For this post, I chose a video that explains how to outline a story. Some authors miss out on this important step and try to just write by the seat of their pants. It can work (John Grisham did it) but for most of us mere mortal writers, planning the structure of our novel with a clear outline is vital to it’s flow and success.
How To Outline A Story – 3 Acts : 9 Blocks : 27 Chapters
Hello – different kind of video today. This is a computer screen recording, so I didn’t have to brush my hair, and you guys don’t have to look at me. Win-win! I’m going to outline my NaNoWriMo novel later today and I wanted to do a quick run-through of my outlining process beforehand, so I don’t have to try to explain it whilst outlining.
I did a video like this last year that is called ‘9 blocks in the plot board’ or something along those lines and it goes over all this stuff. I wanted to do an updated, more coherent version so I made a slideshow presentation. Now I will talk you guys through the three-act, 9 block 27 chapter, outlining process that I’ve been using to outline all of my novels lately.
I did not invent story structure and I make no claims that this is the best and/or only way to outline. This is one of many different methods and this method is still like a work in progress. If you want to use this 27 chapter structure, that would be awesome.
I hope you let me know how it works for you and if you have any ideas for changes or refining certain points. Definitely let me know because, like I said, this is still a work in progress and I’m still trying to figure this thing out. So 3 act structure is the base of this. I like 3 act structure because it makes a lot of sense to me.
You know, beginning, middle, end – straightforward. It’s also familiar because you know most things in life have a beginning, a middle and an end. In writing a three-act structure, the beginning, middle, and end translates into setup, conflict, resolution. The first act is setup, the second act is conflict, and the third act is resolution, but it also goes deeper.
Each act will also have its own set up, conflict and resolution, and this pattern of set up, conflict, resolution will constantly appear. Each arc within the story will have a set up, a conflict, resolution. Each chapter, each scene beginning, middle, end – set up, conflict, resolution.
Act one is the set up act. The general point of act 1 is to set up everything for the rest of the story but within act one, this set of act there is, of course, a beginning, a middle, and an end. The setup to Act one is introducing the hero, the hero’s ordinary world and the problem that will disrupt the hero’s ordinary world.
The conflict is how the inciting incident changes the hero’s life. The resolution to this setup and concept combination, is that the hero’s life has changed and the hero is pushed into a new world. Act two is the conflict Act. This act is usually harder to pin down and describe because it will change drastically for every story you know.
Introductions are straightforward. You introduce what you’ll be working with. Endings are also pretty straightforward. You need to resolve everything you introduced from the beginning. If the first act is the stuff happening to the hero, and the last act is the hero taking action and resolving the story, then the middle is the hero’s emotional and mental transformation.
The hero at the end of act 1 is not yet equipped to handle act 3, thus act 2. Within act 2 we of course have a set up, a conflict and a resolution. The set up is the hero experiencing the new world they were pushed into from the first act.
The conflict is the hero experiencing a crisis of this new world and evolving and changing. The resolution of the second act is the hero being transformed and dedicating themselves to finding the solution to the problems they face.
The third act is where everything falls apart and goes to hell and gets put back together again. In the first act, you introduce the problems. In the second act you play around with the problems, and in the final act you resolve those problems. The setup of the third act is, you have a dedicated transform hero who faces such crazy problems that victory seems impossible.
The conflict of this act is the hero working harder than ever to overcome these struggles and find the power within themselves to take action and complete their story. And finally, the resolution is the solution to all this. In many stories this means the hero goes to battle, wins and thus resolves all of their problems.
Obviously, not every story is the hero winning and succeeding, but even if the hero fails, the problems must still be resolved. Most, if not all the questions still need to be answered. I’m personally a happy ending kind of girl, so I don’t really have much experience with failing hero resolutions. In my version the hero wins – hooray, go hero!
Now we have three acts and three parts within each of those acts and that leaves us with what I call the nine blocks. The first act has introductions, the effect of the inciting incident and the pinch or the plot twist, and the push into the second act.
The second act has the hero experiencing the new world which contrasts with their old world. The midpoint, which is the point of reversal for the hero, the point where they stop letting things happen to them and decide to take action.
