I’ve always wanted to be a writer but when I was younger I thought that a true genius didn’t need to study how to write.
In fact, I had this crazy idea that that would be cheating and it didn’t seem like I needed it because I always had ideas for stories. When I was at the university during finals week, when I was supposed to be taking my final, instead I was inspired with this awesome idea for a novel.
I wrote it in this white-hot passion of inspiration. It was so awesome. I finished the entire book you know, almost flunked my class, but I finished the entire book and it was so cool. But there was only one problem and that was that the book sucked.
I was just too in love with it to be able to tell that it sucked and my friends were way too nice to tell me that it sucked. The only way I found out was the hard way, the embarrassing way and that was painful.
Meanwhile I thought after this happened, you know, I wrote this book, I wrote it so fast I was inspired. I thought ‘hey I’ve got it made. I clearly have the makings of a writer of a pure genius. I don’t need to study. this it’s just gonna come to me now. I can do this anytime I want’.
How To Start Writing a Book Outline – Plotter or Pantser?
Instead, I started suffering writer’s block and I had all these ideas for stories and I would start them and then they’d peter out. I didn’t get it. I knew that professional writers could write a book, after book after book, year after year after year. Why couldn’t I do it.
So frustrating, what had gone wrong? Then it finally hit me. An aspiring brain surgeon may love to help people but this doesn’t mean he’s ready to perform surgery without first going to medical school. Writing is the same way.
It’s funny, because we tend to denigrate the arts. Even as artists we do this. We imagine that you don’t have to study your craft to become a master craftsman, whether it’s writing, or painting, or acting. We have this illusion that those people never study to become great at what they do, but they do they have to.
Everyone has to. To become a master at your craft you have to hone your art and study the secrets of the other masters in your field. After I overcame my foolish pride, I made up for it by studying writing of all the best writers and teachers of writing out there.
Like Scott Bell, Nancy Kress, Donald Mass, Holly Liezel, David Farland, Kevin J Anderson, Blake Snyder, Robert McKee and many many others. I read every book on novel writing, on screenplay writing, on story writing, even on grammar and sentence structure out there.
I dissected my favorite novels and even novels and genres that I would have normally never read so that I could backwards engineer what they had done successfully, so I could apply that to my own stories.
I had to give up a lot of illusions on the way. I had to give up this idea that a true genius never has to work hard, never has to study their craft. I needed to study in order to become a better writer. I had to give up the illusion that I was already a born genius writer, to actually become a better writer.
There’s another illusion that I had to give up that was really holding me back – and that was outlining. I never wanted to outline. I thought an outline was like a straightjacket on my creativity. I just wanted to discover the story as I plunged through it.
I was definitely a Pantser, which means write by the seat of your pants but you know what?Actually just the opposite was true. What was strangling my creativity and what was killing my stories before I could even finish them, was this inability to plan ahead and outline my novels.
A good outline is not a straightjacket, it’s a backbone. It holds up the entire story. Now, you may already know the value of a good outline or you may genuinely be one of those rare people who doesn’t need to outline. I guess they do exist but you might be in the same situation as I was.
You need an outline. You just don’t know you need an outline or mayb you’re more clever than I was and you do know you need an outline, but you’re still struggling with it. So if you’re one of those people, if you’re like me, or you’re just a little smarter than me and you know you need this I’m gonna give you a great outlining method today.
It’s so fun, so easy to use and works so well, that it’s like magic and I want to tell you a little secret too. If you want to pre-adapt your novel for a Hollywood movie, this is a terrific outlining method to use because it’s the same one used by Hollywood screenplay writers.
This outline is so effective it’s like pouring magic onto that seed of your novel and watching it grow into a beanstalk that reaches a castle on the clouds. I just need to remind you once again that these videos won’t be up for long, just a week or so longer, so if you haven’t watched the first video yet watch that one too.
Grab the outline that’s there with that video because we’re going to be going over that here too. I may have told you last time, then it was a word doc and I was trying really hard to bring that to you, but I did have to make it a PDF but you can still use it.
