How To Write A Novel In 30 Days
By Karen Wiesner
Edited by Andy Ross
Stage 1: Days 1-6
Create your preliminary outline with characters, setting, and plot
In these six days, you will create a preliminary outline,
which will be the springboard for your story and the basis for a formatted
outline. A preliminary outline consists of character and setting sketches, a
research list, a plot sketch, a summary outline, miscellaneous scene notes
and closing scene notes. What you create will be
incorporated into your formatted outline later.
To create a preliminary outline,
you need to do some
preparation. The very first thing you need to do is choose which
story you're going to work on. Start by asking yourself if the idea feels as
if it is ready to be transformed into a full outline. You can usually tell
when a project is ready because you can't seem to exorcise it from your
mind. Once you decide which idea is ready to go, open your project folder
for that book.
You can use worksheets to create your
preliminary outline. You'll start with character, setting and plot sketches,
filling out your research list as you go. Once the basic sketches are
fleshed out, you'll create a summary outline with the beginning scenes of
the book, followed by miscellaneous and closing scene notes.
work on the steps for the preliminary outline, keep in mind that this is a
layering process. Your initial character sketches may be brief, but it's not
the last you'll see of them. You'll be expanding on every step throughout
every stage. Get down as much as you can during each step, trusting that the
pieces will fall into place of their own accord eventually.
Character sketches, like most aspects of
outlining, are a process of brainstorming. When you flesh out character
sketches for your story, write down everything that comes to you, no matter
how trivial. Remember to give all your main characters internal and external
conflicts. This will bring your characters to life.
If you can picture your characters clearly, the chances are that you'll write about them as if you
know them inside out. Writing a worksheet will encourage you to think deeply about characters' appearances,
backgrounds and motivations, for example, rather than merely naming them.
Work step by step through a range of character facets:
descriptions of your characters. Includes any of the following:
age, race, eye color, hair color and style, build (height/weight), skin
tone and style of dress (based on the time period and season of the year the
book is set in). It can also include any other characteristics you deem
important to the character or the book. If a character has any physical
flaws, abnormalities or disabilities, describe them and the effects they've
had on his/her life and relationships. You may wish to attach certain
mannerisms to some of your characters to make them unique.
Detail what kind of
person your main character is. What are his/her strengths and weaknesses as a
person? Does he/she have any vices or hobbies? What kind of entertainment
and food does he/she like? What are his/her least favorite forms of
entertainment and food? Be as detailed as you can because your outline and
story will be stronger for it.
Background is very
important in defining a character and making him/her three-dimensional.
Creating a solid background for each main character will help you fill out
your entire outline in detail. A main character's backstory might
include information on the character's parents, siblings, relatives,
friends, pets, life-shaping events and their long-term effects. Did this
character have a happy childhood? What kind of schooling did he/she have?
Was he/she popular? Where did the character grow up? What does he/she
consider some of his/her worst mistakes and greatest achievements? What
goals does this character have? Include all the information that comes to
All characters must have depth, and
this usually comes from internal and external conflict. Internal conflict,
or emotional turmoil, is usually handled with a summary or narrative as a
character reflects on his actions, judgments and perceived mistakes.
A solid, well-developed internal conflict makes characters more realistic
External conflict is an
outside or situational conflict that prevents your main character from
accomplishing his/her goal. Some examples include an accident or loss that
has scarred a main character physically or emotionally, or a relationship
that eludes him/her or dominates his/her choices. An effective plot reveals both the inner and outer conflicts
of your characters. Readers usually only root for the characters they care
about. Give them a good reason to sympathize.
Provide some insight into your character's chosen
occupation and how he/she got there. For example, what educational
requirements were necessary? What is this character's financial picture? How
does this affect him/her? Don't worry about researching occupations at this
You may want to further expand on the character
by brainstorming on anything else that fleshes out the main characters in
your mind. You'll be referring back to your character sketches often,
and adding new details and changing old ones whenever you feel the need, so
be sure you keep them handy and leave yourself extra room. Don't worry about
depth or organization right now.
To keep the story firmly fixed
in your mind, revisit what you write during these six days as often as you
can. This will encourage subsequent strengthening of the story. Also
remember that these steps are for your own use. No one else will see this
early work, so don't worry about the quality of your writing. The rich
imagery, textured sentences and clever turns of phrase all come later. The
goal right now is to get started. Even if you're not sure whether you want
to use an idea you have for the book, write it down.
Day 2: Setting
sketches and research strategies
Once you have a firm idea of who
your main characters are, it's time to start thinking about where they are.
This is also the time to start planning the research you'll need to do in
order to make your characters, setting and entire story more realistic and
Before you start the story, you
need to get to know your settings as well as your characters. Setting
sketches, like character sketches, are very flexible. If all the characters
live in the same area and time period, for example, you don't need to fill
out this information for each character.
Worksheets will help you
focus on even the smallest details of a given setting. Write a worksheet on the
settings shared by several characters at the same time. You will need a
separate worksheet for each city or town in your book. If the action takes
place over several time periods or seasons, you may end up with several
sketches for one region.
Name each general
setting by town and time period, especially if your book includes several
settings or time periods.
List the characters who occupy this setting. This will help you keep
track of who's living in your setting and when.
The physical description of a setting depends very much on the time
period in which your book is set. Detail as many specifics as you can in
this area without doing significant research (that comes later).
The seasons in which your
story takes place will determine the type of clothing your characters wear,
as well as the activities and transportation available to them.
List any specifics you already know about the area in
which your story takes place. At this point you don't need to do extensive
research. Just include brief notes for each
notes or details that would make the general setting clearer in your mind
(and, therefore, in the reader's mind). This is
also a good place to note how the location and time period affect the
characters and the plot.
will need to complete a worksheet for each of your main characters. If a
character's home or workplace changes over the course of the book, make a
new worksheet for the setting.
Again, don't worry about in-depth
descriptions or doing any research on any of the locations you plan to use.
That comes later. Right now, you just need to get ideas down on paper.
Write the name of the character whose setting
you're describing. Where does this character
live or frequent? Does he/she own a home or rent a flat? Does he/she go to
school or an office? Does he/she have a favorite place to return to? You don't need extensive notes on
the character's neighborhood, street, neighbours etc, at this point. Jot
down whatever thoughts you have, going into as much detail as you'd like
without getting lost in research.
notes about the character's workplace, just as you did with his/her home. If
your character is in school, adapt the headings in this section accordingly. Record
thoughts and indicate how your character feels about the general home and
Now is a good time to start listing the research
you think you will need for your novel. Write a
list of topics that you will need to look into. Please note that this is not
the place for actual research, but a list of what you think you'll need to
For instance, you may need to research your
characters' careers so you've got a clear idea of what's done and why. You may need to interview people in a
certain profession or area of expertise, or research the places your
characters live in or travel to. You may need to research clothing for the
time period your book is set in.
If a character has a medical
condition, or develops one during the course of the book, you'll need to
research that. If your book is a mystery or suspense novel, you may need to
research police procedures. You may need to research specific trees or
animals indigenous to an area, historical events or laws.
don't feel you know enough about a subject to write about it easily, it
needs to go on your list.
