Tag Archives: storytelling tips

Storybuilder Inc. — Step 12: Revision 301

In the last step, I talked more about revision, covering 5 basic principles to help as you use your revision outline from step 11 to adjust your manuscript so it matches the kernel of your story. Now, I will talk about 5 more principles that build on the 5 from last week.  In the New Year, I will spend another two weeks doing this, covering revision at two deeper levels of complexity, before moving on to polishing, the final phase of storybuilding.

For a complete guide of all Storybuilder steps, including a list of posts to come, CLICK HERE.

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Tip 1: Look for inner and outer turning points, and emotional contrasts

In last week’s tips (Revision 201), I talked about making adjustments. Of course, we were not concerned with big adjustments at that point. We were only trying to detect where the story fell out of sync. The goal of going through and filling in your outline is to appreciate this, but the actual work of making corrections in each individual sub-frame is difficult and something that requires many layers of development. To help with navigation, you will want to get to know each sub-frame well, and a crucial way to do this is to look for inner and outer turning points, and emotional contrasts.

If you filled your sub-frame sheets in according to the instructions from step 11, then you will have a place for these three things on each one. Looking at your sub-frame and identifying these three things is a good way to sweep over your manuscript and connect to the story underneath.

An outer turning point is a change in circumstances that gives your narrative a tailwind. It can be subtle (in fact, it is most effective when it is subtle). An inner turning point is a change within your character, and often it is linked to an outer turning point. It can be direct or indirect. Maybe you are writing a mystery novel and all the evidence gained up to this point serves as a backdrop for your detective to have a sudden epiphany while lying in bed—the realization that everything they have been doing is wrong and they have to go about the case another way. An outer turning point could be anything from an unexpected home invasion to a betraying friend’s smirk, to a sudden gust of wind, while an inner turning point can be anything from an epiphany to a brief moment of recollection to a sudden shift in story voice (conveying a subconscious inner shift).

Emotional contrasts go hand-in-hand with outer and inner turning points, and a strong story is one where a character’s conflict arc progresses under the pull of strong conflicting emotions. While outer turning points are related to plot, these outer events, however subtle, bring about or contrast changes in your character that present an emotional shift and often an opposition to the previous emotions. This, in turn, leads to an inner turning point. All together, these three things are the coal that keeps your narrative engine chugging.

An example might be:

[example summary of a sub-frame]

Abe awakens to serene sunrise, reflecting on what might lie ahead in the day, wondering if his fiance, Eve, will come visit. He smiles, appreciating how beautiful the sunrise is on the water. A leaf drops on the pond, sending out dark ripples and the air is suddenly chill, rekindling the memory of how he nearly lost her two years ago. Never again, he vows. He goes back indoors, realizing how cold his coffee is.

In this example, we might write:

  • Outer turning point: the leaf sending ripples along the water
  • Inner turning point: Abe realizes how uncertain his life is and decides he can’t fool himself no matter how hard he tries
  • Emotion contrasts: nostalgic, hopeful, and pleasant vs. insecure, uncertain, and uneasy

In the next sub-frame, Abe would cart the new emotions along and those, along with any external turning points there, would lead to further development of his arc within this frame.

Since inner and outer turning points can be subtle, you can look for them in every sub-frame. These shifts are what compels your readers to keep turning pages. The goal of a storybuilder is to infuse every sub-frame with them effectively.

However, one note of caution: beware creating these for the sake of creating them. They must belong, otherwise your story’s events might read like a cartoon. Again, this is where art comes into it. You, the writer, must know what your overall goal is with each sub-frame and how it contributes to the larger scope of your story. When you look for these three components, you want to ask what is truly happening, and what is true to the story—not what ought to happen so you can make the scene dramatic.

Think about what is happening in the frame as you think about the inner and outer turning points and emotional contrasts of a particular sub-frame. Think also about what is happening in the part of the 9-part outline, even the 3-part. For example, in the scene with Abe, maybe this is the middle of the novel and Abe is about to discover that he has a devastating mental illness. Maybe our goal is to have him end up in a mental hospital where an old woman teaches him to trust the world again through their hour-long sessions of coloring with crayons. If that’s the purpose of the novel, then this scene’s meaning can be put in context. In this scene, for example, let’s say Eve never calls Abe, and he hangs around until supper and watches the sun set. This frame is about the onset of his madness (as it turns out, Eve went on holiday and he doesn’t remember, because he is starting to hallucinate). He goes to bed with the light on, and hears whispers on the wind. He picks up the phone and suddenly the operator’s voice recording actually speaks to him and tells him Eve is dead. Panicked, he runs outside, half-naked, until one of his neighbors finds him on the street. (That’s the final sub-frame of this frame.)

