Outlining Your Story Idea

What to Expect from This Topic

Whether you are developing a plot for a story, game, or movie, we all struggle with getting our imaginations to take it beyond that initial idea. Inspiration comes from an event, listening to music, dreams, a spur of a moment thought, but taking it beyond that small snippet and making it into something big and complete can be painful at times.

Lately, I have been asked for advice on writing a novel or story idea and so this has sparked a mini-series of Writing Tips. Granted, like all advice and opinions, this is not the best way for everyone nor is it wrong or correct in any manner. My goal in this series of advice is to share with fellow creative minds how I personally handle that instantaneous idea and work it into a complete plot.

The process here is to take what you know about making timelines and outlines, and make them work for you. This should at least help you empty the idea out and be able to revisit the story idea when you are ready to devote your time. Everyone talks about “doing it this way” and “you should do that instead”, but I am actually going to show you how my thoughts fall onto the paper. At worse, this should provide you with a great brainstorming exercise.

Three Major Parts

As you may already know, a plot has three important parts: Beginning, Climax, and Conclusion. Let’s dive into these since they will help you develop the story you are aiming to create.

Beginning

This is a very important part to any story, game, or movie. The audience gets to meet your story, your characters, your world, and the conflict for the first time. It is very important that you take the time to really put a lot of thought into this starting point, event, or introduction. You want to make sure the audience knows or at least wants to continue beyond this point we writers call the “first chapter.” Without a successful hook you will not keep readers, gamers, or watchers long enough to be concerned on whether the climax and ending, or even the story as a whole, was developed well enough.

Climax

Here is the main event! This is the show stopper, the point where the conflict erupts into something chaotic and beautiful! Whether it’s the boss fight, the point where the romantic relationship peaks for better or worse, or the fail in saving the world from a nuclear war. You had hinted or given some not-so-obvious hints that the story might head in this direction throughout the plot until this actually hits. Often this is the selling pitch on the back of the book that will tell the readers what the main conflict in the story will be building towards. It isn’t confined to a major event, but even a pivotal point in physical or emotional achievement, like walking again since the horrific disaster. Often this is the story idea that got your juices flowing and wanting to outline or develop the idea further.

Conclusion

It is here that the story creator will be showing the aftermath of the climax. It should tie up loose ends, and if done correctly, should leave the audience satisfied yet wanting more. You just took them on a rollercoaster ride, and now the ride has slowed, the bars are lifting, and their feet are hitting the ground again since they started the book. You should make sure no one is left sitting on the coaster and that you’ve left them with some sort of memorable moment or picture afterwards.

Rule of Threes or Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Threes is something often discussed in all creative fields. Those of us who are familiar with video editing or filming know that this is a common way of breaking out a scene from left-right and top-bottom. In terms of story writing, we do something very similar. Granted we aren’t setting up a single moment or visual, but addressing an entire plot with our own version of the Rule of Threes or Rule of Thirds.

rule-of-thirds-graphic-design

Now that I introduced the three major parts of writing a storyline to you, it should make a little more sense with what I am about to start rambling about. When you picture your storyline as one continuous timeline from start to finish, you should break it out into three parts. These sections correlate back to those three important parts and can help you develop a richer story. If you look at any solid storyline, you will see that they easily can be broken up between the beginning conflict that sets the story in motion, the meat on the story that leads into the peak of the climax, and lastly the downhill side of the climax with the story’s conclusion. You can see examples of this theory of three used in folktales, modern novels, movies, and even comics and mangas.

Manga Rule of Three Evaluation
3partbreakdown
Rule of Three in Writing per Valerie Willis

Part One

The things listed in this area should comprise of your hook and beginning conflict that will set the storyline in motion. You should list events that you want to happen in the first few chapters here alongside your game plan to hook the audience so they will continue beyond this point. Often this is referred to the “Call to Adventure” in the Hero’s Journey or Character Arc setups. I’ll dive more into what Hero’s Journey a little later.

  1. The Hook is that first few sentences, paragraph, opening scene that makes the audience want to continue to invest time and emotion in the story.
  2. Beginning Conflict is in the first chapters you should be able to start a central conflict that will lead eventually to the climax of the story.