Day 3: Plot sketches
tapestry, every story is woven of threads that become invisible within the
overall design. By familiarizing yourself with story threads and being aware
of them as you read, you can learn to weave story threads skilfully into
your own novel.
threads and mentally following them throughout the outline reduces the need
for multiple revisions. The
threads work together to form your plot sketch. With this in mind, your
outline will consist of the following threads:
• story goal (or
• subplot threads
• plot tension
• black moment (or climax)
Your plot sketch is your first real opportunity to start thinking about and
developing each one of these threads. Work through each thread individually. You can revise this worksheet often. It will be especially
helpful to you when your formatted outline is complete. At this stage you probably won't be
able to say much about these threads, but it's still important to start
thinking about them.
A story goal is the central
idea of a novel. You will relate it to your readers through the plot, major
conflict and character interactions. In all genres of fiction the story goal
is the catalyst of the book: it's the reason the characters are there; the
reason the story evolves; and the reason the reader opens the book, starts
and keeps reading. All other threads and characters are instrumental in
achieving the story goal.
It's important that you identify the major
conflict or main theme of your book before continuing, as this will affect
your entire story. Why are these characters assembled and what are they
striving for? Write as much as you can on this thread. You'll be going back
over it and tweaking it often to fit your changing concepts of the book, so
don't worry if you can't come up with much at this point.
Subplots function as secondary plots. They typically contrast
or run parallel to the main plot. They can also function outside the realm
of the main plot, existing largely to provide a change of scene, emotion or
tone. These threads should work in harmony to effectively develop both
character and plot. Each will depend on the others as the novel comes to a
Subplots can range from health conditions and financial
worries to physical or mental conclusions a character must reach. They might
be returning home after a family member dies, or changing career, for
example. In all cases it should be clear to readers how the subplots connect
with the main story goal.
How many of these subplot threads you
include depends on the length and complexity of your novel. Remember that
you will have to give regular attention to all of your subplots. Even with a
complex plot line, you never want to leave any of your threads for too long.
You want to generate tension in the reader, not forgetfulness and
At times, events in your story will cause some of your
subplot threads to merge. This is perfectly acceptable. In fact, in some
ways it's desirable. You want your threads to mesh to the point that you've
created a net your characters won't easily find their way out of. If your
characters can't see a way out, neither will your reader.
section on your plot sketch worksheet may prove to be the hardest for you to
fill out simply because most stories have several subplots working together
with the story goal. For now, write what comes to you, even if it's only a
few words under each subplot number. Don't worry about putting the threads
in order of importance.
Plot tension is
essential, whatever the genre. This kind of tension is anything that brings
the reader to a fever pitch of anticipation. A story without plot tension
leaves the reader uninvolved and unemotional.
Plot tension is
extremely tricky to achieve and sustain. You need to bring readers to the
snapping point and only then give them what they want — temporarily. You can
tease the reader by snatching a resolution away just as it seems the tension
is about to break, but don't do this too often. If you grab resolution out
of the reader's hands too many times, you may lose them. On the other hand,
if you give the reader what they want too soon, you take away their
motivation to keep reading.
A release is an easement
of plot tension. The final words in a story should produce
a release that satisfies the reader and makes them long to revisit the story
again, even if only in their minds.
Downtime is a
form of release, but it happens during a time of incredible tension. It
should be one of the most poignant scenes in your novel. During downtime,
which comes at the end of the middle section of the book, the main character
may step back from the action and reflect on what could
have been (if not for all the obstacles you put in his/her way). For a time,
the main character may also believe that the story goal is unachievable, and
he/she may seem to give up the fight.
The reader is led to an even
higher level of anticipation because of downtime. It functions as a
temporary respite from the extreme tension the plot is creating.
Following downtime, your character will again realize that he/she must act,
and will find a new way to attempt resolution. This new plan of action will
be a final, desperate attempt to reach the story goal, and the ground won't
feel at all solid as he/she moves forward. In some cases, your
character will decide to act because the stakes of the conflict are again
raised: danger is near and he/she must move forward, whether he/she wants
to or not. This episode will propel the story to the next level.
nearly every situation, downtime must be followed with a black moment.
Downtime releases the tension for a short period, and that tension must be
built back up quickly or you risk losing your reader.
The black moment in the story is commonly referred to as the climax of
the book. The worst of all horrors is happening, or has happened, and the
main characters (as well as the reader) are now thoroughly convinced the
future will never be happy. The black moment, which occurs in the first part
of the end section of the book (when tension is at its highest), leaves the
reader and the characters wondering whether evil will overcome good.
The resolution or denouement of a story comes after
the climax, when the story's main problems have been resolved. This is your
chance to provide satisfying conclusions for your subplot threads. The
resolutions for the long-term story threads should be relatively clean, but
subplot thread resolutions may be more awkward.
loose ends need to be tied up. If your reader is left wondering about
dangling plot threads, then your novel has not come to a satisfactory end.
You, as the writer, must fulfil the underlying promise of a logical,
acceptable conclusion, even if it isn't a happy one.
As you're puzzling out your outline, keep all
your plot threads in mind; they'll come up again and again. Once you've
added detail and depth to your outline and developed your story, the threads
should become almost invisible. They'll become wonderfully cohesive and
solid. Without foundation, your story would either melt into a puddle on the
floor or fall flat on its face. With a cohesive structure, your story can
breathe, walk, talk and live all by itself.
Go into as much detail as
possible on your plot sketch, but keep in mind that your first effort will
be light on details. Don't worry. Over the next 27 days, it will grow
Days 4 and 5: The summary outline
Start writing your preliminary outline in the form of a summary essay,
describing the images and specific details you already have in mind. Summarizing a story as you're preparing a preliminary outline will put
the story's central elements firmly in your mind. Things will begin to
collate in a stronger way. The story will be on the page but it's also firmly fixed in your head, where
you can arrange, rearrange and work with it. Use any of the information you've come up
with in your character, setting and plot sketches as you work.
essence, your summary outline details the opening scene of your book and
moves forward scene by scene through the story. For now, try to cover the
beginning of the book in a linear (chronological) fashion without worrying
about the middle or end scenes of the book. Day 6 will cover miscellaneous
(nonlinear) scene notes and closing scene notes.
In most cases you'll
be able to brainstorm enough to fill a few pages of your summary. Don't feel
that your summary outline has to be entirely cohesive. You may realise as
you're writing that you're not sure what the next scene really needs to
include. It's fine to write yourself a note within your summary outline and then move on with the story.
At the end of day
5 you should have made a good start on your outline. Remember to keep
adding to your research list as needed, and go over what you've accomplished
often to keep the story fixed in your mind and to encourage new
brainstorming, layering and strengthening of the story.
Miscellaneous scene notes and closing scene notes
you're working on a brand-new story, you're going to hit a snag in the
summary outline, where you don't know what should happen for many scenes in
a row. Yet you still have additional ideas about what will happen later.
That's where miscellaneous scene notes and closing scene notes come into
Write a worksheet for anything that doesn't fit into the outline
just yet, but still relates to the beginning or middle of your story. These
miscellaneous scene notes could be about elements or threads you're unsure
of, or vague ideas you want to remember to explore later. Write everything
At this stage, every story sounds a little strange or
disjointed. Readers won't have the benefit of your vision, so it's best not
to seek the opinion of many (or any) outside readers for a preliminary
As chaotic and unattached as miscellaneous scene notes seem
on paper, writing down this information is vital, because it helps
you to widen your perspective. You want to have these notes and ideas
available when the time comes to insert them precisely where they need to be
in the formatted outline.
notes relate specifically to your book's final scenes. Since, at this early
stage, you may not know exactly how everything will come together at the end
of your story, these notes will be fairly general and nonlinear. The odds are they won't even fit into your outline in a chronological
order just yet. But don't let that put you off writing them down in as much
detail as you can. When the time comes to drop them into the outline exactly
where they're needed, you'll be glad you made the fullest notes you could.