Then the hero beginning to take action and dedicating themselves to finding a solution. Then in the third act we have the second plot twist pinch. The hero is more determined than ever but then something bigger than ever gets in the way to deter them. This leads to the darkest moment where things look bleak and impossible.
The hero must find the power within themselves take action and make all the different strings of plot converge and combine. Then you have the big battle the climax in the resolution. These are the nine blocks. Now I take the nine blocks and give each of those a beginning, middle and end, and that is how I end up with a 20-7 chapter outline base.
The act one set a block is the introduction, the inciting incident and the immediate reaction of the inciting incident. The second block is divided into chapters, of like a long term reaction how this will continually affect the hero’s life. The hero taking action because this far just stuff has been happening to them and begging to stand up for themselves.
Then of course there is a consequence to taking action. For the third block of act one we have rising pressure and stress the hero’s life is changing. Change is scary and then – BAM – the first plot twist or the pinch. Something happens that the hero can no longer ignore or even try to ignore. They are being pushed into this new direction whether they like it or not.
Act two block. This block I feel has the most room for flexibility. You want to cover the introduction into the New World, contrast with the old world and give the hero some time for fun and games and playing around in this new world. If it’s like a new romantic relationship, for example, then this block could be the lovers getting to know each other.
But maybe they have conflicting opinions on something, and they have to make compromises, which is different from how they lived in their old life. The second block is the build-up to the midpoint. The midpoint itself and the reversal, what the midpoint most dramatically and immediately changes for the hero.
The final block of this act is the hero reacting to this change in themselves and deciding to put on their hero hat and take action, dedicating themselves to solving the problem at hand. No matter what in the third act the hero experiences, trials unlike anything they’ve dealt with before. Good thing they are so dedicated now after the midpoint, because a weaker version of the hero would not survive this part of the story.
They are put through trials, they experience another plot twist that makes things even worse and they find themselves in the darkest moment. Things look bleak. Victory is impossible but then they pull themselves together, find the power within and take action because now they are determined. Things can’t get any worse and they can only go up from here.
The hero takes action and now they are the one making stuff happen. The action the hero takes forces the plot to converge and gather and then the explosions happen. In the last block of the last act we have the battle struggle, the final fight the hero must overcome. We have the climax, the point of no return and then we have the resolution.
What happens after the climax? What is the aftermath? What is the falling action? The story is wrapped up, maybe with a few loose string,s maybe with a pretty little bow but either way there is a satisfying battle and a resolution to bring about the end of the story. And there we have it. This is the outline I use; 3 X 9 blocks 27 chapters.
Sometimes chapters get combined or split out, but I use these 27 points as a guide for 27 story events that push the plot forward. Try to make it pretty open-ended and a lot of the time I will twist it a bit to fit better to the story, rather than the other way around of twisting my story to fit the outline. The structure is like a skeleton for the story but it’s not supposed to be something really prominent.
When you’re talking to a living, breathing, smiling, laughing person, you aren’t thinking about their skeletal structure underneath. At least, you’re probably not because that’s a little weird, but hey no judgement here people.
Books have souls and personalities, and life. The structure is just the foundation it gives it a bit of shape but what you put on that skeleton is not always restricted to this shape.
A lot of people have similar skeletons but that doesn’t mean those people are anything alike. A quiet literary novel could be built off this outline, as well as a dynamic explosive thriller. This is just a foundation on which to build your story up, and there are lots of different structures.
In my version of the three act structure, all the acts are the same length but sometimes the middle act is 50% of the story and the first and third each get 25 percent. Sometimes the acts are broken up in different places. I’ve seen a couple of story outlines where the second plot twist is at the end of the second act not at the beginning of the third act like I do it.
There are just so many different ways to structure story and this is just one of them, so yeah . I hope you enjoyed this video I hope I made at least some sense. Again, I’m not a professional at anything. I would love to hear your thoughts though.
What do you think of the structure? Would you ever use something like this to outline, or what structure do you prefer to use? Now I am going to outline my NaNoWriMo novel using this 27 chapter, structure of course. Good luck with all of your writing and outlining endeavours. I’ll have a new video up soon – I hope you have a good night.