Part Two

If the storyline was a rollercoaster ride, this is where you’ve sent the reader’s out the platform and started the actual ride itself. As the writer and creative mind, this is where the bulk of your content will be located, but is often the elements that are the hardest to establish. Often you have an idea of where you want to start and end along with the main conflict or final boss fight element. As for the meat of the story, the other 60-70% it feels like, you go blank. Regardless, like a rollercoaster these events don’t have to build in excitement or intensity. You can have several climbs and drops, even twists and turns on your way to Part Three.

  1.  Meat – The Rollercoaster Ride: This area is where you take your now hooked readers on a ride. Their should be plenty of ups and down to pull at their own emotions during this part of the story. At the same time, this is where most of your character development happens as well as prepping for the climax. Events, minor goals, and sub plots should help aid and prep both your characters and readers for the climax.
  2.  Rise to Climax’s Peak: They’ve been through a lot, both your characters and readers together, and now comes the time to face the thing that set this all into motion. Here is where your character addresses the conflict head-on and attempts to resolve it, for better or worse.

Part Three

By this point you should have the peak of the climax in your hands, the resolution to the main conflict finishing up. Granted, this doesn’t mean it should work out to the main characters’ favor, but this is the area where you evaluate what you have put the readers through, give them a taste of the aftermath, and if another book is to follow, plug in a teaser if you like.

  1. Fall from Climax’s Peak: Resolution to the major conflict, the climax, has hit the readers. You have them in your grasp and you get to bend the story’s ending into a form you desire. Do all the heroes die? Is there a love interest that hits its peak? Who succeeds, fails, or does everyone walk away?
  2. Conclusion: Give the readers a taste of what has changed. Now that the main conflict has hit, what effect does it have on the characters and their world. Make sure that you leave readers satisfied and hungry for more. Tie up loose ends with possible subplots as well as setup for the next book if this is a series.

Ok, Now What Do I Do with All of This Info?

Do not fret! I am going to show you a very simple way to take all this and make it less painful. Get out a sheet of paper and pen… this is something you can sit down at a spur-of-a-moment idea anywhere and lock-in that story idea for later. For the sake of familiarity and simplistics, I will be doing a mock version of my flow based on the Hero’s Journey. If you have no idea what I am talking about, this video by Extra Credits does a very good job at pulling in how well you actually know this setup. He may be talking to Game Developers, but he’s focusing on story development and thus I recommend anyone wanting to span beyond my yammerings to indulge in the various subjects covered in his videos, and especially the Hero’s Journey segments. He refers to some very well known movies and stories to make this clear for everyone!

 

First Step

Paper and Pencil is recommended, but you should see what’s happening very fast and feel relieved this is an easier-done-than-said scenario! Start with marking your three major parts: Beginning, Climax, and Conclusion.

Setup the Page to Identify the Three Major Parts

At this point, if you know what it happening in these main sections, WRITE IT DOWN! It is important at this point to have the Climax and reserve the spots for your Conclusion and Beginning for when you’ve made a decision here. So no pressure if you don’t know yet!

Assign a Climax at the Very least

Step Two

Fill in the blank space. I know…. there’s a lot there, but it’s not so bad, I promise. Between the Beginning and Climax are things that need to happen to prep the characters, readers, and story for the climax or to get them to that point. Take your time filling it in, BRAINSTORM ideas, list everything you can… this is an outline, a timeline, and more importantly a rough draft skeleton that you can adjust and tweak until you are happy with the plotline. Nothing written here is meant to be set in stone and I do encourage reworking and changing it as you explore your idea and characters further!

Fill In The Empty Space

Once you’ve finished the final version, this will end up being your best friend in terms of staying focused and fighting Writer’s Block. The question might be crossing your mind as to why we had all that discussion on the Rule of Three and where on this page does this come into play.

IT IS THE PAGE

 

Color Coded to Reflect the Rule of Three Concept
3partbreakdown
Rule of Three for Writing per Valerie Willis’ Concept
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