Write them free form. Include closing scene notes in the
same document as your summary outline and miscellaneous scene notes.
Closing scenes are very important to building the structure of your outline
and, eventually, your novel. The more pieces you can create for your story
now, the easier it will be to put them together in the right order when the
At the end of day 6, you'll have miscellaneous scene
notes and closing scene notes for your book. Keep everything in a working
project folder and go back over everything you've accomplished often,
layering and strengthening where you can, brainstorming continuously.
Stage 2: Days 7-13
Research your novel to write with authority and confidence
We're going to talk in this
section about when to research for your books and how to approach research
while keeping your outline in mind. We'll also discuss some crucial outline
aids designed to help you prepare for later stages of the outlining process.
The schedule provides seven days to complete any research and outline
aid worksheets you need for your novel. There is no day-to-day breakdown of
the schedule for this stage. Research is very involved: you'll find your own
efficient methods to accomplish what you need. However, it is possible to
maximize your productivity at this stage.
For authors with extremely
complex plots, who may be used to spending nine months out of every given
year researching, completing all your research in seven days may sound impossible. Don't panic. Take the
time you need to research your story, then come back to the schedule when
you're ready to move forward.
will learn to make the most of your research time by planning it far in
advance and getting started on it long before you begin a specific project.
If you're not already haunting secondhand bookshops, flea markets and
libraries, now is the time to start. Traditional bookshops, online bookshops
and book clubs will also be invaluable to you.
contacts, experts you might need to interview somewhere down the road.
Police officers, doctors, lawyers etc, can prove very helpful when you need
specific information only professionals can provide.
gathering your research for a project so far in advance to give yourself
time to do the bulk of your research between projects. Even when you're not
actively writing anything, you can still do research. In fact, doing your
research when you're not worried about deadlines is ideal, as you'll be
under less stress and have more time to focus on the task at hand.
As a rule, do your research before or during outlining. Research often
unearths important details and facts that can affect your entire story, so
it pays to invest the time early on in the process. It's also very hard to
write a story with huge holes in your own knowledge; it's like doing the
Of course, situations will arise when you realize,
after completing the outline or while you're writing the book, that you need
to do additional research. If it's minor, you can do the research while you're writing or after you finish the
book. Simply incorporate the research into the book as you edit and polish
the first draft.
Certain types of research should be done only when your
formatted outline is almost finished. For instance, if you need to interview
a police officer for your novel, you may not know exactly what to ask until
the outline is nearly complete. It helps to keep a running list of all the
questions you need to ask during the interview. Begin this list as soon
as you start to research your story, and keep it in your project folder so
you can tweak it whenever you need to.
Do as much preliminary
research as you can about the subjects you intend to bring up during the
interview. It's best if you only ask him/her to fill in the few holes left
after you've done your own research. If you've got a fairly good idea
how long the outlining process will take, make an appointment with the
expert you've chosen to interview for around the time of the outline's
completion. This should ensure your list of questions is complete.
over the list of interview questions often as you work on your outline,
eliminating those you answer for yourself through research and adding those
that crop up during outlining. Revise the questions for clarity if
necessary. Include the chapter and/or scene numbers next to each question on
your list. That way, when you're done with the interview, you can just drop
the answers into the outline. When you interview an expert, use recording
equipment. Once the interview is complete, transcribe your notes and file
them in your research folder.
Ultimately, it's up to you to decide
how much research you do. You'll know you've done your research well when
you can write about everything in your book intelligently, without
questioning anything you're saying.
Once you've completed your preliminary outline and research, it's time
to dig a little deeper. Use worksheets to address key issues, such as
dialogue, character and plot facts, and timelines. They will provide a
crucial foundation for a more detailed outline, and they will help you stay
organzsed as your outline becomes more complex. Keep all the worksheets with
your outline in your working project folder.
It's never too soon to start thinking about
what your characters will say and how they'll say it. Giving each of your
characters a distinct voice is key to writing great fiction. Think about your characters'
individual speech patterns and specific word choices. Your characters will
probably reveal these distinctions as your story progresses, but thinking
about it early will make you more receptive to such revelations.
each of your major characters, record information about individual speech
patterns and any catchphrases they may use. With this information in place
on a dialog sheet, you'll know exactly what a given character will
say and how he/she will say it. You can also use this worksheet during the
final edit and polish of the manuscript to double-check speech patterns.
As your outline develops, it can become harder to
keep track of everything, especially once you've added in all the facts
from your research. A worksheet can help you chart all crucial bits of
information to ensure the heart of your story remains consistent from
outline to outline and draft to draft.
Background timelines can be written for any character in your story. It's
usually best to start with a defining moment in the character's life, an
event that has proved to be pivotal in some way.
information in a timeline may never appear in your finished novel, it can
still influence how you tell your story. On the other hand, timeline
information may turn out to play a crucial role in your story. This
type of timeline is generally written free form.
Keep track of miscellaneous events that occur before
or during the actual story and that are important to the story, rather than
a specific character. Record the page numbers for each fact so you
can use the worksheet as a handy reference while you outline, write or
perform editor revisions.
3: Days 14-15
Reinforce the structure and evolution of your story
Each story has a beginning, a middle and an end. In this section we're
going to discuss how every memorable, well-constructed story evolves through
each of the three sections of a book. This steady, logical evolution is the
basic framework of any strong novel and will form the structure of the
formatted outline you'll begin in the next section. This framework is what
will make up the invisible, unshakable foundation of your story. If you
learn to see this structure in other novels, it will be easier to construct
in your own.
Days 14 and 15
Your preliminary outline stated your novel's basic premise, conflicts and issues that need
to be resolved. The plot sketch further detailed these points. Now it's time
to complete your story evolution with the help of a worksheet. Break it down into three parts (beginning, middle and end), so
you can take a logical and detailed approach to weaving your plot threads
through your book from start to finish.
Keep your plot sketch in mind
as you fill out the story evolution. By the time you complete this
worksheet, your plot threads should be firmly enmeshed with the story
evolution framework. Story evolution is a process of brainstorming
and therefore it tends to be anything but linear. Work through the story
evolution worksheet in whatever way you choose.
Plots, subplots, characters, goals and conflicts are introduced at the
beginning of a story. Your goal is to pull the reader in with an exciting
opening, then begin setting up the basis for the rest of the book. Depending
on the length and complexity of your story, the beginning generally amounts
to about the first 50 pages.
The start of your story is where you
introduce your main characters' attributes and motivations. The qualities
you give your characters are what makes the reader care about them. Your
characters' behavior, reactions and introspection, as well as their
ever-evolving goals, draw sympathy and interest from the reader. The main
characters in your story don't have to be perfect. Even character flaws and sins can draw the reader's sympathy.