Get the idea? Now see what you can do with your story, and next week we will dig deeper into how we can use the sections of the sub-frame notes to appreciate the story behind each meaningful segment of your manuscript.

Tip 2: Implement alpha and cold read notes

During the last part of Step 8, Drafting 4, I talked about alpha readers. We also did a cold read, in step 9, where you made notes as you went over your draft like a reader. You can look at the storybuilding process as a bit of an architecture project. You spent a lot of time in the pre-building phase, doing renderings, then developing a careful blueprint. You can only plan so far—so at last you went and built, very carefully. Afterward, though, there are tests and fixes that need to be done. Your role now is to use all those inspector’s notes (both your own as cold reader and the alpha readers’).

Last week I shared basic tips to help you get your bearings with the process. Now you can think about where to put these notes. I recommend you avoid putting them in until you have filled in all your inner / outer turning points and emotional contrasts for each sub-frame. The reason for this is you need to gain some perspective as you break your story apart so you can better appreciate where a given issue might rear its head. One of your notes might be, “Your character doesn’t seem to have much confidence. Is she always like this?” Your goal is to check, but in order to do that, you have to know where to look.

I recommend you put all your notes together in one place and move through them like a check-list. Basic fixes and adjustments you can tick off the list right away. Larger fixes can be worked in using square-bracket notes that you’ll address at some point in the layering process. Avoid fixes that seem so large you don’t know where to begin. We will talk about those next week.

This part might be tedious, but if you avoid the instinct to “fix it all now”, it should be straight forward. You will also find there is lots of overlap or issues you may have addressed while you layered in some changes during the time you spent filling in your post-draft outline.

Tip 3: Drop more anchors, use references, and be open to radical change

I mentioned last week that you shouldn’t get too carried away with fixing. In fact, I even said to leave notes inside square brackets (rather than comments, since you can easily find these notes using “find” in the body of your word processor). As you’re doing this, you’re going to realize lots of parts are connected. Maybe there is a big intrigue that shows its face throughout many subframes. In fact, you might notice that it is in sub-frame 2 of frame 21, and so on. You might write:

[look for consistency on this plot. Go into 16.7, 18.5, 21.2, 8.2, and 26.6 and read all references to the Blue Plague and its ties to the Overworld]

Whatever it may be, leaving yourself these detailed referential anchors will help tremendously as you deal with Revision 501, the most advanced stage of revision, and sync together all rough ends such as plot holes or more serious flaws related to a faulty premise or underdeveloped outline.

Unlike the world of architecture, the word “oops” does not necessarily mean rewriting your book. Using the storybuilder principles, you can address the most fundamental of flaws in your manuscript, and these anchors are key ingredients to be pinned in place as you piece together where you have to go back and perform some magic.

Tip 4: Ruminating on higher levels

Tip 4 of Revision 201 can be extended to this level. The goal of moving in stages, with the aid of your post-draft outline, is to create deeper intimacy with your story. You want to move away from seeing it as a long chunk of words that took a long time to write, with some scenes you remember. Instead, you want to reach a point where you can identify which sub-frame a given event happens in, where you can appreciate all the connections of your story and, most importantly, appreciate what your plot elements are and how they evolve.

At this point, you will become aware of flaws in your manuscript and ways your story doesn’t quite fit. Be very critical of these. Don’t second guess yourself. If something is “not quite right,” then there’s a reason for that, and your novel will not be finished until all those not-quite-right’s are dealt with. You don’t need to have the answer right away, but that should serve as an indicator of where your thinking energy needs to go.

I will emphasize that this is not a “stage” of the process (these are just tips, in order of complexity, to help navigate you through revision successfully). This is a principle to show how you want to be looking at your manuscript. In Revision 401 next week, I will extend this tip by visiting some of the more specific ways to deal with these higher levels of problem-solving. For now, see your goal like this:

Imagine your story’s details are the trivia for a game of Jeopardy. Do you want to win grand prize? Then know your facts inside and out. That is the start of realizing where work needs to be done and where some things don’t quite match up.

After all, the devil’s in the details.

Tip 5: Layer in your rewrites – AGAIN!

