Last time in Storybuilder Inc., I talked about character, setting, and world profiling. If you followed along, then you no doubt have many profile cards for your characters, settings, and maybe some world-building details of your story, as discovered in your 3-part outline. This will help tremendously for the next step:
The 9-part outline.
Rolling out the dough
Your 3-part outline is a very small version of your story. Imagine it as a flattened ball of dough. Before we stretch it into the thin, page-by-page draft, we need to roll it out to make sure it’s even.
There are many versions of the plot-point model for a story, including the 3-act play (which is my favorite). However, for the sake of being even I like to break beginning, middle, and end into three parts, based on the standard parts of a conflict arc. Today we will talk about each of them, with some examples from our 3 favorite premises.
You will want to take 5 cue cards (or similar-sized sheets of paper) and label each side with one of the 9 sections:
Opening sequence, Turning point 1, Start of Main Action, Inflection 1, Midpoint, Inflection 2, Turning point 2, Climax, Resolution
1: Elements of the beginning
The beginning can be divided up into 3 parts: an opening sequence, a turning point 1, and the start of the main action. You will have your beginning already from your 3-part outline. What you will likely find is that this beginning is in fact the starting scene—the opening sequence.
Remember Bob? Our marathon runner?
Here was his beginning:
Bob enjoys the satisfaction of seeing Cynthia collapse from exhaustion on the track and wonders how she bears her shame. “She deserves it,” he thinks, as he sprints on, remembering why he’s running: to honor the memory of his wife and children. And that bitch is the one who took them away.
It turns out this is the opening sequence, part 1 of the 9-part outline. When we start writing this story, this will be chapter one, unless something more suitable presents itself during the many surprises that the drafting stage often presents.
The beginning is the entry point, the place where you introduce your character, and the opening sequence is the embodiment of that. It is short, quick, poignant, and often by the end of your story, meaningful.
What about the other two parts of the 9-part outline?
Part 2 of the 9-part outline is turning point 1: an event that shifts the introduction toward the central conflict of your story arc. For example, in the case of Bob, we know he’s going to get injured, and this is going to be the event that brings him under Cynthia’s care; this would be turning point 1. Turning point 1 turns you from happy introductions to the tension that develops your story (turning point 2, as you will see shortly, turns you toward the climax, which will resolve that tension).
The start of the main action—part 3 of the 9-part outline—consists of events that follow turning point 1. For example, after Bob breaks his leg, he discovers that Cynthia is his nurse. This signals that the action of the novel has begun.
2: Elements of the Middle
The middle can be divided up into 3 parts: inflection 1, midpoint, and inflection 1. Unlike the beginning, the material you have from your middle might be harder to place. In fact, as you saw in the example above, some of the middle elements end up in parts 2 and 3 of your 9-page outline.
We will use bounty hunter Steve for our example here. This was the middle for his 3-part outline:
Steve is surprised when the police come to arrest him for a murder he knows nothing about. He suspects he’s been set up, since the man he just took down was one of the Senator’s sons. He flees as soon as he gets bail, becoming a fugitive, using his free time to get the better hand against the corrupt politician. His friend, Jim, has strangely accurate hunches, leading him closer to answers, even if each lead is a near-miss.
If we were breaking this into a 9-part outline, then the surprise arrest would be turning point 1 (part 2 of the 9-part outline), and perhaps he might have a meeting with his lawyer to express his suspicions about the Senator (start of the main action, part 3). But what about the rest?
Part 4 of the 9-part outline is called inflection 1. It is an event that sets up a change in the conflict toward the character’s fundamental shift. In the case of Steve, his fundamental shift is going from being a patriotic bounty hunter to an anarchist who sympathizes with “good” criminals. So let’s make inflection 1 for Steve the time he spends on the run trying to find evidence against the corrupt politician, because his choice to go on the run represents a change, but he hasn’t decided to abandon his country and false sense of justice just yet.
Part 5 is called the midpoint. It is the fundamental shift that turns the conflict from something imminent to something immediate. If you want to picture your story like an arch, this is the apex. The stakes change, the impossible becomes possible; your character is now heading straight toward the end state you had in mind when you first started shaping your 3-part outline (which you can read about here if you need a refresher). In the case of Steve, maybe he meets a radical who shows him evidence that several judges, lawyers, and cops are corrupt, and he gets so angry that he shoots the man. Wow, now there’s no turning back from that!