Don't be afraid to get inside your characters, revealing their most
heinous thoughts and secrets along with their most noble ones, in order to
create compassion in your readers. Think about your
characters' conflicts, motivations, intentions and weaknesses right from the
start. As the outlining process grows more intense, your insights into your
characters will deepen, and your finished manuscript will be much the better
Be sure to lay the groundwork for conflict at the
beginning of your outline. Your reader needs to be assured from your
very first sentence that something suspenseful and exciting is happening or
about to happen. Conflict is the root of everything exciting and suspenseful
in your story.
Conflict can be internal or external. Each of your
main characters should have internal conflicts: opposing desires, beliefs
or motivations. External conflict can (and should) occur between characters,
but characters can conflict with other things as well (such as fate). A
solid plot gives all main characters (including the villain) internal and
Keep the following tips in mind
when building opportunities for action and suspense into the beginning of
1 Keep the reader on edge with baffling contrasts in
characters, setting and dialogue. If you put two seemingly opposed
characters in play together, you'll intrigue your readers and they will
stick around to figure out why.
2 Take advantage of pacing,
especially as you move toward and through the middle of your story. Don't
rush in to pick up the story threads. Keep the reader guessing. Draw
out scenes involving rescues and explanations. Offer the reader
unsatisfactory alternatives to problems. Alternate suspense and action
within your outline, even if just by giving yourself stage directions for
3 Carefully construct mood by using description,
dialog, introspection and action.
4 Use foreshadowing.
Foreshadowing shouldn't answer the crucial questions of a story but,
instead, create possibilities or uncertainties that will evoke mild or
extreme tension in the reader.
Conflict, suspense and motivation will
be the driving forces behind your story. Lay the groundwork for them in your
outline, and they will reach their full potential in your story.
discuss the start of the story evolution:
Introduce the conflict. Most writers have been advised to begin each
story with a bang. There's a good reason for that. You want to hook your
reader as early as possible. Detail here what will happen in your first
scene, and briefly describe how the conflict you introduce at this point
will dominate your story through each section. Also, hint at looming
conflicts. As your beginning progresses, you'll want to fully introduce the
2 Introduce the story goal. The story goal is your
dominant plot thread. You will introduce it at the beginning of the book.
Review your plot sketch worksheet from your preliminary outline, then describe the story goal and how it will push your story forward
through each section.
3 Outfit the characters for their tasks. The character sketches you have created as part of your preliminary
outline will help you continue to think about who your main characters are
and how they're involved in achieving the story's goal.
characters should be designed with the resolution of the story goal in mind.
They should have strengths they themselves aren't aware of at the beginning that evolve steadily throughout the course of the
book as the characters face adversity. They also should have internal
and/or external weaknesses that hinder their progress. Detail these things.
As you think about the first 50 or so pages that set
up the premise of your book, continue to expand on the three points we've
just covered. These points will help you come up with everything you need to
keep your audience reading voraciously.
The middle is usually the largest
portion of any book. In this section, plots, subplots and conflicts work
together to create a tug-of-war between the story goal and the opposition.
Essentially, the action in the middle section of a book revolves around the
main characters confronting the opposition, though most of the time this
opposition is hidden from or unseen by the lead characters.
characters must grow throughout this section of the book. Each of
the events in this section will require multiple scenes
to work in and work out. So you will be planning multiple
scenes for each pull in the tug-of-war between your main characters and
their opposition. The longer your book, the more complex this tug-of-war
Here's how you can
plan out the middle of your book:
1 For each main character, introduce
short-term goals that will assist that character in reaching the story goal.
Give a brief description of each goal and how each character is attempting
to reach it. Use your plot sketch as a springboard for this
2 Let the characters put their first short-term goals into action. Sketch
out what they go through during this time.
3 Thwart the first
short-term goals. What events
take place to make this failure come about?
4 Have the characters react differently to disappointment.
These reactions show the kind of people they are. Provide insight into each
major character's reactions.
5 Raise the stakes of the conflict. Giving up the quest to reach the story goal is never really an option,
though the characters may wish they could. In every exciting story with
worthy heroes, something always happens to make it impossible to concede
defeat. Inevitably, the stakes are raised and a new danger is introduced.
Detail the new danger and its effect on all subplots.
6 Let the characters
react to the conflict. Describe each main character's
initial reaction to the new danger or problem.
7 Let the characters revise
old or design new short-term goals. Though the initial reaction to the
danger is usually one that's far from calm and logical, this must be a
temporary reaction. Eventually, each main character will need to devise a
new short-term goal to lead him/her closer to reaching the story goal.
Briefly describe each character's plan of action.
8 Continue the
quest to reach the story goal. The characters put their new short-term
goals in action. Sketch out what they go through during
9 Thwart the short-term goals again. The new
short-term goals prove as impossible as the first. What events took place to
make this failure come about?
10 Let the characters react with disappointment. Character reactions will run the gamut here, but each character will be
tiring of the battle a little more each time he/she fails.
the stakes of the conflict again. Remember that each time something happens,
it must create ever more dire consequences if the characters don't act
12 Let the characters react again. Show marked
growth in the characters. Make the readers empathise with them. Repeat steps 7-10 as many times as necessary to accommodate
your story's length and complexity. Steps 11 and 12 aren't repeated here
because the cycle becomes more dramatic with each repetition, thus allowing
the last half of the middle portion of your book to be even tenser and your
characters more desperate.
13 Begin the downtime, which precedes
the black moment. Your characters are coming to feel they have nothing left
to hold on to. Detail these feelings.
14 Let the characters revise old or
design new short-term goals. Your characters are going to make their
next decisions out of sheer desperation. From this point on, they seem to
lose much of their confidence, or they're feeling a reckless sense
of bravado that may have tragic consequences. What are their new goals and
how do they plan to reach them?
15 Continue the quest to reach the
story goal. Though your characters are
ploughing ahead bravely, each step is taken with deep uncertainty. How does
this action unfold?
16 Begin the black moment. The worst
possible failure has now come to pass. The short-term goals made in
desperation are thwarted, and the stakes are raised to fever pitch as the
worst of all possible conflicts is unveiled. Describe it in detail.
17 The characters react to the black moment. Characters react to this
major conflict with a sense of finality. Never will there be a moment when
the outcome is more in question than in this concluding section of the
middle of the book.
At the end, all plots,
subplots and conflicts are resolved. In the last few chapters, the
characters are finally given a well-deserved break from their recent crisis.
Here's how it takes shape:
pivotal, life-changing event occurs Something crucial must happen in the
first part of the end section that will change the lives of the
2 Characters modify short-term goals one last
time. Whatever the life-altering experience the characters face, the
desperation that drove them only a few chapters earlier is completely gone.
They've never had such clarity of purpose as they do at this moment, and
they revise their goals with the kind of determination that convinces the
reader they can't possibly fail.
3 The showdown begins. The
main characters and opposition come face to face. It's in these moments of
confrontation that the main characters move to accomplish the story goal.
4 The opposition is vanquished and the conflict ends. You know the
showdown that follows the moment of clarity very well.
5 The story
goal is achieved. That which all the characters have been striving for
has come to pass and this will affect everything. Detail the consequences of
6 Characters react to the resolution of the plot and
subplots. Release the characters who have
worked so hard to achieve the story goal. Describe their reactions.
Characters revise their life goals. At this point the main characters
have learned what they're capable of. Now their life goals are revised.
8 At the end
of a book it's possible for the conflict or opposition to re-emerge, just
when you and the characters thought it was safe.