As you proceed, keep on layering. Think of a snake with its suits of skin. You have a process, but the draft evolves organically. There is no draft 2 or 3. Just the one draft and its evolving states. If you want you can save your draft as a new file to see how it changes, but you will have hundreds of them by the time you’re done. I don’t save my drafts, other than the draft I finished for the cold read, the one that is ready for polishing (the “hot read” version for step 13), and the final.

Layering is the key to doing this effectively, however. Layering allows you the power to seize a sentence and put it where it belongs, right then and there. Layering frees you from keeping you stuck in one place. Layering allows you to move, to make notes, and to come back when you are ready. It allows you to write where writing is ready to happen—where it needs to happen, with the direction of your critical revision process.

Layering in and of itself, without the structural guidance of the post-draft outline or careful storybuilding steps, is no guarantee that a novel will be finished. However, making this your rule of procedure for how you implement revision will give you, the writer, the spontaneity and freedom to swing your hammer down on the manuscript where it needs tempering, rather than beating it in every which direction and always having to unfix what didn’t need fixing.

Next week, you’re a level 4 revisionist

If you’re still following, then you are a determined storyteller and I hope you continue all the way to the end. If you have a desire to tell a story, then do not lose hope or lose sight of your goals. Many writers, sadly, give up at this step, or even before. Worse, many turn their manuscript in for submission and skip revision, applying some polish and saying “good enough”. With the temptation of self-publishing, it’s easy to give in, especially when the going gets tough. But this easy road usually means silent readers or standard rejection letters, and having been there myself I don’t need any convincing which road is more desirable.

It’s going to get tougher next week and the week after. But if you’ve read this far, then I’m going to assume you’re in for the ride. You want a finished novel, something you are proud of. You want a manuscript that’s gone through all the treatments, so that, no matter what, you’ll have finished work in your portfolio.

This is the part where you start feeling like you’re crazy, where your every waking moment belongs to your manuscript and you really wish you could move on to something else. It’s the part where you wonder if you’ve written crap and if you’re wasting your time, if it will ever find a publisher or just be another failure. You might hate it as much as you love it, and wonder if you’re ever going to succeed.

Don’t give into those Gollums! Tell them to go away and never come back, and guess what? Eventually you’ll have peace of mind.

Don’t think about if this is “worth it”, or if it will be “great”. Don’t think about if it will be “crap” or “meaningless”. Throw all that in the fire and let it melt. What you’ll take out, then, will be pure. This is the part where you manuscript moves from being your own to being something else, and that something else will be the story you set out to tell.

See you all in 2014!

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Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. He is the author of The Pact and is an editor for Champagne Books.

Find out more about Graeme and his writing by visiting his website, HERE.

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 11 (Part 2): Discovering Microstructure

In the last step, I talked about creating a post-draft outline. If your novel is 100,000 words, then you might have 50-100 sub-frames — and thus a big stack of paper! I only talked about what each sub-frame sheet should look like and the motivation for doing such a crazy thing. This week, I will talk about the process of filling this sheet in—the process of discovering microstructure.

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Like Clockwork

Don’t you love the intricate workings of a clock? Large gears turn to control the outward display, and as they rotate smaller gears move quicker, controlling them. Spools swivel in time to those smaller gears, and even smaller components turn, some slow, some fast, but all in perfect concert with the overall progression. It’s incredibly complex, and yet, at the same time, simple. It’s unified, with one purpose.

Just like a story.

If I lived two hundred years ago, no doubt I’d be a clock-maker (a day job while I secretly work away at my stories). Instead, I find teaching about and exploring the machinations of math and computer programming just as stimulating—a digital age equivalent of a clock-maker, I suppose. One thing is for certain: it’s taught me to think about stories structurally and abstractly, without getting twisted up by all those complicated gears.

Last week we explored how to divide your story up into small chunks—the only smaller division from here would be the sentences and passages that move each one. (If you are writing a series or a collection of related stories, you might want to consider bigger wheels and what sort of machine they turn in as well. I’ll write about that in the series of extra posts to follow this workshop.)

Now, let’s explore why it’s important to explore micostrcuture.

Pearls before swine

Exploring microstructure means going over your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb, pulling out and organizing details, and discovering the emotions and plots that lie in the background to the story. It allows you to discover what is really happening so you can make intelligent structural changes that reflect the overall story. It will take hours—count on 100 hours for 100,000 words of story.

So, is it worth it?

I love the comic “Pearls before swine,” particularly for its title. It resonates on many levels for me, especially with regard to completing a story: if you don’t put your pearls first, you’re going to turn your precious gems into pig food. Ugh!

