Monthly Archives: April 2014

Control freaks need outlines

An outline may seem essential but when does a map become a crutch?

crutchAre you a control freak? I am: I crave structure. When I decided to write a story and Google failed to find me a generic outline, I sought help.

  • A teacher explained that a story has a beginning, middle, and an end.
  • A movie maven explained my story needed a beginning, change, climax, denouement (wha-at?), and conclusion.

These were descriptions – where was the structure?

I cobbled together an outline from books about writing but it failed to write my story; an outline practically writes a technical report so its failure to write a story came as a surprise. Frustrated, I spent an afternoon writing a random scene – just to put something on paper.

I began by writing the middle of the story.

It worked: only critical characters emerged. The seeker and her comic relief, the love interest. The villain was implied: somebody was dead and a bad guy dunnit. As I developed the bad guy, he brought baggage and suddenly I had a dynamic cast, each with a purpose and the nuggets of a backstory. I could imagine where the scene might go (conclusion) and background needed to explain the significance (introduction).

My outline (below) placed the scene within a larger story. New scenes became imperative, not for the sake of word count but because I had to show the bad guy was evil and show why the seeker was attractive. I set them on a collision course and encouraged conflict (that was a hurdle: I shy from conflict) using this outline:

1. Identify the hero and the  status quo.

2. Introduce a change/challenge.

    • how does the hero change/adapt/resist
    • what happens to her/his friends

3. Introduce adversity/conflict.

    • betrayal
    • fear/sense of failure

4. Plan, work, stretch.

    • discover abilities & capacities
    • make new friends or watch friends grow to accommodate the adventure
    • develop a plan and  execute

5. First plan fails.

  • epic event so devastating the good guys rethink tactics, strategy, and the goal.
  • The failure that wasn’t an option became reality.

6. Look inward and fight yourself.

  • The main character grows and transcends a fatal flaw. This is not a happy occasion. The audience’s ability to connect and to empathize pivot on how your character handles it. Not to get all Musashi, but spend time on this scene.

7. Devise a second plan that requires sacrifice and fundamental change.

  • What is more important: acquiring the cool toy or succeeding without it?  Curing cancer or accepting that bad things happen?
  • What is success worth? Does the hero greenlight a cost s/he wasn’t  previously willing to pay?

8. Execute the second plan. Climax. Triumph – success at cost.

This success eclipses the first failure.  Make it real; if you squirm out, the audience will leave.

9. Tie up the loose ends. Curtain.