Knowing how to write a good novel brings into play a balanced combination of creativity and structure. The first is inspirational, while the latter hints at craftsmanship.
All structures need to be build on solid foundations and the outline for a novel is no different – if they are wobbly, your readers will feel it and the story will suffer for it.
New Writers, Like Fools, Rush In
Like many aspiring authors, I wrote my first story by the seat of my pants, feeling sure that all would come together as the manuscript progressed. Although I did actually finish (and publish) the novel, it was painfully obvious to me and my readers that it wasn’t as good as it could be. The plot, prose, dialogue and characterizations were decent, but there were structural issues that reduced its impact. It just didn’t sparkle.
As authors, we need to ask ourselves important questions before we put pen to paper, or fingertips to the keyboard. The first important question is about understanding what the reader wants from your novel. I’ll give you a clue – it has nothing to do with the technicalities of writing plot, subplots, setting, dialogue or any of the other important element that make up a great read.
What Happens Next In The Story?
If the reader is to finish the book then its vital that he always wants to know what happens next. It’s the core of every novel and a huge part of the writing process is to make sure that the reader does on thing – have a burning desire to know what happens to the main characters of the story and keep turning those pages!
I can’t emphasize how important this point is. Without this need to know, your book will not be read at all and a year of your blood, sweat and commitment will have been wasted. Planning an outline and building a strong structure reduces this possibility drastically.
In the video below a well-known author, John Grisham, describes his writing process:
“I normally start writing a novel on January the 1st of each year, that’s kind of my ritual, with the goal of finishing the book in six months, and being done in July. And that’s been the schedule for the past probably 10 or 15 years.
When I’m writing, which is usually that time of the year, I get a lot of writing done in January, February and March, for obvious reasons — it’s a good time to write. When I’m writing it’s five days a week I start around seven each morning in my office. The routine rarely varies — it’s pretty structured. It’s the same spot, the same computer.
So the office is a separate building with no phones, faxes or Internet, because I don’t want the distraction, and I don’t work online, I keep it offline. It’s the same cup of coffee, the same type of coffee, the same everything.
And the hours between seven and ten are, you know, that’s the best time of the day for me, it’s very productive. On a good day I’ll write probably 2,000 words, a slow day is probably 1,000. There aren’t many slow days, because by the time I start a book I have a very good idea of where it’s going.
I don’t start a book — I don’t write the first scene until I know the last scene. And that’s a rule I’ve kept for 25 years. I just don’t start something unless I know where it’s gonna go. So once I do start it, there aren’t many down days.”
Story Structure Definition
Several story structure elements need to be in place when writing your masterpiece, and building an outline or template is the best way to ensure that everything is in place. Not only that, but in the right place! The basic building blocks are found in the principles of the Story Arc and Character Arc. Don’t worry – both concepts will be covered in later posts, but suffice to say that the process tends to grow from the broader ideas to the more detailed.
Some basic elements of a great novel outline are:
Genre – define the type of story you are presenting. For example, Romance, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Cowboy, Horror among many others. Each main category can be split into sub-categories and also combined with others to create split-genres.
Theme – every story has a message, whether in written or movie format. Examples might be ‘Is it better to be rich or to have friends?’ or ‘Can love conquer all?’
Setting – define the period and the location. Example: 19th Century, Vienna.
Story Arc – this timeline notes the events that bring increasing conflict and tension to the hero, and also the conclusion.
Character Arcs – main characters are complex and three-dimensional. The events in the story impact and change their ideas and outlook. These changes are essential if the characters are to succeed in their quest. These changes are collectively described as the Character Arc.
Backstory – the early part of a novel that describes the lives and situations of the main characters. It sets the scene of normality before an event arrives that changes everything.
Plot – the sequence of interrelated events defined by the author to tell the story.
Characters – normally one, or a few, main complex main characters and any number of passing support characters.
Dialogue – designed to tell the story and drive it forward.
Prose – the result of writing simply and conversationally, expressing description and meaning effectively but adhering to (mostly) universally accepted rules of grammar and syntax.