Using a story
evolution worksheet to plot the course of your story helps you to see a snapshot of the highlights of your story,
to pinpoint precisely where potential problems are within the story, to make
the weak areas of your story more solid, to avoid sagging middles, and to avoid repetition in your stories.
learned to see the framework of a story, you'll never look at a book the
same way again. What was invisible has become visible, even stark. As an
author yourself, you now hold the key to creating the strongest framework
for your novels.
Stage 4: days
Introduce the formatted outline into a document ready for editing
As you now know, putting together an outline is much like putting
together a puzzle, except in this case you're not only assembling the
pieces, you're creating them. You've already created several of your puzzle
pieces by brainstorming, completing a preliminary outline, doing your
necessary research, and filling out the three-part story evolution
worksheet. In this section you're going to create a formatted outline and
learn how to navigate it. We'll also discuss what to do if you get stuck
anywhere in the process.
The formatted outline will be the first
draft of your novel. Once you finish the formatted outline, you'll be ready
to begin your second (and perhaps even final) draft, which involves putting
your completed outline into book form.
The primary goal of this stage is to consolidate
all of the information you've worked so hard to develop thus far.
Combining all your outline information from several different worksheets
into a single document has a number of benefits:
• Because you're
still working on your outline, the process of consolidating all your
research, character and setting sketches etc, into one main document will
help you flesh out your outline even further. During this consolidation
process you'll be able to see the holes in your plot. You'll know at a
glance what still needs work, where the pacing is slow, where you need to
drop in a clue or increase the tension. You can list all your questions and
issues that need further attention in the outline for easy reference.
Going over the outline scene-for-scene as the story progresses will help
encourage your mind to brainstorm and your creativity to snowball.
You'll provide yourself with a snapshot of the entire book that you
can revise and fine-tune as much as you need to before you start writing.
Many writers tend to get sidetracked by small details. Having everything
you need in one place will help you stay focused when the time comes to
actually start writing the book. You won't have to interrupt the flow of
your writing to find the little pieces of information you need as you work
on a particular scene.
Outlining can and will
be messy at times, regardless of how well organized you are throughout the
process. Here are some tips to help you stay on track:
numbers will change often. For now, in the earliest stage of creating a
formatted outline, it's best just to divide your book into scenes. Once the
outline is complete, or nearly complete, and isn't likely to change much,
you can add the chapter numbers.
• It's fine to switch
between past and present tenses at this early stage. You're the only person
who will see your outline.
• Sentences can be incomplete or even
written in shorthand.
• Outlines do not need good transitions between
paragraphs. Your outline will skip from subject to subject, sometimes
randomly by all appearances, and that's fine. You'll smooth out rough edges
during the actual writing of the novel.
• Do look for roughness in
the logical progression of events in the outline. If the progress slows or
halts in one or more scenes, it may be a signal that a scene should be
placed elsewhere or taken out altogether. As long as everything is clear to
you and progress is steady in your outline, go with it.
description, dialogue, introspection and action within your outline. Flesh
out the outline in as much detail as possible, because it'll make the
writing of the book go that much more smoothly.
• The outline must
include the information you want to impart in each scene, but it doesn't
have to include it eloquently.
• Never stop viewing your outline and
your story as flexible.
Day 16: Starting and organizing your
By now, your project folder includes the following:
• in-depth character sketches
• setting sketches
• a plot
• a summary outline
• miscellaneous scene notes
• closing scene notes
• all or most of the completed research from
your research list
• an interview question list
appropriate outline aid worksheets
• a story evolution worksheet
Formatted outline capsules
The first step in combining all your
information is to complete a formatted outline capsule worksheet for each
scene. These brief scene summaries help you organize your information scene
by scene and allow you to start thinking about all your information in an
organized, linear manner. A formatted outline capsule includes the following
• the day the scene takes place in the story
the chapter and scene number
• the point-of-view (POV) character
• additional characters in the scene
• the location where the
scene takes place (the setting)
• the approximate time of day
• the facts necessary for writing the scene
• a draft of the scene
Let's go over these
categories so that you have a clear understanding of what to include in each
The day or date will affect many aspects of the
scene, so it's important to be certain of this fact, even if it's only for
your own use. Consistency is very important in every novel.
track of the day each scene takes place becomes extremely important when
your book may eventually reach 60,000 or 100,000-plus words. Jot down either
a specific date or just the day on which the scene takes place.
One chapter may contain many scenes, although some
authors write very brief chapters containing only one scene each. The end of
a scene within a chapter is usually indicated by several blank lines or a
series of asterisks. These visual indicators tell the reader that one scene
has ended and a new one is beginning. Initially, you should skip the
chapter number and simply number the scenes in order.
(POV): Who's the main character in this scene? While some writers hop
from one head to the next in any given scene, very few authors can do this
effectively without annoying their readers. One character POV per scene is
the best option in nearly every case. You just need the first name, or you
can use first and last name if you prefer.
List any other important characters who are in this particular scene.
Where exactly does the scene take place? You can put a
location without specifics, or you can put the location and details about
that location here.
What is the approximate
time of day when the scene takes place? The time, like the day or date, will
affect many aspects of the scene; it's important to be certain of this fact,
even if it's only for your own use.
information is important for you to know while you draft this scene?
Generally, this section will include facts that you need to be aware of as
the author, but that the reader doesn't need to know. Any of the information
from the additional outline aid worksheets you wrote in stage three
would fit here.
This is the place to include research notes and any
additional notes that pertain to another place or event within the outline.
If you've done an in-depth background timeline, you
might reference it here.
If you have way too much information to fit
into the formatted outline document, you might want to record in this
section a reference to the exact location of the information in your
research notes or other document.
If you need to
figure something out before you can write a scene, you can add a question or reminder.
Include a sketch of what happens in this scene. You may
not be able to put much in this section on your first pass, but ultimately
you will flesh it out fully with description, dialogue, introspection and
action, as well as your plot sketch threads and story evolution elements.
Once you've finished filling out as much information for the capsules as
possible, you can start incorporating information from other
It's a good idea to have a copy of your summary outline
created on days 4 and 5 to hand as you work to incorporate it within
the formatted outline. That way you can check off the areas you've used as
you go along, and you'll know when the scenes are all in place.
you put the events from your summary outline into the formatted outline
document, work chronologically and go as far as you can. If you're not sure
about a scene, how many you should have, or what should go into a scene or
scenes, insert a blank capsule, start a new capsule on the page after that,
and keep going.
Once your summary outline is completely incorporated into the formatted
outline, find the miscellaneous scene notes that you created on day 6.
Incorporating scenes based on your miscellaneous scene notes will be a
bit harder because many times you won't be sure where they should go, or
even if they should go.
Make a guess where you think certain events
might sit best. You'll be able to switch the order of the
scenes easily later, so don't worry too much about putting scenes from your
miscellaneous notes in exactly the right place.
If you're not sure
the scene belongs in the book at all, you can either leave it out
or you can put it in wherever it seems to belong for now.
Because you won't necessarily be incorporating scenes in order during this
step, it may be easiest to put a question mark next to the scene number
field in the outline capsule.
Once you have your miscellaneous scene notes checked off,
look up your closing scene notes, also created on day 6.
Incorporating closing scenes won't be as hard as including miscellaneous
scenes, because most of them will fall in the last section of the book, so
you can just put them at the end of your document in the appropriate order.