The final part of your middle, part 6 of the 9-part outline, is inflection 2. It is a unique event that develops as a result of your character’s fundamental shift. You can also look at it as the mirror image of inflection one, just on the other side of the conflict arc. So, Jim shoots a radical and has to live with growing guilt that he’s committed murder. Not only is he a fugitive, but he’s actually guilty of something. Worse, he finds out the radical was right. The judge (Honorable Bill Heron, who, by the way, will get his own profile card now that I’ve mentioned him) is guilty as sin, and Steve, full of rage, becomes a vigilante, shooting the man covertly at night. Yikes!
You’ll notice I used the original middle (above), but took it a bit deeper, based on what each part of the 9-part outline is. See if you can follow along and do this. Take your time and think, and make sure your choice for each section suits your overall arc. Remember, too, you can always make changes later.
3: Elements of the end
The end can be divided up into 3 parts, making the final 3 parts of your 9-part outline: turning point 2, climax, and resolution. You will most likely find that your end corresponds to the climax. After all, you wanted to pick a vivid, climatic moment—something that is worth the trip—when you developed your 3-part outline.
Let’s look at Ren, our elderly puppeteer of Mad King Burt, and the end we chose for her 3-part outline:
Ren orders Mad King Burt Left-hand to dance for her before every scheming noble and enjoys the satisfaction of finally being able to show that she holds the power. “Revolution is coming, starting with fairer taxes and equal rights for women,” she declares. “Anything she tells you, do,” her puppet lover says, not missing a beat.
Turning point 2—part 7 of the 9-part outline—is an event or sequence of events that leads to the climax of a story’s conflict. In the case of Ren, our middle doesn’t give us much information on how to get to the climax, but we know that Ren is going to discover that the nobles are the true source of corruption in the kingdom of Altavar (yes, we’ll profile that). In fact, Ren is going to go from hating the king and wishing a better nobility would replace him, to loving the king and destroying the nobility through his covert plans. Let’s say that, for inflection 2, Ren finds out that one of the nobles is scheming to have the king killed. What would be a good turning point 2?
Last week we talked about profiling (review it here if you need to), and in the process of profiling Mad King Burt Left-hand, we realized he’s not actually insane, but is using this as a trick to fool the scheming nobles in his court. What a turning point! This was not in our 3-part outline, but it fits: turning point 2, Burt and Ren make love in the Garden of Cards, where no servants are allowed, and he tells her he’s not insane, and in fact has been using his madness to gain the upper hand on all the nobles in his court.
The climax, part 8, is quite self-explanatory. Here’s Ren making the king dance, but it’s not with the satisfaction of getting revenge on him, but getting revenge on those who have made her life, and her peoples’ lives, miserable. He dances, she loves him, and knows she’s part of the act that will be their downfall.
Part 9, the final part of the 9-part outline, is the resolution. It can be seen as an aftermath or an afterward, events that result from the fulfillment of your conflict arc. For Ren, perhaps this might be an epilogue where she sits as queen next to her husband, watching as the headsman takes off Lord GeBralt’s head (oh, by the way, he’s the one who was behind all the scheming, according to the profile cards).
Is your 9-part outline empty?
If your answer is yes, then don’t despair. Your job is to transfer the elements of your 3-part outline to your 9-part one. If you have done some profiling, you may get ideas for what to put in the blank spaces, but if not, then I suggest profiling characters or settings to get some ideas.
In particular, try profiling characters. Vivid characters create story. Think about creating characters who will relate to and be involved with your main character(s), since things they do are likely to influence your story.
Try profiling settings. Settings generate characters, after all, which might give you characters to profile and hence some story ideas.
Whatever you do, think about your premise and story arc and always ask how story choices fit with the tale you are telling. Be spontaneous and free, or else you might just be staring at a blank page. More importantly, be willing to change your ideas (so, buy lots of cue cards) so that you come out with the best ones possible.
Preparing for a proposal
This step was big, but next week I’ll be putting it all together as we prepare for the short proposal. With this will come several tips and a useful checklist to make sure your story is ready to move to the frame-by-frame stage that proceeds actual drafting.
I hope your stories are evolving, and if you’re just joining this week, pick your own pace. These posts will be collected and used as a free online resource on my blog once the series is over.