You can still follow along as you go through this, so please grab that and do this. I’m sorry about the confusion. It’s a technical thing, not my specialty to understand why you need an outline. Let’s take a look at some typical problems that you encounter without an outline.
First, you’ll often begin in the wrong place. There’s a perfect place to start your novel. You don’t want to start too early and you don’t want to start too late. One of the things that an outline helps you do is nail that perfect place to start. This outline I’m going to show you is designed to answer that exact question, that every writer has, especially newbie writers – ‘where should I start my story.’
Second – without an outline, your novel will often end up with a case of the saggy middles. That’s where the outline slows down to a crawl or wanders around aimlessly in the middle of the novel. It’s boring. Your readers hate it. They lose interest.
They close your book and never open it again, and that is a shame because the middle of the book does not have to be boring. In fact it can be the most exciting and the most fun part of the whole book.
Third – without the right kind of outline your ending might suck. I’m sorry but it had to be said. Endings are really important and they’re also really hard to do well. But if you don’t deliver a good ending, you don’t deliver a good book.
You can have a terrific story and then lose your reader on the last page because you haven’t delivered the ending that you promised at the beginning. There is so much we could get into with outlining. I actually have several stages of outlines and several kinds of outlines I usually go through when I’m writing a novel.
But I wanted to start out at least with the basics, the core, the backbone of your novel. That core in Hollywood is called the beat sheet, and the beat means the plot points in your story. The master of this was Blake Snyder and he created this really a famous beat sheet and mine is adapted from that specifically for novelists.
I’m going to show you why and how in a minute but right now I want you to go ahead and download the free workbook, if you haven’t already, that goes with this video. All you need to do is one little thing – put in your email and if you’ve already done it before you won’t get twice as many emails, don’t worry.
You’re going to see the section, the workbook that applies to this video with some blanks and you can fill in those blanks and then also figure out how this is going to apply for your specific project, your specific novel. You’ll get so much more out of this if you do the workbook along with the video.
OK, so Blake Snyder is the master of the screenplay and this beat sheet that I’m going to go over with you is adapted from his. I’ve made some changes so that you can clearly see how it relates to the three-act structure and to your novel.
My version is going to flow very easily into a novelist outline rather than for a screenplay, which is a little bit of a different media, a little bit of a different format. Alright, so let’s go over this. On the screen you can see this is act 1.
We’re going to use the traditional three act structure. It’s a classic and it always works. You can of course use a different kind of five act, a seven act structure, or whatever is going to work best with your novel, but this is the basics.
Let’s use it for right now. As our example, within each act you’re going to have five beats or five major plot points. The first is the opening conflict. You never want to start your novel out in a boring way. You always want to start BAM.
Conflict is already going on – you’re going to show your protagonist in daily life, not in a boring way but before the transformation that is going to take place over your story. Three is when the opportunity for change comes. Sometimes this is called the inciting incident.
Four is the resistance to the opportunity. It’s not realistic for everything to just fall into place and goes from happy ending to happy ending. No, no – of course there’s no story in that. Your protagonist is going to resist the opportunity, sometimes for a good reason, sometimes just out of their own foolish reason.
Five is the point of no return. For whatever reason, something changes and the opportunity is finally accepted that’s going to bring us to act two. Six is entering the new situation. A terrific example of this is Dorothy walking into Oz. The color literally changes and saturates the screen, it is such a new situation.
That’s the impact you want your reader to feel when they’re reading your novel at this point in the story. Seven is going to be meeting friends, enemies, romance and having opportunities for change. These are the experiences that are going to start changing your protagonist.
Now eight and nine this is where you can have fun and games. This is where you’re going to have some of your media scenes and the novel, like I promised, the middle can be so fun. One of the little rubrics that I like to use to remind me to do some of these great juicy scenes is number eight.
Some kind of problem forces your protagonist and his or her new friends to work together and then some other kind of problem drives them apart again. If you keep this up you’re always going to have really exciting scenes and then 10 – crisis hits and that’s what’s going to bring us into act 3.
- So 11 – if somebody has been keeping a secret throughout this period, this is when the terrible secret is revealed or it could be when the attack starts.