If you're not sure about the precise order of these scenes, don't worry.
You can switch them around later.
At the end of day 16 your
outline should be shaping up nicely. You will have incorporated your
summary outline notes, miscellaneous scene notes and closing scene notes
within the formatted outline document. Now take a look at the outline from
top to bottom. You'll see a lot of holes, but you'll also see a solid
Each scene you write has to advance the story. It must
add to the previous scene and work to move the plot forward. Your formatted
outline acts as a road map: you can see the path you must take, and you can
place your scenes accordingly.
It's much easier to pace your novel
when it's in outline form than it would be if you just started writing the
story. With an outline sketching out each scene in detail, you can tell at a
glance whether each scene pushes the plot to a tight conclusion.
you complete the formatted outline, any scene that seems to slow or halt
progress, or that simply doesn't belong, can be moved or cut before the
actual writing of the book begins.
A trick: If you want to pick up the pace of your book in a simple way your
readers probably won't even notice on a conscious level, try writing one
scene per chapter. This accomplishes several things:
• Fairly short
chapters allow the book to move along swiftly from one chapter or scene to
• Your reader is likely to read more in one sitting, since
many readers glance ahead to the next chapter when considering whether or
not to stop reading.
• If the next chapter is short, your readers
will be much more inclined to keep going for just one more chapter.
Frequently, they won't put the book down for several more short chapters.
Day 17: Incorporating story evolution elements
On day 17 you'll be
incorporating the elements from your story evolution worksheet into your
formatted outline, which was created on days 14 and 15.
evolution worksheet lists events in chronological order, so figuring out
where they fit into your outline shouldn't be too difficult.
Incorporate as much of your story evolution elements into your formatted
outline as you can. If you're not sure about something, highlight that area
on the hard copy of your story evolution worksheet so you can come back to
it at a later date.
At the end of day 17 take another look at your
outline from top to bottom. Flesh out the outline wherever you can. Once
you've gone as far as you can for the day, spend the rest
of the day looking at it, trying to fill in the holes.
Day 18: Incorporating character and setting sketches
Today you'll be
incorporating your character sketches directly into the formatted outline.
Up to this point you've been putting scenes in chronological order.
Incorporating a character sketch isn't as easy as dropping a scene into its
chronological place, so today's tasks will be a bit trickier for you.
However, because much of your outline is now in a progressive (or linear)
format, you should be able to determine the best places to intersperse your
character sketch information.
Remember as you work that, in general,
most character sketch information will appear in the beginning of the book,
when the character is first introduced. As you introduce your characters and
they begin to interact with one another, drop in short physical
Include information about your characters'
personalities and motivations in every scene they appear in. Writing sensory
descriptions of your characters and their behavior allows your readers to use their senses. Put these descriptions directly in your
Blocks of description are fine in the outline. Don't worry
about being eloquent in delivering the description. When you're writing the
book, you can scatter the information throughout several scenes in creative
ways that tie together naturally.
Ask yourself some or all of the
questions below as you're incorporating character sketch information into
your formatted outline:
• What are the characters seeing, touching,
smelling, hearing, tasting?
• What are they wearing?
are they within the scene? Is there anything nearby that holds meaning for
them? If so, what and why?
• What are their expressions? Do they
seem nervous, emotional, guarded?
• What is happening around them?
What is the POV character's reaction to the event(s)?
• What are they
• If there are other characters in the scene, does the POV
character know them? If so, how does this affect
At this point start adding dialog to your formatted outline
as well. Dialog advances and enriches a scene, and, in your
finished story, provides the reader with a sense of being there. Use both
external dialog (what characters say out loud) and internal monolog (what
the main POV character in the scene thinks to him/herself). Dialog
can also be used to reveal important details about a character's
personality. It can be used to start a scene with a bang, and it will paint
a clearer picture in your mind of the purpose of the scene.
time to incorporate your setting sketches and any setting-specific research
directly into the formatted outline. Much of the discussion pertaining to
incorporating character sketch information into your formatted outline also
applies to the incorporation of setting sketches.
Most of the
important setting sketches will come at the beginning of the book, when the
setting is first introduced, but you'll also establish setting for the
reader with every new scene. Include all necessary information in each scene
in the outline. For instance, if you introduce your hero's home in the first
scene, that would be a good place to drop in a short description of his or
her abode. As with the character sketches, put your setting information
wherever you might need it within the formatted outline, so you won't have
to hunt for it when it comes time to write that scene.
the following questions as you incorporate setting sketch information into
• What about the setting is important? Characters will
notice things that are important to them or that hold special meaning for
them. Their current state of mind will also affect what they notice.
• What season is it? What kind of day within that season? Rainy? Hot? How
does your character react to the weather?
• Where are the characters
within the scene?
• Does your setting description match the mood of
At the end of day 18 review your outline. Spend the rest of the
day looking at it, brainstorming to fill in the holes.
Day 19: Incorporating research
On day 19 you'll be incorporating your book research directly into the
formatted outline. If there's a fact in your research that's pertinent to a
specific scene in the outline, you would incorporate it into the "facts
necessary" section of the scene capsule. Include the fact in all the scenes
where you might need it.
If you have large amounts of research that
can't be incorporated into the outline without causing your page count to
triple, place a reference to the research in the "notes" section of your
scene capsule so you'll know exactly where to find the information when you
Putting all of this information directly into your outline
will shave considerable time off your schedule when it's time to write the
book. Everything you need is just where you need it, when you need it.
At the end of day 19, review your formatted outline.
Days 20 to 23: Brainstorming your
20–23 you'll be brainstorming to fill out the remaining holes in your
outline. You want to layer and strengthen your story. Hopefully, your work
thus far has inspired you to brainstorm constantly.
As you work, you
can cut and paste your notes directly into your formatted outline document.
With the proper
brainstorming and discipline on your part, you should be
outlining from start to finish. However, there may be times you'll hit a
roadblock. So what do you do? Here's a list of ideas you can try:
1 Use a brainstorming technique,
especially verbal brainstorming with a partner. You might be able to work
out the kinks and return to outlining in no time.
2 If you haven't
started your research (or if you haven't finished your research), do it now,
or follow another logical research angle. You might discover some new
threads you can explore in your outline.
3 Remember that you don't
have to brainstorm or puzzle out your outline in a linear fashion. If you
can't figure out what should happen in a scene, but scenes at the end
of the book are coming to you, skip ahead and work on those. In the process,
you might figure out what needs to happen in the scene. All that matters
is that you keep brainstorming and allowing your muse to help you work.
4 If you've tried all of the suggestions above and you still can't move forward, take a few days off to brainstorm in your head. If that doesn't work, take a longer break. Give yourself
permission not to take notes so you'll feel freer to go in any direction
while you brainstorm.
Ultimately, if you can't get past the roadblock
with any of the previous suggestions, you may need to set the project aside.
Perhaps the story just isn't finished brewing. The work you've done so far
will prove invaluable when you're ready to start again. For now, take some
time off, do some research for another story, brainstorm on other books, or
concentrate on one that's ready to be poured out. Setting a story aside is
not a sign of failure.
find yourself unable to make further progress, the cure is almost always
outlining and writing in tandem. Stop outlining, sit down and write some
scenes from the book based on your outline. This will encourage the story to
take shape in your mind and will almost always inspire you toward further
brainstorming, which will help you complete your formatted outline.
