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How To Create A Plot Outline - In 8 Easy Steps - By Glen C.

Here's an easy way to come up with a brief plot outline for your novel. One of the most powerful secrets to creating plots that are emotionally compelling is to incorporate the 8 Basic Plot Elements. Starting with your story idea you only need to ma!e eight choices to ensure the plot of your future novel hangs together in a meaningful way. "he best part is that you can ma!e these choices and construct a brief plot outline in less than an hour. Sound intriguing# "hen let's get started. $'ll describe each of the eight elements in turn. $f you already have an idea for a novel you're wor!ing on open your file or get a pad of paper or your writer's noteboo!. %s you read through the rest of this page &ot down ideas for how each element might wor! in your story. %t the end $'ll show you how to use your choices to create a brief well'rounded plot outline for your novel. $f you don't have an idea for a novel yet &ust grab one from your imagination. $t doesn't have to be good. $t's &ust an e(ercise after all. On the other hand if you already have a draft for a novel that you're loo!ing to revise then as! yourself as we go through these elements whether you have included them in your story. )reate a plot outline for your novel in the way suggested below. *ou may find you can strengthen your novel plot considerably by incorporating any plot element you neglected before. +. Story ,oal "he first element to include in your plot outline is the Story ,oal which we covered in detail in the previous article "he -ey to a Solid Plot. )hoosing a Story ,oal. "o summari/e the plot of any story is a se0uence of events that revolve around an attempt to solve a problem or attain a goal. "he Story ,oal is generally spea!ing what your protagonist wants to achieve or the problem he1she wants to resolve. $t is also the goal1problem that involves or affects most if not all the other characters in the story. $t is 2what the story is all about.3 4or instance let's say we want to write a story about a 58'year'old female e(ecutive who has always put off having a family for the sa!e of her career and now finds herself lonely and regretting her choices. $n this case we might choose to ma!e the Story ,oal for her to find true love before it's too late. "here are many ways we could involve other characters in this goal. 4or instance we could give our protagonist ...

9e could even ma!e the company where the protagonist wor!s in danger of failing because it doesn't appreciate the importance of family. $t could be losing good employees to other companies that do. $n other words after we have chosen a Story ,oal we will build a world around our protagonist that includes many perspectives on the problem and ma!es the goal important to everyone in that world. "hat's why choosing the Story ,oal is the most important first step in building a plot outline. $f you haven't chosen a goal for your novel yet do so now. :a!e a list of potential goals that fits the idea you are wor!ing on. "hen choose choose one goal to base your plot outline on. ;. )onse0uence Once you have decided on a Story ,oal your ne(t step is to as! yourself 29hat disaster will happen if the goal is not achieved# 9hat is my protagonist afraid will happen if he1she doesn't achieve the goal or solve the problem#3 "he answer to these 0uestions is the )onse0uence of the story. "he )onse0uence is the negative situation or event that will result if the ,oal is not achieved. %voiding the )onse0uence &ustifies the effort re0uired in pursuing the Story ,oal both to the characters in your novel and the reader and that ma!es it an important part of your plot outline. "he combination of goal and conse0uence creates the main dramatic tension in your plot. $t's a carrot and stic! approach that ma!es the plot meaningful. $n some stories the protagonist may begin by deciding to resolve a problem or pursue a goal. <ater that goal becomes more meaningful when he discovers that a terrible conse0uence will occur if he fails. Other times the protagonist may start off threatened by a terrible event which thus motivates him1her to find way to avoid it. %s :elanie %nne Phillips points out in some stories the conse0uence seems to be in effect when the story opens. Perhaps the evil despot is already on the throne and the Story ,oal is to depose him. $n that case the conse0uence if the protagonist fails is that things will stay the way they are. $n our novel plot about the female e(ecutive we've already come up with one possible )onse0uence 8 that she could end up li!e her spinster aunt. 9e could ma!e the )onse0uence worse 6perhaps the aunt dies of starvation because she is feeble and has no immediate family loo!ing after her7. Or we could create a different )onse0uence. Her employer may go ban!rupt unless it becomes more family'friendly. 9rite a list of possible )onse0uences you could have in your plot outline. "hen choose one to be the counterpoint to your chosen Story ,oal. 5. =e0uirements "he third element of your plot outline =e0uirements describes what must be accomplished in order to achieve the goal. *ou can thin! of this as a chec!list of one or more events. %s the =e0uirements are met in the course of the novel the reader will feel the characters are getting closer to the attainment of the goal. =e0uirements create a state of e(cited anticipation in the reader's mind as he loo!s forward to the protagonist's success. 9hat could the =e0uirements be in our e(ecutive story# 9ell if the goal is for our protagonist to find true love perhaps she will need to &oin a singles club or dating service so she can meet single men. Perhaps she will need to ta!e a holiday or leave of absence from her &ob. %s! yourself what event6s7 might need to happen for the goal in your novel to be achieved. <ist as many possibilities as you can thin! of. "o !eep things simple for the moment &ust choose one re0uirement for now to include in your plot outline. >. 4orewarnings 4orewarnings are the counterpart to re0uirements. 9hile re0uirements show that the story is progressing towards the achievement of the goal forewarnings are events that show the conse0uence is getting closer. 4orewarnings ma!e the reader an(ious that the conse0uence will occur before the protagonist can succeed. $n the plot outline for our story events that could constitute 4orewarnings might be...
the company loses one of its !ey employees to another firm that was more family'friendly. the protagonist has a series of bad dates that ma!e it seem li!e she will never find the right guy. the protagonist meets a woman at a singles club who tells her that at their age all the good men are already married. one of the protagonist's friends goes through a messy divorce showing that marriage may not be the source of happiness it's purported to be .

