Star by relying on the Force and his old flying and shooting abilities.

iv) Protagonist has to learn to develop new strengths rapidly as menace grows. Luke has to quickly become an apprentice to Master Yoda as the Rebellion is on the run.

v) Protagonist has to make central moral choices which appear incorrect or risky. Instead of completing his training, Luke leaves early to rescue his friends.

vi) Protagonist makes key moral choice at climax of part of the tale, foreshadowing the end. Refusing to work with his father, Luke plummets into the void.

vii) New strengths are demonstrated. Growing in expertise with the Force, Luke confronts and defeats an antagonist.

viii) Protagonist’s understanding of things is challenged, things go wrong. Luke sees that by journeying to the Moon of Endor, he has placed the whole mission at risk. Then, captured by the Emperor, he loses control of his emotions.

ix) Protagonist makes sacrificial but morally correct choice at the story’s climax; things go right. Tossing aside his light sabre, Luke faces death rather than betray the truth - but, as a result, the tables are turned.

Here’s another example, based on the simpler children’s tale, The Hobbit. Note the remarkable similarities, though:

i) A scene in which innocent bystander (protagonist) gets caught up. Bilbo finds himself involved in a quest far outside his normal life.

ii) Protagonist prompted into action after action, forms new relationships, discovers something about himself. Bilbo grows in confidence and sets off.

iii) Protagonist chooses to depend upon new strengths which mirror his old ones. Bilbo uses his skills as a burglar to try to pick the trolls’ pockets.

iv) Protagonist has to learn to develop new strengths rapidly as menace grows. Bilbo, lost in the dark, must find his hobbit courage to go on.

v) Protagonist has to make central moral choices which appear incorrect or risky. Instead of killing Gollum, Bilbo spares his life.

vi) Protagonist makes key moral choice at climax of part of the tale, foreshadowing the end. The choice to spare Gollum hints at what happens later.

vii) New strengths are demonstrated. Using the Ring, Bilbo fights off the hideous spiders in Mirkwood.

viii) Protagonist’s understanding of things is challenged, things go wrong. Bilbo finds himself unexpectedly embroiled in dwarvish politics and greed.

ix) Protagonist makes sacrificial but morally correct choice at the story’s climax; things go right. Bilbo steals his friend’s greatest treasure in order to resolve the situation, despite the loss of face to him personally.

You can use the above frameworks to model your own outline if you wish.

The key question is ‘What is your story really all about?’

Write about that and the details will follow.

#Writing

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