When outlining and writing in tandem, start by outlining as many scenes as
you can. When you can't go any further, stop and use the completed portion
of your formatted outline to write the first scene of the book. Once that
scene is complete, try going back to the outline. If you're still stuck,
write the second scene. As you push forward, eventually the story will
reveal itself, allowing you to complete the outline well in advance of the
If you're outlining and writing in tandem, you
probably won't be able to follow the 30-day schedule. This method is
designed around completing a full outline before you begin the writing, so
follow your own schedule while you're doing this.
In general, once
you get all your summary outline ideas, miscellaneous and closing scene
notes, character and setting sketches, research, plot sketches and story
evolution worksheets incorporated into a formatted outline, you can start
Your goal should be to outline a book straight through before starting to write the book itself.
It's much easier to revise an outline than an entire book. You can
strengthen weak areas and remove huge blunders before these flaws have
spread over 300 pages.
Because your outline is, essentially, the
first draft of the book, your first attempt at actually writing the book
will produce your second (and possibly final) draft, which will require only
minor editing when it's complete.
At the end of day 23, review
your formatted outline from top to bottom. You should be pretty close to
filling in all the gaps in the outline at this point.
Day 24: Creating a day sheet
If you're writing a 100,000-word book, your complete formatted outline
will be nearly 100 pages long, or longer. Even a shorter book, say 60,000
words, will require about 60 pages of outline. How do you navigate something
this big and complicated?
The first step is to separate scenes with
page breaks so each scene can be viewed on its own. Doing this
will make your document far more workable. When you finish writing a scene,
you'll shuffle the scene capsule to the back of the stack until you
eventually end up back at the beginning of the outline. Adding a page break
at the end of each scene will keep you focused on writing at least one scene
per day, which is important to completing a project on schedule.
day sheet is a valuable tool when you're evaluating the
strength of your outline. The information in your scene capsules will help
you fill it out. Insert the day the
scene takes place. Enter the chapter and scene number within that chapter. Then list the scene's
Write a number to count how many times, up
to that scene, a particular character has held POV. Keeping track of this
number is especially helpful in books with more than a couple of points of
view. If you find that one of your characters has only
two or three POV scenes, you might want to cut them. Your readers don't want
to get interested in a character who doesn't have a strong purpose
throughout the book. The exception to this rule is the prolog, which can be
written from a POV not repeated elsewhere in the book.
high-concept blurb is a very succinct sentence summing up what takes
place in a scene. You could also look at it as a summary of something a
particular character must do or wants to do. What is his/her short-term goal
for this scene?
Stage 5: days 25-28
Evaluate your formatted outline for weak or missing elements
Once you have a formatted outline of your book, you should be
able to look at it critically to decide if the story has a solid plot with
plenty of tension in all the right places. You can assess the outline to
make sure everything is consistent. Is each plot thread introduced and
concluded properly? Does each plot thread follow a logical, steady path to
its resolution? Is your plot infused with tension? Do plot and tension lag
anywhere? If you discover problems, you can rework scenes until they all
flow forward smoothly.
But what if examining your book in this way
doesn't satisfy you that it has everything it needs? You can evaluate your outline more systematically by deconstructing it using a
method called tagging and tracing. Basically, tagging and tracing is
identifying all the plot threads within the outline, then following them to
make sure they're strong enough throughout each section of the book.
Remember that each plot thread should stand on its own: when you isolate
any thread, you should see a clear progression from start to finish.
story is so different, just follow the instructions contained in each
section to evaluate the strength of your outline. If you
discover weak areas in your outline, you may find it useful to revisit your
story evolution worksheet. If you have an editor, agent or
critique partner you trust, ask that person to read your outline to help you
evaluate its strengths.
Days 25 and 26: Tagging and tracing
Start day 25 by checking for unanswered questions on your interview
questions worksheet. If you still need answers to some of the
questions, set up an interview with your chosen expert. Try to schedule the
appointment for day 29 of the outlining process.
In stage two, you
created the plot threads for your story:
• story goal
• plot tension
• black moment
• aftereffects of resolution
All of these threads should become invisible as you write
Pacing is dictated in part by genre. Nevertheless, all stories need consistent
development. If your pacing is off, if it comes and goes, if it isn't
infused with tension, then editors and readers are likely to throw your
story against the nearest wall.
Now that you've completed your
formatted outline, you can tag (identify) each plot thread, then trace
(follow) it from start to finish to make sure it's solid. In order for each
thread to be strong within the written book, it must be strong in the
outline. Evaluating the strength of your plot threads now can save you many
rewrites in the future.
So, take your plot
sketch worksheet and open your formatted outline document.
You're about to make your outline very messy, so be prepared.
Tag and trace your story goal. As you know, your story goal
is your main plot thread, the one that starts at the beginning of the book
and continues until the very end, involving all the characters and subplot
threads. You identified your own story goal when you completed the plot
sketch worksheet; you clarified your story goal when you completed the story
evolution worksheet; and you gave the goal context when you incorporated all
your plot threads into a formatted outline. Using information from these
documents to tag and trace your story goal is simple.
reviewing your story goal. Then read through your scene capsules,
identifying elements that further the story goal. Tag each of these elements
by marking it.
When you're working on your book,
remember to judge each plot thread both individually and within the context
of the entire story. When does a certain thread need to be introduced? When
is the best time to bring it up again? How often does it need to be touched
on in order to maintain tension and reader interest?
threads is tricky, but it's extremely important to the development and
success of any story. As you trace your story goal through your formatted
outline, ask yourself the following questions:
Does my story goal develop
Is the pacing steady, or does it lag?
Is there any point where
the conflict fizzles, or just stops altogether?
Are there any rough
Is the path constant, or are there holes in the course of its
Is the development of the thread logical?
none of your plot threads should be considered minor, because all threads
should work in harmony. But the plot elements will have varying degrees of
There will be times when some of your story threads
merge, and you'll have difficulty deciding which thread is which as you tag.
This is a good sign: it means that you've successfully interwoven your
threads into the fabric of your story.
A tangential or disjointed
thread has no place in your story. You want your threads to mesh together.
If you can't decide how to tag a certain thread, use multiple
Subplot threads can be traced in much the same way as the story goal.
Ideally, if you tag and trace the entire book, you'll be able to pull out
each individual thread and evaluate its development from start to finish.
That's what you're striving to do with your own outline.
You can trace tension in your book just as you can
trace plot threads. Tension is essential in any genre, in every single book.
A quality story demands it. Your readers will demand it too: without it,
there's no reason to turn the pages. Tension can come from many different
areas, such as description, dialog, introspection and conflict.
can use pacing, foreshadowing and backstory to create tension. Remember,
tension and conflict go hand in hand. Wherever you have conflict, you need
to have tension. Because you have tagged and traced your plot threads
throughout your story, you know exactly where you need to have tension.
By following each plot thread, you can imagine exactly where the tension
needs to be. Each thread needs conflict, and conflict must be infused with
tension. But don't worry if you can't feel the tension while you review the
outline. Just because the outline isn't tense, it doesn't mean
your book won't be full of suspense.
In the outline, it's enough just
to give yourself directions for adding tension. These directions don't have
to be eloquent. They're just there to serve as a reminder for you to
include tension in the appropriate scenes in your outline.