... a mother who wants her to be happier. ... friends and colleagues at her company who are also unmarried and lonely 6so that her success might inspire them7. ... a &ealous e('boyfriend who tries to sabotage her love life. ... an elderly lonely spinster of an aunt who doesn't want the protagonist to ma!e the same mista!e she did. ... a happy young family who give her an e(ample of what she has missed. ... a friend who married and divorced and is now down on marriage. 64orcing the protagonist to wor! out whether her friend's e(perience really applies to her 8 or whether it was &ust a case of choosing the wrong partner or bad luc!.7

9hile the Story ,oal and )onse0uences create dramatic tension =e0uirements and 4orewarnings ta!e the reader through an emotional roller

coaster that oscillates between hope and fear. "here will be places in the plot where it seems the protagonist is ma!ing progress and others where it seems that everything is going wrong. Structure these well and you will !eep your reader turning pages non'stop. 4or e(ample here's how our plot outline might loo! so far ... ?% female e(ecutive in her late 5@s has been married to her &ob. But she has a wa!e'up call when her elderly spinster aunt dies alone and neglected 6conse0uence7. "he e(ecutive decides that she needs to have a family before she suffers the same fate 6goal7. $n order to do this she hires a dating service and arranges to go on several dates 6re0uirements7. But each date ends in disaster 6forewarnings7.? %s you can see using &ust these four elements a story plot is starting to emerge that will ta!e the reader on a series of emotional twists and turns. %nd we're only halfway through our 8 plot elementsA 6Of course we started with the four most important ones.7 Botice too that these elements come in pairs that balance each other. "his is an important secret for creating tension and momentum in your plot. Before moving on to the remaining elements list some possible events that could serve as 4orewarnings in your story. 4or now &ust choose one. See if you can create a brief plot outline li!e the e(ample above using &ust the first four elements. C. )osts ,enerally spea!ing good plots are about problems that mean a lot to the characters. $f a problem is trivial then neither the protagonist nor the reader has a reason to get wor!ed up about it. *ou want your readers to get wor!ed up about your novel. So you must give your protagonist a goal that matters. One sign that a problem or goal matters to the protagonist is that he1she is willing to ma!e sacrifices or suffer pain in order to achieve it. Such sacrifices are called )osts. )lassic e(amples of )osts include the hard'boiled detective who gets beaten up at some point in his investigation or the heroic tales in which the hero must suffer pain or in&ury or give up a cherished possession to reach his goal. However )osts can come in many other ways. Protagonists can be as!ed to give up their pride self'respect money security an attitude an ideali/ed memory the life of a friend or anything else they hold dear. $f you ma!e the costs steep and illustrate how hard the sacrifice is for the protagonist the reader will feel that the protagonist deserves to achieve the goal. $n the case of our female e(ecutive perhaps she must give up a promotion she has wor!ed hard for because it would re0uire her to travel so much that she would have no chance of settling down and raising a family. :a!e a list of possible )osts your protagonist might be forced to endure in order to achieve the Story ,oal. %gain &ust choose one idea to include in your plot outline for now. D. Eividends "he element that balances )osts in your plot outline is Eividends. Eividends are rewards that characters receive along the &ourney towards the Story ,oal. Fnli!e =e0uirements Eividends are not necessary for the goal to be achieved. "hey may be unrelated to the goal entirely. But they are something that would never have occurred if the characters hadn't made the effort to achieve the goal. $n the case of our e(ecutive perhaps her efforts to meet men give her an idea for creating a business of her own 