Many writers turn in work too soon (myself included, which is why those works now rest peacefully in a box). Sometimes the reason is pressure of publishers who offer lucrative contracts if a novel gets handed in by a certain date, though for the most part it’s psychological — you’re tired, and you want to finish and move on. You settle for “good enough” instead of “done”.

This is a mistake. (In my opinion—but this whole series is about what works for me, so I think I’m entitled to that here. ) There’s plenty to be learned by probing your story’s full depth, and its worthwhile to discover how to do this effectively. Discovering microstrucutre will allow you to get the bird-eye view, both from the treetop and from the far-up clouds.

This might seem like building a nuclear bomb for an ant hill, but publishers aren’t looking for tin-can explosives. They’re looking for stories that will explode across reader networks, rise in a mushroom cloud of reviewer buzz, and hover over the market like nuclear winter. And you are going to create it—if you hold onto your pearls until they’re ready.

Go back in time

The goal of this process is for you to go back in time and actually place yourself right in your story, live-time, the same way you were when you wrote it. Using your sub-frame notes allows you a different medium to engage with your story so you aren’t merely looking for sentences to change. Filling in how a sub-frame contributes to the development of the frame it is part of, writing out emotional contrasts, inner and outer turning points, emotions, senses, background story—and so on—allows you to lay out the minutest building blocks of your story. Most importantly, while you go through, sub-frame by sub-frame, you have the opportunity to make changes as your notes call for it.

As an example from my own work, the opening for frame 11 of my WIP niggled me—but when I got to filling in the sub-frame for the opening, I realized I did not give Jak enough emotional presence because I spent some time on background information while establishing the scene in medias res. Fleshing out the components for the sub-frame allowed me to make changes with a proper reference and, after about twenty minutes of playing type-delete-type-delete-type-delete, I sat back and “felt” the scene work (good enough at least for this step in the story-building process).

Using this as your guide, you might decide you need to add a sub-frame or remove one—even add or delete a whole frame!—you might decide to change characters, names of places, or how various plots execute. Discovering microstructure is a great way to see where all the components of a larger plot arc occur so you make adjustments where you need to.

Go through with your own manuscripts and relive each sub-frame. Make sure you also redo your 9-part outline, 3-part outline, and premise, and place these as dividers at the beginning of the frames where they occur. Think about clock-wheels and how each smaller part is part of the whole. Use some alpha or beta reader notes, and your cold-read revision notes (but don’t get too concerned about implementing everything from your checklist—that comes in step 12).

Be creative and introspective. Most importantly, take your time and enjoy the experience of reliving the story your drafting process left behind.

Almost done!

After you have done this, you’re going to feel like you’re close to being done, but there are three final steps. Your manuscript might read as very good, but our goal is to make it more than excellent—so good that there is no word to describe it. (I say goal because, in actuality, it will always be possible to make it better; but you might want to have this in the back of your mind.)

Next week we begin with the first of three steps in the revision stage, using our completed post-draft outline, and I will discuss the final steps to help you discover that quality to your manuscript that is more than excellent—the quality that says “done”.

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Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. Find out more about Graeme and his writing by visiting his website, HERE.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog:

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 8: Drafting Begins!

In the last step I talked about the frame-by-frame outline. If you’ve been carefully adding to and creating character, setting, and world-building profiles as you go, you should have a good glimpse of the story you’re about to write. Now it’s time for step 8:

Drafting begins!

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The real writing

If you are an organic writer, then perhaps you’ve been reading this workshop just to get some ideas. Perhaps you’ve discovered that there’s something to outlining after all, or, better yet, maybe you’ve realized that outlining doesn’t take away the organic side of writing at all, but actually makes it better.

If you’re an outliner and you’ve enjoyed the fact that every step so far has been easy to measure and predict, then you might be in for some disappointment here. (This is the part where organic writers might tell outliners, “I told you so.”)

Outlining is not a substitute for organic writing. When you’re ready to go, you still have to stare at a blank screen and find the words that belong to your story. The good thing, though, is that you have your frames and profiles, structure with which you can surround yourself as you go and help get you into your storytelling Zen. On the other hand, if you’re an organic writer, then you have extra tools as you go into your storyscape and let intuition take control.

Two kinds of drafting

Just as there are two kinds of writers (organic and outliner), there are also two ways writers like to write their drafts. Some (perhaps most) like to write a quick first draft with little thought about whether it works out, then go back and write draft 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and so on until it does. Those writers usually learn a few things as they go and reduce the number of drafts as they get novels 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on under their belts. Call these writers the drafters.