Day 27: Isolating plot threads
Once you've completely tagged and traced
the plot threads and tension in your outline, try reading it through and
seeing if you feel more confident in judging the strength of your outline.
Does each plot thread stand on its own and follow a strong course from start
If you're still not as sure as you'd like to be, there's
one more step you can take, a procedure called isolating plot threads. When
you isolate a particular plot thread in your outline, you should be able to
see any weakness in that thread and gauge what's needed to improve it.
Isolating threads is also an ideal way to identify and get rid of a
sagging middle or weak tension. A sagging middle, in blunt terms, is a lull
in the middle of your book caused by a plot thread that isn't well thought
out and doesn't unfold naturally. By isolating each plot thread, you can
discover exactly where the problems are and correct them.
eventually become an expert at unfolding your plot threads slowly but
steadily and maximizing the potential for plot tension. What's in your
outline should carry over into the actual book. So if your pacing is solid
in the outline, it will be solid in your novel as well.
Begin day 27
by saving a separate copy of your tagged and traced outline. You'll isolate
your plot threads from this second document so you don't mess up your tagged
outline. Then create a separate document for each thread you'll be
To isolate the plot threads, open your tagged outline and
go through it scene by scene, copying each plot thread and pasting it into
its own document. Once you've removed a subplot thread completely from your
formatted outline, try rereading the outline. Without that thread, something
is missing, isn't it? Now, try putting an isolated subplot thread into a
different spot within the outline. Does it fit in any other place? It might.
If some portion of your thread fits in more than one area in your
outline, you'll need to decide where it fits best. Each thread should unfold
logically and steadily, while maintaining tension within the story. If
you're uncertain about a subplot, try moving it around until you're sure
you've got it in the right place.
When you isolate a particular plot
thread in your outline, you should be able to see any holes in the thread.
If it's lacking motivation or tension, you should be able to determine
what's missing and where you should add something relating to this thread.
If you can't identify what's missing, make some educated guesses until you
figure out what works best.
At the end of day 27 your outline should
be extremely solid. If it's not, you may need to revisit your story
evolution worksheet in order to figure out where your story fizzled.
Incorporate new ideas and scenes into your formatted outline, then start the
deconstruction process again to make sure the threads are strong from start
It could be that once you've completed your formatted
outline, tagged, traced and isolated your plot threads and revised your
story evolution worksheet, you discover you don't have enough subplot
threads in your book. Don't be upset! Be glad you discovered the problem
before you committed it to 300-plus manuscript pages. It's never too late to
bolster your story with another layer of texture.
Shoring up weak elements in your formatted outline
On day 28 continue
shoring up weak elements in your plot. You may want to verbally brainstorm
with your editor or a trusted critique partner to help evaluate the strength
of your outline.
Tagging, tracing and isolating plot threads are all
huge jobs. The good news is that you won't have to do this for every book.
With experience you'll be able to complete these steps in your head. The
more times you go through it, the better you get. You'll eventually come to
a point when you instinctively know whether your outline is strong enough or
Stage 6: days 29-30
Revise your first draft and make final checks
incorporated everything into your formatted outline, evaluated the strength
of that outline and found it to be complete. What's the next step in the
From day 1, we've considered the outline to be the first
draft of your novel. Now that you've completed that first draft, it's time
to revise. That's exactly what you'll be doing in this final stage of the
Day 29: Filling in the final holes
In the revision stage of completing your outline you'll be performing a
multitude of tasks. You may find yourself dragging from all the effort
you've put into your outline so far. The good news is that you're almost
As you work, be sure to keep your outline current by recording corrections
revising chapter and scene numbers. Stay organized.
Today's agenda should keep you busy. If you still
needed some answers to the questions on your interview questions worksheet, you probably have an appointment with your chosen expert
coming up. To prepare yourself for this appointment, review the interview
question list. If you've already answered some of the questions on this list
through other research, delete them.
Then figure out where each piece
of new information you plan to get will go in your outline. Since your
outline is almost final, you will be able to figure out where this
information is needed and include accurate chapter, scene, and/or page
numbers directly on the interview question list.
Once the interview
is complete, slot the information directly into your formatted outline in
the appropriate place. When all your interview answers are incorporated, you
need to take a fresh look at the revised outline and see if any additional
questions remain. Remember, your formatted outline capsule has a section for
scene questions. Questions in this area should be highlighted to alert you
to any holes in the outline. If you've highlighted the questions and crossed
them off when they were answered throughout your outlining process, you
should know at a glance what still needs to be done. Perform any research,
interviews or brainstorming necessary to fill in those holes.
your outline. Now is not the time for editing and polishing. Editing and
polishing should be minor tasks (in terms of amount of work rather than
importance). Clean-up jobs could include any of the following:
• rearranging sentences or scenes
• tightening sentences and individual
• adding details or minor research
• adding a necessary scene or deleting an extraneous one
Don't start the editing and polishing process until
you're sure you've finished revising.
Revising the outline instead of
By creating a formatted outline, you've made the
revision process much easier for yourself. You can revise the outline as
much as you need to in order to fine-tune your story, and you've virtually
eliminated the need to fully revise the manuscript itself later.
are wondering if it
makes sense to revise the outline instead of the manuscript, think of it this way.
Your outline is at most a quarter of the length of your novel. Revising the outline is a whole lot easier
than revising a full manuscript.
On top of that, revising a
completed manuscript is a nightmare. Any writer can attest to that. If you
haven't been working with an outline, everything that happens from one scene
to another affects everything else in the book. Before you know it you're
better off ditching the whole thing and starting from scratch.
end of day 29 you might want to mentally tag, trace and isolate your plot
threads again, to make sure they're strong enough. Getting together to
brainstorm with an editor, agent or critical partner about any areas you
feel may still be weak is also a good idea.
Day 30: Putting it
on a shelf
The final day in your 30-day schedule is here. You may be
sick to death of the outline at this point, but force yourself to go over it
scene by scene one last time, asking yourself the following questions:
• Do I have enough conflict to sustain the length and complexity of the
• Are my characters properly developed? Do they grow
consistently throughout the book?
• Is the pacing correct?
Does the middle sag anywhere?
• Does the story unfold naturally with
consistency and tension?
• Are my characters likable, with strong
goals and sufficient motivation?
If your answer to any of these
questions is no, you know what to do. Go back to your story evolution
worksheet or deconstruct the threads to make sure each one is solid.
Once you're sure your outline is as robust as it's going to get, make any
Now is the best time to put in the actual chapter
numbers, since they're unlikely to change at this stage. Make sure your
table of contents also reflects any changes. Then make a clean and
fully updated copy of your formatted outline. Put everything associated with
this project into your project folder. Then put this book
on a shelf and forget about it, for as long as you possibly can.
Allowing your outlines to sit for a couple of weeks or even months
before beginning to put everything into manuscript format is absolutely
essential. The next time you pick up your formatted outline, you're going to
need a fresh perspective. You'll be reviewing the outline again to be sure
it is as solid as you believed it was when you finished it. The only way
you'll be able to get a fresh perspective is to put your outline on a shelf,
out of sight and out of mind.
Get to work on something else so you
don't think about this project. When you do return to it, plan on spending
one or two weeks just re-evaluating the strength of your outline.
Only then, finally, is it time to start writing the book itself.