Not Convinced? The Purpose Of Planning
The biggest take-away and advantage from all the hard work that goes into writing a novel outline can be summarized like this:
The template can be used as a planning tool, or a road-map to clearly show the writer where he or she is going. If the destination is clearly in sight, together with diversions and side-roads, then it will be so much easier to steer the story.
The planning phase becomes more detailed as it progresses, exploring the plot and the characters in greater depth. By the end of the process, which doesn’t really have an end until the novel is complete, you will know your story and everything in it intimately.
Editing Your Manuscript
When your novel manuscript is finished, then the arduous task of editing begins. If, like me, you can’t afford the services of a professional, then its necessary to learn how to do it properly. Self-editing is the only option left to you. The process happens on different levels and each step has a purpose.
As you might guess, it involves a bit more than just spell-checking and correcting simple errors in grammar. Later posts on this site will explore each level and provide a good grounding in the requirements.
Publishing – The Final Step!
Publishing your novel is the crowning glory of all your hard work, which on average takes anywhere between six months to a year to write, and three months to edit. This time may be extended if the editing process reveals serious structural problems, in which case a partial re-write would be required. You have to be dedicated to the craft and really want that book to see the light of day.
In the past, when the traditional publishing process was all that there was, this was indeed a painful experience. Authors could wait for months for a simple rejection slip, perhaps with no notes for manuscript improvement. Luckily, the emergence of the inernet and platforms like Amazon have changed all that. Self-publishing is simple and best of all, free!
In the next post I’ll be looking at the Story Arc.
How to write a novel in 20 steps – Caitlin from Ink and Quills:
Hey everyone, this is Caitlin from ink & quills and today I’m going to be walking you through my step-by-step process for writing a novel. So – if you’re new to writing you might be confused about how to go about writing your first novel, or maybe you just have no idea where you should even begin
Maybe you’ve gotten started but things aren’t going quite as smoothly as you’d hoped. The thing is, since you’ve never written a novel before, you don’t know what this process looks. Like you know what the end result looks like because you’ve read lots of published books, but you don’t know how to get there yourself.
How are you supposed to learn to do something if you’ve never seen an example of how it’s done? It’s like being handed a bunch of ingredients and being told to bake a cake without the recipe. That’s why I want to take you behind the scenes into the creative process of writing a story.
One of the best ways to learn how to do something you’ve never done before is by seeing an example. You probably know the ingredients you need for your story, like plot, character and setting, but you also need to know the process used to combine all these ingredients into a story.
Today I’m going to show you my personal writing process which I’ve developed over years of trial and error, but I want you to keep in mind that each writer has their own process and methods that work best for them so feel free to tweak this outline to fit your personal preferences.
I’ve also created a free checklist for this process and I’ll include a download link for that below the video. All right, so let’s get started. The first thing we need to do before we can start writing is to find an idea for our story. Personally, I draw a lot of inspiration from history and mythology, but one of the best ways to come up with an idea is to just let yourself daydream, and ask questions let your imagination have some fun.
One of my favorite questions to ask is ‘what if’ because it creates so many possibilities. For example, what if Hitler had won World War two, or what if we discovered life on Mars, or what if we began cloning humans in the future? Asking ‘what if’ questions like these creates interesting scenarios that you can then build a story around.
Once you have an idea that you like, and you’re excited about, it’s time to start expanding on it. This means thinking about your setting and time period, who your characters might be and what might happen in the plot. Now at this stage you’re not developing your plot and characters in depth.
You’re just exploring and gathering ideas, and you might also end up discarding or changing a lot of these ideas down the road. These are all tentative details that you’re considering for your story. I also want to mention that brainstorming is something that I actually do throughout the entire writing process.
I’m constantly collecting and layering ideas as I develop the story. Your story really is something that’s in a constant state of evolution, so allow yourself the creative flexibility to change your mind and explore new ideas throughout the writing process. After you do some brainstorming, the setting, time period and genre of your story should start to become more clear, but you might want to ask yourself if changing any of these details could make your story more interesting, or help it stand out more.
