The act of writing is an arduous chore. There, I said it.
Many writers feel the same way, but won’t admit it out loud.
Some of the greatest, most prolific writers in history have said they don’t actually enjoy the process of writing.
Well, here’s a “secret” you probably won’t read anywhere else…
Almost all successful authors start with a template or story outline.
They don’t sit down and just write like we’ve been told to do over and over again.
**Read what I say about WHY the advice to “just write” is just WRONG….**
The savvy and successful author knows there is a “formula” to their success.
It all starts with a well thought out story outline.
If you just groaned and thought of high school English class, let me explain.
Your story outline doesn’t have to be overly structured.
Your outline is a guide not a road map.
You’re not married to it.
You’re just dating it for awhile until you decide what kind of story you really want to write.
Think of your story outline as the “planning stage”.
By the time you seriously hit the keyboard for your storytelling… you’ll be able to see the pathway to your story in your head.
This is important.
Unless you’re as prolific and experienced as someone like James Patterson or Stephen King, you’ll almost certainly need to write a story outline before you get into the details.
JK Rowling did…
She wrote a story outline for all the Harry Potter books.
Rowling wrote copious notes on all her characters.
She gave them histories and back stories that never came to light in the final draft.
Her story outlines gave her a level of organization and character background to draw from.
The 3 Sisters of a Bad Ass Story Outline are
Characters, Plot and Setting
Characters Plot Setting
The story outline centering on Plot, Characters and Setting is not new.
However, it can be applied to most any kind of writing though.
It’s best if you can put your story outline to pen and paper first. Maybe I’m old school, but I find it faster and easier to write the first draft on paper before I launch a word doc.
#1 – CHARACTERS – The First Sister
Who are the main people in your story?
Who are the supporting characters?
Make sure you include:
– 2-4 Main Characters – eg. The Hero and his/her Best Friend and maybe 2 others
– 1-2 Antagonists – The Villain and maybe he/she has an assistant
– 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 or the lovable Hagrid are VICs
What are 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 First Sister of Characters will grow as you move through the story outline.
You can always come back and add to your character descriptions at a later time.
#2 – THE PLOT – The Second Sister
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 fairly 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 a few more things to consider with 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? If you want to make this into a series of stories or books then decide that now. It may seem premature, but you can save yourself A LOT of grief down the road if you do.
- What type of novel/story will this be? Will it be a romance, a mystery or a thriller? Nonfiction? Children’s book maybe? Or perhaps a combination?
A great example of deciding upon a series of books ahead of time is… Harry Potter.
One book lead to the next in that series and the story grew in intensity while carrying the plot line from the book before. It was brilliantly done.
Another aspect to get right during the story outline phase is the Voice or Tone.
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.
Tone is the general underlying sense a reader has as they go through the 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 of a story can really make or break the success of a novel. Getting it right at this 2nd Sister of the Plot stage will save a TON of grief later.
#3 – THE SETTING – The Third Sister
The 3rd Sister is all about where it happens… the setting.
This stage could also be considered world building.
Many writers, directors and producers consider the world a writer has built to be THE MOST IMPORTANT element of any storyline.
Now, take the characters, what’s happening to them and decide WHERE it’s all happening.
Ask questions like:
- Is this story set in the past, present or future?
- What type of culture does this setting have?
- What are the politics and economy like?
- What’s their currency?
- What’s their popular music scene like, their popular movies and art, if any at all?
- What kind of technology do they have?
- What kind of devices do your characters have in this world you’re building?
- How do people use them?
- What are the pros and cons of these devices?
- What are the values of the society? What’s important to them? <— this can be an incredibly important question to the overall movement of the characters through this world
This next question is extremely important and also Shakespearian…
Who has all the power? And Why?
All tribes, all groups, all societies have leaders and rules. What kind does your world have?
Conversely, if you really wanted to write a story without anyone in charge, with no cultural order… go ahead.
At this point in your story outline, you want to go back and start filling in all the blanks.
Keep going back until the entire structure is there. If you are using pen and paper you may consider a small binder to stay organized.
If you’re using a word doc, have a file for every chapter, every character and for even certain scenes if they are important and complex enough.
I find it’s much easier to X a paragraph or sentence out on paper than try to do that on the computer mid-script. Although, if you’re using a word doc exclusively just stay very organized.
Now, just keep going back to your story outline and fill in as much detail as possible, linking the information, dialogue and action together – having them lead deeper and deeper into the plot – until you feel like the entire framework for your story is there.
So that is The 3 Sisters of a Bad Ass Story Outline. I hope it’s given you value.
If you’re interested in some more writing tips…
Check out tips from these successful authors…
Why the Advice to “Just Write” is Just Wrong
The 4 Horsemen of the Writers Apocalypse
Wishing you much imagination…
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