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The 3 Sisters of a Bad Ass Outline

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    The 3 Sisters of a Bad Ass Outline

Do you often find yourself sitting at the computer creating the Next Great American Novel… just waiting for the next sentence to pop into your head?

You’re not alone.

For many, the act of writing is an arduous chore that saps the creative juice which motivated us to start in the first place.

Well, here’s “The Secret” no one tells you, about some of the most successful and prolific authors on the planet… Almost all of them start with a ready made template or story outline.

They don’t sit down and just write like we’ve been told to do over and over again.

The advice of just write has landed many writers (myself included) in the same frustrating spot… stuck, uninspired and dreading the next sentence with reams of pages that go nowhere.

The savvy and successful author knows there is a “formula” to their success. It all starts with a very well thought through outline.

These well known writers get most of the details of the story down on paper during this planning stage. So, by the time they hit the keyboard their creative juice is spinning and blowing the top off the blender.

Below, I share with you a story outline I call The 3 Sisters.

The 3 Sisters are: Characters, Plot and Setting

It’s not a new format but one that can be applied to most any kind of creative writing. Be that a novel, short story, memoir or creative writing essay.

I’ve been told this might even work for a graphic novel story outline.

So, once you get to the computer you can have fun drinking the creative koolaid and leave the boring brother at home.

The 3 Sisters of a Bad Ass Outline are:

#1 Character (#2 Plot & #3 Setting)

*It all starts with a pen and a lot of paper. This outline should be written out by hand first.*


This sister really should be the first one to come out. After all, the story will be told through the characters eyes.

Make sure you include:

– 2-4 Main Characters

– 1-2 Antagonists

– VICs – Very Important Characters – These are the characters who are not the main characters but are extremely important to the telling of the story.

Example of VICs: If Harry, Ron and Hermione are the main characters, then Ron’s family The Weasleys, are VICs.

Can you imagine what the Harry Potter series would be like without Ron’s Mum & Dad, all his brothers and of course his sister Ginny? No. I can’t either.

Write down (with pen to paper) the basics of each character:

– Their names

– A brief understanding of who they are and what their personality traits are.

– A physical description of each character. This can be fleshed out later.

– Write their histories and anything you believe is relevant to the character.

The details of the 1st Sister of Your Characters will grow as you move through the others.

As you develop the plot and the setting you can come back and add to your character descriptions.


The plot is the middle sister and sometimes gets forgotten about. The way to make a plot stronger is by starting at THE END.

Seriously… HOW do you want this story to end?

That’s where you begin.

When you know where you want your story to go it becomes easier to get there.

Once you have your end solidified THEN jump forward to the beginning.

After that, start filling in the middle with scenes, plot twists, happenings, flirtations etc. Don’t worry about how all of this will link together… yet. You can start to fill in more blanks as you progress through the outline.

There are 2 more things to give thought to with the 2nd Sister of The Plot.

Ask yourself what type of genre your story will fall under and whether this will be a one time story or part of a series?

1 – What type of novel/story will this be? Will it be a romance, a mystery or a thriller or maybe some combination?

2 – Next, if you want to make this into a series of stories or books then decide that now. It may seem premature in doing so, but you can save yourself A LOT of grief and effort down the road if you do.

A great example of this is (again) the Harry Potter series. One book lead to the next and grew in intensity while carrying over the characters and plot line from the book before. It was brilliantly done. J.K. Rowling is my hero. I’m a HUGE Harry Potter fan… can you tell?

Another aspect of the 2nd Sister of The Plot to get right during the outline phase is the Voice or Tone of the story.

This is where you will decide to write either in the 1st person or 3rd person. It’s also where you want to give a lot of thought to the feel of the story. It’s what many call the tone of a story.

Tone is the general underlying sense a reader has as they read through your story.

Write out a few scenes. Then read it back to yourself aloud. Does it fit with the plot? Can you see the characters actually living this type of story?

The tone is kind of a nebulous term but can really make or break the success of a novel. Getting it right at the 2nd Sister stage will save a TON of grief later.


The 3rd Sister is all about where it happens… the setting.

Ask yourself a lot of questions based on the first two Sisters of your bad ass outline. Take the characters, what they’re going through and decide WHERE it’s all happening.

Ask questions like: Is this story set in the past, present or future? Describe the type of culture this setting has. What are the politics and economy like?

What’s their currency? What is their popular music scene like, their popular movies and art, if any at all?

What kind of technology do they have? Computers have changed our world dramatically. What kind of devices do your characters have in this world? How do people use them? Their pros and cons?

This next question should be asked of every creative writing task you engage in.

Warning: It’s sooooooo Shakespearean….

Who has all the power? And Why?

Think of the world we live in now. There is a structure of order or power everywhere you look.

All tribes, all groups have had leaders and rules. Without them there is anarchy and all human beings understand this.

It’s part of our survival instinct. It’s been like that since cavemen chiseled on walls.

Conversely, if you really wanted to write a story without anyone in charge, no cultural order and where everyone gets along.. go ahead. See how that flies.

At this point, you want to go back and start filling in all the blanks. Keep going back until the entire structure is there. Don’t be afraid to have a lot (hordes even) of paper to go through.

It’s much easier to X a paragraph out on paper or throw out a page all together than try to do that on the computer mid-script. Just keep going back and filling in as much info as possible until you feel like the entire framework is there.

Once you’re at the computer you can let the creativity take the driver’s seat. You’ll have the map so have fun on the road to that finished story!

So that is The 3 Sisters of a Bad Ass Outline. I hope it’s given you hope on your journey to the end of your story.

Following this outline has helped me tremendously. Whenever I try to cut the “pen to paper” part short I always spend extra time at the computer and it’s never as fun.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact:


Michele at The Writers Nexus: info@thewritersnexus.com

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