So for example, what if you changed your setting to Japan instead of America? Or how about setting your story in the 18th century instead of the 21st? Or what if you turned it into a fantasy instead of historical fiction? Consider different options before you make your final decision.
Now before you get too far, you’re going to want to figure out just who it is you’re writing for. Is this story for adults, teens, children? Do you want to appeal to a certain demographic, like military families, or single moms? Your audience is going to affect how you approach the story, so it’s good to know who they are before you start writing.
When you have a specific audience in mind it also helps you feel like you’re writing for someone and not just writing into the void, hoping someone out there somewhere might be interested in your story. This is also going to help make your book easier to market which will make you more appealing to agents and publishers.
So in short, it’s easier to write a story for an audience rather than trying to find an audience for your story. So now that you have some basics taken care of it’s time to start going into more depth. This is where you’ll start getting to know your main characters your villain and your secondary characters.
Start thinking about who these people are, what they’re like, what happened in their past and, most importantly, what they want. You need to figure out the goals of both your hero and your villain. Your hero’s goal is basically the focus of the story, and the villain’s goal creates opposition and conflict.
So for example, in the Lord of the Rings Frodo’s goal is to destroy the One Ring while Sauron’s goal is to steal it back. Once you know what your hero wants and what’s standing in his way, it makes it a lot easier to start outlining your novel. But before you start outlining, you need to decide on your story’s point of view.
Are you going to tell this story in first person or third person? Will you follow one character or split the story up between the points of view of two or three characters? Ask yourself what will work best to tell this story. Now you don’t have to decide right away and you can always change your mind later, but it’s definitely something that you want to be considering as you work on developing your characters and plot.
Once you’ve figured out the goal of your hero and villain, you can start outlining your plot. Basically, a story is all about the journey a hero goes on to achieve a goal, so without one it’s going to be really hard to plot your story. The beginning of a story introduces the hero and their goal.
The middle is filled with the obstacles the hero faces as he tries to achieve that goal, and the end reveals whether or not the hero succeeds or fails. Personally, I prefer to plan out my plot in as much detail as possible before I start writing, but this doesn’t mean that everything in our outline is set in stone.
As I continue to develop my story, and even after I’ve begun writing, I might decide to change things. Sometimes, I’ll find an idea that works better than something in my original outline, or I might discover that what I had originally planned won’t work, or that there’s a plot hole. Basically, I don’t want you to get hung up on getting your plot outline perfect.
Think of your outline like a rough draft and stay flexible. Like I said before, I always view story as something that’s constantly evolving throughout the writing process, until I have a final draft I’m happy with. So now that you know more about your plot and characters, and can see what shape the story is beginning to take, it’s a good idea to start doing some market research.
This means researching if there are any books already out there that might be similar to your story. So for example, if you’re writing a Cinderella re-telling, you’ll want to look at other authors who have done the same. Or if you’re writing a steampunk story, you’ll want to look into other steampunk books.
First, you want to read some of these books, so you can see what’s already been done, so you can avoid cliches or similarities. This will help you write a story that stands out, even if there are similar ones out there.
Second you want to read the reviews of these books and take note of what the readers liked and didn’t like. That way you can avoid any mistakes the author might have made. Once you’ve finished your research, you’ll need to look back over your plot outline and possibly make some changes based on what you’ve learned.
So for example, if you find that stuff several of the Cinderella re-tellings you read follow the same basic story-line, you might want to add a plot twist or two to yours, to help it stand out. Next you’ll need to start developing your setting. Think about the key locations where the story will take place and flush them out with details to make them feel real and interesting.
So for example in the Harry Potter series you have lots of memorable settings like Hogwarts,and platform 9 and 3/4. If you’re writing a fantasy story you’ll need to build a believable world from scratch and if you’re writing a story set somewhere you’ve never been ordering historical time period you’ll need to do research.
Even though for fantasy you make most things up, you still might need to do some research on things you’re not familiar with, like swords and bows, or castle life. This is also the point in the writing process where I start researching anything else I might need to know about, like police procedures, mountain climbing, the Italian mafia or whatever else might play a role in my story.
