outline novel

Outlining The Ten Story Elements Part II


Attacking and sifting through myriad possibilities seems daunting at the outset of plotting story events.  Relax. One plot element at a time and it will come together.

In the series of cause and effect scenes, perhaps you have one or two that you’re sure of.  The question is where to place these events and what should proceed and follow them.

Know that each episode to occur, as in life, is a catalyst. The challenge isn’t a lack of options. We all react to the events around us, and as you become acquainted with your characters, you’ll know how they’d respond.  The deeper you move into your story, the easier it will become to script their reactions and, hence, the resulting scenes that comprise their journey.

Frequently, though, when drawing the first few mile markers on our plot maps, we aren’t keenly attuned to our characters’ dispositions.  Nonetheless, we can still pencil in our plan and come back later to either amend events or redraw our characters.

But there’s no reason to stare at a wall of white.  Each event, like a Russian doll, harbors a nest of possibilities. Similarly, depending on where this episode occurs in your story, each can be fitted inside the parameters of your protagonist and his goal to formulate what events might have led to this juncture.  It doesn’t matter if you work in a linear fashion or if you jump ahead and work your way back.  All that matters is that you weave your tapestry so that logic develops within the vision, and meaning from it.

Ask yourself: How does my protagonist get from here to there?  (Or, how did he get here?)  What things need to happen first?  What concepts or details do I need to establish prior to this?

Let’s return to the ten plot elements and see where we might place them


  1. Begin the middle with an overarching tension, conflict, or suspenseful plot point. While the threat holds the reader’s attention, it allows the author to slow down the story and incorporate scenes of place and time, of humanness.
    1. Your hero has picked up the gauntlet, but he must get his bearings, figure out what’s going on, refine his desires and goal.
  2. Strategy. Once he begins to acclimate to the situation, the protagonist comes up with a strategy to attack his goal.
  3. Putting his plan into action, he gains ground and appears to be succeeding. Despite the obstacles, he manages to move forward.
  4. The worst thing that can happen to your protagonist does.
    1. What adversaries arise to wreak havoc?
    2. What are the protagonist’s (and key characters’) emotional reactions?
    3. What are the protagonist’s goals in this segment?
    4. Who, if anyone, provides a lending hand, either intentionally or not?
    5. How is the protagonist changing in this segment? How are his false self confronted and his emotional fears revealed?
  5. What’s worse than the previous malady to befall your hero?
    1. What adversaries arise and what havoc do they wreak?
    2. What are the protagonist’s (and key characters’) emotional reactions?
    3. What are the protagonist’s goals in this segment?
    4. How is the protagonist changing in this segment? How are his false self confronted and his emotional fears revealed?
  6. Circumstances have become much more difficult than the protagonist could have imagined.
    1. He re-examines his commitment (an opportunity to reveal his inner goal), and then digs in.
    2. He faces a new set of obstacles.
    3. Through your protagonist’s emotional reactions, increasingly peel away layers of masking, gradually exposing their inner development through dramatic action with thematic significance.
    4. What are the protagonist’s goals in this segment and how does he adapt?
  7. Your protagonist has made progress, and his goal seems within reach.
    1. But something worse than the previous malady befalls him.
    2. What are the protagonist’s (and key characters’) emotional reactions?
    3. What are the protagonist’s goals in this segment?
    4. Plot Point: The highest crisis in the story thus far.


  1. Breather from plot point, which holds the reader’s attention and allows the author to slow down the story and develop the characters’ emotional plot line together with thematic significance.
  2. Launch cavalcade of conflicts.
    1. Which ushers the protagonist to his bleakest moment or Dark Night of the Soul. Everything has gone awry and all appears lost.
    2. Moment of Clarity: Protagonist sees himself, his issues, others, life… in a new light.
    3. Decision. The hero comes to a fork in the road and must make a choice that involves a personal gain as well as a loss of equal magnitude. When the choice is made, it’s made with ownership and is life-altering.
  3. Climax
    1. The hero will put it all on the line, risking tremendous odds.
    2. Scene of preparation
    3. Final tryst. The hero’s decision is tested in the biggest ordeal of his life. His future is in his hands.
    4. The contest is over. The goal is resolved. Through success or in spite of failure, a resolution has been won.
      1. By making the decision he did, a void or Hole in the protagonist’s life has been filled.
      2. We see the hero demonstrate not only what he learned, but an awareness of his having learned it.
  4. After Photo. Contrary to how we met the protagonist at the story’s onset, we now are given a snapshot that shows him free of his false beliefs and the façade he erected to protect himself (Think Before and After photos).

By now you should be in the thick of drafting your plot outline.  There will be changes, I’d imagine, particularly as we look at other dynamics of story.

With any plot structure, the artist will likely question the paradigm presented. The approaches laid out here are plastic. It’s up to you to finesse the concepts. It’s also within the realm of choices to discard them altogether. There are myriad plot structures. Perhaps at a later date I’ll visit some. In the meantime, I recommend that you study each design to know what your predecessors have done and to appreciate the mechanics of the novel.

Remember, we learn the rules so we can break them with intention; and we break them with intention, sometimes, to discover why we need them in the first place.

Ken Follett—

“The whole process of coming up with an idea, fleshing it out, doing the research, drafting the outline and rewriting the outline comes to about a year all told. There are quite often a couple of false starts within this. I may spend a month working on an idea before I realize that it isn’t going to work and abandon it. But after this whole process, I’m ready to write the first draft.”

As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Though world governments rise and fall, don’t rush the writing process. Creativity isn’t a race. Your objective, my objective, is art.

Written by The UnNovelist
The Unnovelist