- 12 is all seems lost.
- 13 is self-sacrifice or symbolic death. Sometimes this is where the real death takes place – there might be a character who dies, this is where it might happen.
- Finally we get to the conclusion and you get 14, the final showdown, and
- 15 the conclusion.
Writing a Novel Outline Means Writing a Plot Outline
This is where you’re going to hear wedding bells or have that great award ceremony like they do at the end of the first Star Wars, or you have a pile of bodies if it’s a tragedy or ride off into the sunset. This is where you’re going to tie up all the strings and deliver that really satisfying ending.
This may seem really simple and you know what? It is simple but it’s really powerful. Now, I went through that really quickly but, if you haven’t yet, download the worksheet right now and go through this and try to figure it out. Enter into the worksheet how each of these beat points would apply for your novel.
You can pause this video if you need to. Alright, aim for the best of your ability – I want you to write a line or two under each of the 15 beats how it applies for your novel. Okay, it’s not quite as easy as it seems is it?
If you can’t fill out those whole thing right now, that’s okay. Between the last video and this video I actually skipped a few steps that will help generate these ideas in these scenes for your story. I just skipped them because I just wanted to get to the very meatiest parts in these free videos.
There is so much more that goes into this and sometimes those extra steps are necessary to help you flush out an outline like this but I think from this you can get the main idea and see how the structure of your novel is there. There’s no room for sloppy beginnings, saggy middles or sloppy endings.
You start with conflict, you end with sacrifice and confrontation. There’s a lot more detail we could get into and fleshing out this outline, but I do just want to point out. One thing about this and show you how this is pre-adapted for novelists.
If you open any random genre novel on your shelf and count the chapters, especially across hundreds of books (and I’ve done this) you’re going to find that a really really common number of chapters is thirty. Now why is that? Well, thirty is a good number for a novelist. It divides really easily into three acts. 30 chapters of 3,000 words each multiplies out to 90,000 words and 90,000 words is a really good length across a lot of genres.
Since 15 times 2 is 30, all you have to do to turn this beat sheet into your list of chapters is divide all of them into action and reaction scenes, and your novel is practically writing itself. Do you see how easy that is? Now of course you don’t need to have 30 chapters for this to work. That’s just a neat trick to get you started, for your novel to fall into place.
Then as you start to fill it in, start to flush out those scenes add meat to the bones of this outline. You’re going to build on what’s working for you and you’re going to just leave anything that’s not working for you aside. Your novel is going to take on its own unique structure but this is just a really easy way to get started and have a novel already taking form right there before your eyes.
I’d like to hear from you now. Do you have your novel idea yet? If so, what’s the premise?How is the beat sheet working for you? What other problems are you still having? What are your biggest challenges and is there anything else that you’d really like help with?
Ask me the questions that are the most difficult for you. I want to help you I want to do this for you right now. We’re going to have a Facebook, page go ahead and put those comments and questions in the Facebook page. Tell me all about your novel and tell me all about the questions you’d like me to address.
The only thing is, that it’s almost time to start writing and I so I don’t have much time for this so. Go ahead and quickly write those comments and questions, because you’re more likely to be able to get an answer from me if you do that right away.
I’m so eager to get started on my book and to be honest, I’m a little bit scared, because this book means so much to me, the one I’m going to be working on. But of course you know you should never be working on a novel that isn’t worth it, right? This should always be the book that is important to you, that you’re working on right?
Pretty soon I’m going to be starting the workshop the Miss Writer 30-day Novel Workshop with my partner Ryan Hall and it’s going to be so much fun. I’m really looking forward to teaching it and to doing my own novel alongside all the students who are doing the course. I think it’s going to be great.
So once again, don’t forget to download the workbook while you still can. Click the button, sign in get your copy. Remember it’s not going to be there very long. Do this while you can. Do your homework while you can, and if you remember – if you don’t like it and you think it was a waste of time, I would get you a $5 Amazon gift card.
I still stand by that. You absolutely have nothing to lose, so grab your workbook, do the work, start thinking about your novel and get ready to write. Please go ahead and tell me about your book. I would love to hear from you.