Editing Tip Tuesday. Yes, I know it’s Thursday.

penandpaperThe Outline

Some writers outline and some make things up as they go along. I’m the first kind because when I try to be the second kind I end up down a giant, dark hole with no way out except for the use of the delete button. That’s a scary place to be for me.

I created a formal template of the outline I used on my last novel, The Second Chance House, and thought I’d share the outline with you. My novel is out in submission now, let’s keep our fingers crossed it finds the right home. I would like to use the outline again when I begin the second book in the series. Because I had done much of the work upfront, there was much less to edit on the back end. Oh, there was stuff to edit for sure, but I wasn’t trying to claw my way out of the black hole like I had in the last novel in my middle-grade series, Welcome To Skull Mountain

The outline is not mine alone. I took pieces from gay romance author Damon Suede, (Damon is a fantastic writer and very funny. I’ve sat through several of his workshops.) And I took pieces from Cathy Yardley’s book Rock Your Plot. I like Cathy’s simplistic approach to explaining writing.

Here’s what I came up with:

Inciting Incident: The moment that changes the hero/heroine forever. Nothing is the same after this moment.

Plot Point One: Protagonist takes on the problem, but has no idea how to go about handling it.

Midpoint: Protagonist seems on the verge of achieving goal until everything falls apart. The protagonist is now proactive instead of reactive to the inciting incident. He/she can only be proactive by learning something new. The midpoint is a time to increase conflict.

Plot Point Two: Protagonist pushed into the spot from which success seems impossible. This should be the last big reveal of information and sets up the protagonist for the big dramatic conclusion. (You can’t reveal info after this point that hasn’t been set up already. Nothing can come in as a surprise to solve the problem.)

Black Moment/Climax: The worst possible thing has happened to the protagonist. All must seem lost at this point and the goal of the novel must seem unattainable.

Resolution: The breather. The world is restored to order and the protagonists can take a deep breath, and enjoy reaching their goal.

The outline is overly simplified, but it kept me on track. I filled in the blanks for every plot layer and subplot I had making sure every thread wound up at the climax of the story. This way the black moment effected everyone’s goals.

An outline might not speak to you. That’s okay. There is no right or wrong way to write a book. Find the method that works and try it. You may have a different method for each book you write. That’s fine too.

Any questions?




4 thoughts on “Editing Tip Tuesday. Yes, I know it’s Thursday.

  1. Stacey,

    That’s exactly what I do: I start with a logline, then move on to a fifteen-point “beat sheet” (covering the basic stages of Joseph’s Campbell’s “hero’s journey”), then I outline the finer points across a series of forty index cards on a corkboard. Between the carded corkboard and my research, I am ready to “go to pages,” as they say. I’m currently in the middle of my first set of revisions on the first draft of my novel, and though there is definite room for improvement, the macrostructural foundation is sound because of all the time spent on the front end making sure the plot itself was logical and causal; I don’t have a “black hole” to dig myself out of!

    One of the great exercises a writer can do is to reverse-engineer the plots of his favorite movies/novels on a beat sheet; there’s no better way to learn the fundamentals of story. Here’s a sample breakdown I did for Raiders of the Lost Ark on my blog.


    1. Sean,
      Thank you for your continued visits to the blog. For the newer writers that follow my blog would you mind further explanation on reverse-engineering a plot? For many writers, they aren’t sure how to construct a plot. There are story ideas, which writers usually have in spades, but a plot is something all together different. Hence, why I like an outline.

      1. Right — story is all the narrative elements working together: plot, theme, characterization, subtext, etc.; plot itself is just one of those elements.

        I use Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! methodology. Basically, Snyder took Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey” model and broke it down into fifteen major “beats” (a screenwriting term): Setup, Catalyst, Break into Two, B-Story, Fun and Games, Midpoint, etc. This makes it really easy to create a macrostructural overview of your plot: These fifteen beats are the major events — the immovable pillars — of the plot itself. It’s not unlike what you’ve outlined above. It’s a great tool for writers to map out their plots. And the easiest way to learn it, in my opinion, is to take a number of movies you love — ones you’re really familiar with — and ask yourself: What’s the Catalyst? What’s the Break into Two? What’s the Midpoint? That’s what I did for Raiders of the Lost Ark. If you examine that beat sheet, you’ll notice that I don’t discuss character arcs or thematics or granular details of any kind — just the A-to-Z plot fundamentals.

        You can do that with any movie; take Saving Private Ryan, for example:

        Setup: D-Day battle
        Catalyst: Tom Hanks is tasked with the titular mission
        Break into Two: He accepts the mission and we meet his squadron
        Fun and Games: Various adventures ensue on the French countryside
        Midpoint: Searching the dog tags of the dead, the squad finds a solider who knows the location of Private Ryan

        And so on and so on…

        What I would recommend is that any aspiring writer read a copy of Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies, in which Snyder breaks down fifty popular films. If you learn to identify the major beats in time-honored stories, you’ll have an easier time recognizing whether your beats are up to snuff: Is my Break into Two strong enough? Does my Midpoint sufficiently change the direction of the plot? Is my All Is Lost a true low point, or just another “bump in the road”?

        ‘Cause you’re right, Stacey: Ideas themselves are a dime a dozen. Structure is what gives shape to those ideas, what allows for all the “ornaments,” like theme and transformational arcs, to have meaning — to have resonance. And there’s a methodical approach to both learning structure and applying it to your story idea, and for that I recommend studying Christopher Vogler and Blake Snyder — they’ll teach a writer looking to learn the rudimentals of craft everything he needs to know.


      2. All great suggestions for Hollywood “Beat” models and Hero’s Journey. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with my readers.

        There are several ways to construct plot which is great when an author is trying to find the best way for them to put their plot together. If the Three Act Structure appeals to a writer they can try Robert McKee’s Story, http://www.mckeestory.com and another writer favorite for commercial fiction is Dwight Swain’s https://www.amazon.com/Techniques-Selling-Writer-Dwight-Swain/dp/0806111917 Techniques of the Selling Writer

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