8 a !ind of e(ecutive dating service for instance that will lead her to a happier career. Or perhaps the 0uest for love and family forces her to become more compassionate towards her co'wor!ers when their family responsibilities interfere with wor!. <ist possible ways to reward your characters and choose one that feels appropriate for your plot outline. "hen move on to our final pair of elements. G. Prere0uisites Prere0uisites are events that must happen in order for the =e0uirements to happen. "hey are an added layer of challenges to your plot outline. <i!e =e0uirements as Prere0uisites are met the reader feels progress is being made towards the goal. 4or instance in order to free the Princess the hero must recovery the !ey from its hiding place but first 6Prere0uisite7 he must defeat the dragon guarding it. $n order to win the maiden's hand the gallant suitor must show he would not ris! losing her for anything. But before he has a chance to do that he must show he is willing to ris! everything to win her 6Sha!espeare's "he :erchant of Henice7. $f the =e0uirement for our novel about the e(ecutive is that she must go out on several dates perhaps the Prere0uisite is that she must sign up at a dating service buy a new wardrobe or get a ma!e'over. "a!e a loo! at your chosen =e0uirement and ma!e a list of possible Prere0uisites that must be accomplished before the re0uirement can be met. )hoose one. 8. Preconditions "he last element to balance your plot outline Preconditions is a &unior version of 4orewarnings. Preconditions are small impediments in the plot. "hey are stipulations laid down by certain characters that ma!e it more difficult for the Story ,oal to be achieved. % classic e(ample is Pride and Pre&udice in which Eli/abeth's 0uest for happiness is made more difficult by the terms of her grandfather's will which state that the family property can only be inherited by males. "his means that upon her father's death Eli/abeth and her sisters will be penniless unless they find good husbands first. However there are many other ways characters can impose conditions that impede the attainment of the Story ,oal. "hey can ma!e their help conditional on favours insist on arduous rules or negotiate tough terms. 4or instance perhaps the company where our female e(ecutive wor!s has a rule that e(ecutives must attend meetings very early in the day ' say D%: on Saturdays. "his rule ma!es it very hard for her to go on 4riday night dates and be alert in the meetings. Or perhaps the singles club she &oins has some seemingly unfair rules that cause her problems. *ou !now what to do by now. <ist possible Preconditions your characters might encounter and choose one you li!e. Organi/ing *our Plot Summary Once you have chosen your eight elements the ne(t step is to arrange them into a brief plot summary. $t doesn't matter what order you put them in so long as all eight are included. $n fact most of the elements can be repeated or included in more than one way. 4or e(ample here's how we might put together all eight elements for our e(ecutive story together into a one'paragraph plot outline... 2% female e(ecutive in her late 5@s has been married to her &ob. But she has a wa!e'up call when her elderly spinster aunt dies alone and neglected 6conse0uence7. "he e(ecutive decides that she needs to have a family before she suffers the same fate 6goal7. So she buys a new wardrobe and signs on with a dating service 6prere0uisites7. Her boss offers her a promotion that would involve a lot of travel but she turns it down so that she will have time to meet some men 6cost7. She goes on several dates 6re0uirements7. But each one ends in disaster 6forewarnings7. On top of that because the agency arranges all her dates for 4riday nights she ends up arriving tired and late for the company's mandatory D%: Saturday morning meetings 6preconditions7. %long the way however she starts to reali/e how the company's policies are very unfair to people with families or social lives outside wor! and she begins to develop compassion for some of her co'wor!ers that leads to improved relationships in the office 6dividend7.3

