How to Write a Great Novel From Beginning to End | Part 3 | Story Planning And Outlining
How to Write a Great Novel From Beginning to End | Part Three | Story Planning And Outlining
Warning: This article is chocked-full of useful information that may take a bit of time to read through. You have been warned….
If this is the first article of this series that you have come to, then you may want to take a look at the two previous articles in the series which will help you build the foundation of your novel:
- How to Write a Great Novel From Beginning to End | Part 1 | Coming Up With a Concept
- How to Write a Great Novel From Beginning to End | Part 2 | Characters, Setting, & Research
Now back to the subject of this article which is story planning & outlining. What is story planning and outlining? Is it worth the trouble? Story planning versus simply starting to write. How to write a useable story outline and the benefits of one. All that good stuff to come.
Story Planning & Outlining | The Benefits of Pre-Writing
If you want to make the task of writing your story a whole lot easier than consider doing some pre-writing and story planning.
Before you start your first draft, you can create a story outline. A story outline is like building the framework of a house. You already determine where the walls will be, where the windows and doors will go, and have everything ready for the rest of the main house building.
The benefit of story outlining is already knowing where your story starts, where your story ends, and what happens in between before you start writing your first draft. As a writer, you can’t discover the story as you go along, unlike when you are reading a book. You need to have a good idea of how the story is going to end already, what major events are going to happen, etc.
When you write an outline, you already have a good part of your story written, Just like the framework of the house, you already have a good part of the house built. With a story outline, writing the first draft is simply filling in the blanks. You already know what you have to write, so it makes writing the first draft so much easier and quicker.
Story Outlining Vs. Simply Starting to Write
Firstly, there is nothing wrong with simply starting to write as soon as you come up with a story concept. Some people actually find that planning their story hinders their creativity and ruins their motivation. If that is your case, then don’t waste time outlining, just get writing!
However, if you don’t find that planning and outlining hinders your creativity and ruins your motivation, then let me advise you to do some basic pre-writing. As mentioned earlier it can make the first draft writing process so much easier. It gives you a clear vision of what your story looks like from beginning to end and you know what you have to do: fill in the blanks.
If you prefer to just go at it and start writing right away, go ahead and do that. Story planning and outlining, like so many other writer’s tools, is nothing more than that. It’s a tool. You are the writer. You can choose whether or not to use the tool or not. You are in control. If you want to use the tool, then keep reading this article. If you don’t, then don’t waste your time here and get writing!
How to Create a Story Outline
There are, as with many things, several different ways to go about outlining a story. In this workbook, you will find instructions on how to create a basic outline in three acts.
Each act has three parts, the beginning, the middle, and the end. For each of the parts, it is recommended that you write one paragraph consisting of approximately three to five sentences. The finished outline, therefore, would be nine paragraphs.
Story Outlining | Act One
Act One of the story outline covers the introduction of the main characters, the establishment of their current world, and the first turning point in their journey which leads to the next part of the story.
Act One | Beginning | The Introduction
The beginning of act one is the story setup. Introducing the main characters and conveying their ordinary world. The questions to answer in this part are:
- Where and when does the story take place?
- Who are the main characters?
- What does life look like for them right now?
- What do they want? What do they not want?
- What is standing between them and their desire?
Act One | Middle | The Catalyst, Unbalance, or Inciting Incident
The middle part of act one introduces the catalyst, unbalance, or inciting incident – the event that turns the protagonist’s world upside down. It causes an unbalance in their ordinary life, which motivates them to restore the balance. They are presented with a challenge or quest that must either accept or choose to ignore, but either way there will be consequences. Questions to answer in this part are:
- What causes an unbalance in the protagonist’s ordinary life?
- What would it take to restore balance?
- What is at stake if the protagonist chooses to accept the challenge?
- What is at stake if the protagonist chooses not to accept the challenge?
Act One | End | The First Turning Point
The end part of act one is the first turning point in the story. This is the point where the protagonist must decide what they are going to do. They accept the mission or quest unwillingly put upon them and leave their ordinary, familiar world behind. Questions to answer in this part are:
- Why does the protagonist decide to accept the challenge, mission, or quest?
- What does the protagonist need to do to achieve success?
- Where do they need to start their journey?
- What will they leave behind when they start on their mission?
Story Outlining | Act Two
Act two of the story outline cover the beginning of the protagonist’s mission or quest. It is where the action really begins to start happening and the character’s true colors are revealed.
Act Two | Beginning | The New World
The beginning of act two introduces the protagonist’s new world. The questions to answer in this part are:
- What does the protagonist’s everyday life look like now?
- What do they miss from their old life?
- What do they struggle with the most?
- What do they not miss from their old life?
- Are they excited or frightened of the unknown?
Act Two | Middle | The Midpoint
The middle part of act two is the midpoint of the story. The ordinary world has been introduced, the catalyst has been presented, the protagonist’s reaction to the catalyst has been shown and the new world they are now living in. They choose to accept the mission or quest to restore the unbalance presented near the beginning of the story and have tried everything to achieve success in their mission. They are now frustrated that balance has not yet been restored.
At this point, you can make it seem like the story is ending. You can give a failing/defeat or a temporary victory. You create a false ending just before disaster strikes and the big action gets going. Questions to answer in this part are:
- Why has the protagonist’s quest not yet been fulfilled?
- What is standing in their way and how do they feel about it?
- What do they do as a means to try to achieve success?
- Does it fail or seem victorious?
Act Two | End | The Second Turning Point
The end part of act two presents the second turning point in the story. This is where yet another, even worse unbalance is presented. Disaster strikes. Just when it seems that nothing more could go wrong, it does go wrong. Questions to answer in this part:
- What major disaster strikes that bring everyone to their knees?
Story Outline | Act Three
Act three of the story outline is the most action-packed. Big decisions need to be made, a fight for victory against adversity, and ultimately, the conclusion of the story.
Act Three | Beginning | Crisis
The beginning of act three will deal with the disaster presented in the end of act two. The protagonist is faced with a dilemma. They have to decide what to do next, how to deal with the disaster. Anything they do will have a consequence, and everything seems hopeless, but action must be taken. Questions to answer in this part are:
- How is the protagonist going to deal with the disaster?
- What is at stake if they fight against it?
- What is at stake if they walk away?
Act Three | Middle | Climax
The middle part of act three is the climax of the story. The high point, the good versus evil, the ultimate battle for victory against adversity. The protagonist makes their decision on what to do next and acts on it. At this point, the main characters either fix the problem and restore the unbalance, or they don’t, but instead, they get something unexpected, yet not unpleasant. They gain a new perspective either on the original problem or on life itself. They are made new or changed somehow by their experiences. Questions to answer in this part are:
- What does the protagonist choose to do?
- Are the main characters victorious in their quest or did they fail?
- Did they achieve something better than their original desire?
- What did they learn through their experiences?
Act Three | End | The Resolution or End of the Story
The end part of act three is the end of the story. This part is yet another introduction, this time to the new versions of the main characters and the way their new ordinary world looks. Tie up all the loose ends and give a conclusion to the story.
Recap | How to Create a Story Outline
This is a basic story outline in three acts. Each act has three parts, the beginning, the middle, and the end. For each of the parts, it is recommended that you write one paragraph consisting of approximately three to five sentences. The finished outline, therefore, would be nine paragraphs.
What Comes Next? | The Next Step in Writing a Great Novel | Writing the First Draft
Be sure to take a look at the next article in this series where you can learn about the next step in writing a great novel. Tips and advice for writing the first draft of your novel. How to turn your newly created outline into the first draft of your novel.