Once you’ve finished developing your setting and doing all your research, you might need to tweak your plot outline again. I found that when I start diving into my story’s world I usually end up getting more ideas which I then add into the outline. Sometimes
my research will make me realize that what I had originally planned isn’t going to work so we’ll need to make changes to the outline.
One last thing you need to do before you start writing is to decide on a theme for your story. Some writers might do this at the beginning stages of the writing process but for me it’s easier to weave in a theme once I’m more familiar with my plot and characters. I like to look at the conflicts in my story, whether it’s a conflict between characters, an internal conflict within the hero, or conflict within the society and then see what themes are might be able to draw from there.
A theme is basically like a theory you set out to prove or disprove with your story. It adds more depth of meaning and it’s shown through the actions of the characters in the plot. A theme usually explores or reveals something about the human experience. Think about what you might want to say about humanity in your story and how you could say it through your characters, then adjust your plot outline to show your theme.
After doing all that prep work you’re finally ready to actually start writing your story. I know it might be tempting to just skip ahead to this step, but trust me writing your first draft is so much easier and goes so much faster, and you’ve got all of those details taken care of. You know where you’re going.
When you write your rough draft, you want to focus on getting the story out of your head onto the page so you can mold it into something beautiful later. Give yourself permission to write crap but don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s easy to feel like a crappy writer when you’re writing crap, but you have to remember that the first draft is supposed to be terrible.
After you’ve gotten your story laid out on the page you can start editing and working some magic. In your second draft, you’ll want to focus on fixing any major issues, like plot holes, details that need more research, or scenes that may need to be altered or rearranged. Once you’ve got all that hammered out, you can then focus on smaller details, like dialogue, character descriptions and more choice.
In your additional drafts, you’ll probably end up with at least three drafts, and my average is usually three or four, but it’s not uncommon for a writer to have more. It all depends on how many drafts it takes to get a story you’re happy with, and feel good about.
After you’ve finished editing, it’s a good idea to let someone else read your story before you release it into the world. Preferably somebody beside your mom. I highly recommend asking other writers to read your story and give you feedback, even though it can be terrifying. I know I was nervous about letting my beta readers read my story, but the feedback I received was so valuable.
Beta readers can help you point out your story strengths and weaknesses, which means you’ll end up with an even better story than what you originally started with. Addressing any issues early on is going to help you increase your chances of getting published and also raise the odds of readers enjoying your book.
Once you’ve finished revising your final draft with your beta readers feedback, it’s time to begin the publication process. If you want to be published traditionally, this means looking for literary agents and sending out query letters or if you decide to self publish you’ll need to look into a publication platform like Amazon’s Kindle direct publishing.
For self-publishing you’ll also need a hire an editor and cover designer format your book for print and create a marketing plan and that’s it. Once your book is in your reader’s hands there’s nothing left to do except sit back and catch your breath.
As you can see, there’s a lot of work involved with writing a story. This entire process can take anywhere from months to years. It might seem overwhelming at first but I promise the more books you write and the more familiar you become with how this all works, the easier it becomes.
It may still take forever but you do get better at it, and if you have the driving passion for writing that I think you do, you won’t be able to stop yourself from doing it over and over again. Don’t forget to grab your free checklist of this process and the link below the video and also if you would like a more in-depth look into what goes into a story like plot, and character, and how a story works, I have a free ebook to help you with that as well.
It’s called ‘Writing 101’ and it includes over 100 pages of information and exercises to help new writers master the basics of writing a novel if you’d like to download a free copy of the ebook just click link below the video thank you so much for watching and good luck with planning your first novel.
They have their own objectives. They have their own dreams they have their own ambitions, their own needs. They’re just trying to be for themselves and what they’re doing and everything that pushes the plot to its conclusion is the dynamics that will create very convincing characters.
Again, working with your story outside of just writing it. If you can, have a piece of paper and draw lines marking out when and in the story certain important things happen with each plot.
When exactly the conclusion happens. What is the transformation at the beginning of each plot? What is the status quo and at the end what has changed? How is it how are things no longer what they were before?