Monday, October 21, 2013

Plot Elements - for Outlines, Or Not

Whether you're gearing up for nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) in November or stuck as to where to go in your novel, or even curious how your favorite author may have planned his/her book, a plotting outline can be a valuable tool. Not every author uses outlines, but they typically save time. Here's a few things to consider whether you put it into outline form or not. (And my thanks to Sarah Anderson for some of these ideas.)

1. Every story has an overall Goal. What does the protagonist want or the problem they need to resolve and what are the Consequences if the goal is not reached? (This will later become the main point to mention in your query letter.)
2. Order of Events. Consider what needs to happen before the goal can be achieved. The inciting event or catalyst that makes the hero decide to initially take action toward the goal is obviously an early event. There will be obstacles along the way that raise the stakes as these complications are introduced. In building to the climax, think what more should be added to show the sacrifice your hero is willing to endure to reach the goal. Think 'emotion'. His or her crisis or darkest night where readers see no physical or other way to pull the hero out of their pit piggybacks into the climax. During the climax, the skills and knowledge a hero uses to get himself out of this pit must have their groundwork laid earlier in the story. We can't all of the sudden have the hero sneak on board an airplane and fly off to safety if the reader never knew they possessed a pilot's skill. 
3. Questions to ask in both plotting and putting together an outline:

  • What world is revealed and Problem presented in this world to set the hero on his new path?
  • What friends, teachers, skills does he meet or learn along the way? How will these be introduced?
  • What obstacles must the hero overcome. In what order should they appear? Weave these throughout the story, not scene after scene of them.
  • What love interest or other subplot should develop? Allot scenes for added fun or excitement between problems. 
  • Add greater complications to change the path, a twist from the expected path. What events will show that the hero is willing to make even greater sacrifices?
  • What is the worst that can happen? What is needed to add to foreshadow it or show the strengths and motivations of the villain so readers can believe the worst is possible?
  • What can the hero do to get himself out of this worst thing when it happens? Others may help with the minor or secondary struggles. Let the hero earn his reward.
  • What loose ends need resolution? Is the ending realistic and satisfying?

Are you an outliner or a panster?

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