The other approach is to spend a long time writing one and only one draft, then, with a modest amount of polish, bring it to perfection. Writers who do this take advantage of the power of a word processor, going back and layering, reading previous passages to help roll it out into the later draft, jumping into various parts of their manuscript as the story evolves. Writing that one-and-only, continuously-changing draft might take years, or maybe a bit less than a year depending on how long the manuscript is. Call these writers the potters.

You’ll have to discover for yourself what method works best for you, and you may find you experiment with both before deciding one way or another. I was a drafter before I started outlining, at which point I became a potter. Whatever way you chose to draft, having your outline handy is an important step. While I have come to prefer being a potter, there is nothing wrong with moving fast and embracing multiple drafts. Since this workshop is based on my writing method, many references will be better suited for potters; if you are a drafter, though, it should not be hard to find how to apply some of the principles to your own method.

Tips for staying on track

1) Ground yourself.

You might write a little every day, or you might write for hours on end on Saturday, or maybe every second day for two hours at bedtime. However you write, it’s good practice to begin by looking over your notes to reacquaint you with higher-level story details before you dive in to furnish your story with more prose. You might remember key things about characters’ motives or plans for a frame that would otherwise be lost to the spontaneous direction your current frame is taking on.

It’s a good idea to keep your outline and profile notes accessible while you write as well. Maybe you’re writing about the market square for Rena’s village and, 6 months ago, when you first outlined it (let’s say this scene is in the midpoint of your story), you wrote something about the squabbling merchants, Hek and Hakkle. A little detail like that can be a beautiful touch on an otherwise bare cursory description of the market.

2) Embrace non-typing.

There’s nothing wrong with staring at the screen for a minute or two while you think and weigh what you are about to write. Get friendly with the backspace key; it might become your most numerously used character, and though it will not show up in your word count, your story will thank you for using it. Remember, just as you have the power to create prose, you also have the power to take away writing that doesn’t quite fit and replace it with better. Don’t worry about word count goals with this regard. 200 words that bring your story that much more to life are ten times the value of 2000 words that need lots of later revision.

(As stated above, this is my opinion and something based on my writing method, and while many a potter may agree, for a drafter this might not be so important until later drafts.)

3) Read backwards.

It’s also a good idea to go back and read old writing, even if it’s just a few paragraphs back from where you left off. I like to work this into the process of reviewing outline notes whenever I begin a writing session. Sometimes I read a paragraph, look at my outlines, read the paragraph before it, and so on. Sometimes, the content of one paragraph will remind me of an earlier story element and I will use the “find” feature of my word processor to comb through my manuscript and re-read what I’ve said about it so as to better use it in my scene. In fact, I have found this more often than not is what breaks me free of a session that begins with writer’s block.

4) Update, update, update!

Your story is going to evolve and change, even to the point that you have to rewrite your premise, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, if it didn’t change at all then maybe you should go back and introduce a few surprises because your reader might be able to see every twist and turn coming from page one. As the changes come up, scribble them on your frames, make notes on your 9-part outline, modify your character, setting, and world profiles. Rewrite things if they get messy. And, inevitably, add character, world, and setting profiles as needed, but discipline yourself to write only as much as you need to, lest your writing session turn into a tangent.

(There are exceptions, of course. As an example, I pulled an all-nighter for one writing session when I realized I had to formally plan my magic system for my current novel, and this involved making several profiles for the various Dread Lord and Unborn societies. If I hadn’t done that, the ending of the story wouldn’t have worked out—one of the many surprises that story threw at me the outline didn’t warn about.)

Into that strange country

And so it begins! It is exciting to start a new story, especially after spending time fleshing it out. Think of all the work we’ve done up until now like a courtship. Now it’s time for married life to begin. It’s going to be exciting, fun, and full of cozy memories, but there will also be times you’ll be sleeping on the couch or will have to duck away from a flying pot. During those times you’ll be happy for the outlining time, hopefully enough to stop you from divorcing your story.

On you go. Time to start writing!

Next week I will discuss ways to use your outline and profiles to deepen your draft as your write.

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Graeme Brown is an epic fantasy author. His first published story, The Pact, is now available for KoboKindle, and other ebook formats through Burst Books.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog, Fantasy Writing Journey.

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 5: The 9-Part Outline

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.

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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.

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Graeme Brown is an epic fantasy author. His first published story, The Pact, is now available for KoboKindle, and other ebook formats through Burst Books).

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog, Fantasy Writing Journey.

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Filed under Graeme's World, Storybuilder Inc. Outlining and Storytelling Process