Plot De elop!ent" Cli!a#$ %esolution$ an& 'our (ain Chara)ter

Bow you have written a brief plot outline 6Part 57 some plot development should be your ne(t tas!. $n particular let's consider how to ma!e sure the plot of your novel incorporates a satisfying clima( and resolution. :any writers especially pantsers don't li!e to thin! about plot development until they've written most of the first draft preferring to let the ending evolve organically out of what comes before. Others may plan an ending ahead of time but they prefer to rely on instinct feeling and a lot of trial and error rather than any !ind of theory. $ believe however that you can save yourself a lot of time and effort in the long run by ma!ing a few decisions about how your plot develops and the nature of your story early on. "hat includes having some idea what the ending will be. % good sense of where you are going increases your chance of getting there successfully. Of course your ending must ma!e emotional and logical sense. $t should be surprising yet so connected to the novel as a whole that in hindsight it seems inevitable to the reader. 4ortunately certain plot development tools called story dynamics can help you create a great ending. $t's simply a matter of answering a few 0uestions such as ... 9ill *our Bovel End Happily Fnhappily Or Somewhere $n Between# *ou may find this hard to believe but 8 without at all becoming formulaic 8 story endings generally fall into four different categories. Iust two simple yes1no choices determine which category your novel will fall into. "o ma!e the first choice you need to !now your Story ,oal or Problem which is the foundation of your novel's plot. 6By now you should have chosen a Story ,oal. $f you haven't review Part ;. )hoosing a Story ,oal .7 9ith your Story ,oal in mind as! yourself what the outcome of your characters' pursuit of that goal will be. 9ill they in particular your protagonist achieve the ,oal# 9ill they solve the Problem# $f the answer is no then in classical terms your novel will be a tragedy. $f the answer is yes your plot will be what classical writers called a comedy regardless whether or not it is humorous. 62)omedy 3 before the advent of movies simply meant a drama that ended happily.7 *ou may already have a feeling about whether the story you are wor!ing on should end happily or unhappily. $f you are uncertain try as!ing yourself the following plot development 0uestions. Eo $ want to write a story in which the characters e(perience the right way to solve a problem or accomplish something 6Story ,oal7 or one in which the characters e(perience the wrong way to try to solve a problem# Eo $ want my reader to understand or learn from my characters' failures or from their successes# Of course not every story fits into the neat categories of )omedy and "ragedy. :any stories have bittersweet endings that lie somewhere in between. Iust as &ustice depends not on the letter of the law alone but also on the spirit of the law the impact of a story depends not &ust on what happens but also how we feel about what happens. So the second choice you must ma!e in regards to plot development is whether your outcome should be seen as good or bad. $n some stories characters may fail to achieve the Story ,oal only to find that their failure is a good thing. 4or instance the %lfred Hitchcoc! film =ebecca tells the story of a woman who marries a rich widower. She tries fill the shoes of the first wife but fails utterly. *et that failure turns out to be a good thing. She finds out in the end that her husband hated his first wife and loved his new wife because she was so different. :elanie %nne Phillips calls this type of plot a Personal "riumph but the classical term invented by %ristotle is 2"ragi'comedy.3 $n other stories characters may achieve the Story ,oal only to discover that the goal was not worth achieving. 4or instance -ing :idas might achieve his ,oal of turning everything in his house into solid gold but if that includes his beloved daughter we would &udge his success as bad. "here is no classical term that truly suits this type of story so we'll call it a )omi'tragedy. 6:elanie %nne Phillips calls it a Personal "ragedy which also wor!s.7 Based on these two choices 8 outcome and &udgment the four possible endings of any novel plot are as follows. +. )omedy 6happy ending7. the protagonist achieves the goal or solves the problem and his success turns out to be a good thing. ;. "ragedy. the protagonist fails to achieve the goal and his failure is a bad thing. 5. "ragi'comedy 6Personal "riumph7. the protagonist fails to achieve the goal but his failure turns out to be a good thing. >. )omi'tragedy 6Personal "ragedy7. the protagonist achieves his goal but his success turns out to be a bad thing. *ou may want to play with all four options in your imagination for some time before deciding what type of ending feels right for your novel. Plot Eevelopment and the )lima( *ou may thin! $ am putting the cart before the horse by tal!ing about the story ending before the clima(. However it's really a matter of preference. $f you !now you want a particular type of ending then you will need to create a clima( that will set the reader up for it. On the other hand if you already have a vision of what happens at the clima( that will determine the ending. "raditional theories of plot development define the clima( as the moment of greatest emotional tension in a story and the point at which the protagonist's fortunes turn. However Eramatica theory gives us a more precise and practical definition. Here's what really happens at the clima( of a plot. "he main character in pursuit of the Story ,oal arrives at a tough situation. He or she then ma!es a decision or does something that determines decisively whether or not the Story ,oal will be achieved. :ore precisely he decides whether or not to change himself or his behaviour. *ou see your main character 8 that is the character through whose eyes the audience sees the story 8 will have a particular way of trying to solve problems that is !ey to the plot development. 9ith some characters it is a type of behaviour. 9ith others it is a personality trait that either helps or hinders them. *our main character's !ey trait1method may be the right way to achieve the Story ,oal or it might be the wrong way. "he main character certainly doesn't !now ahead of time. $n the course of the novel the main character will be presented with an alternative way to solve the problem and he doesn't !now for sure if that way will be any better. However when the chips are down when you put your main character in the toughest possible situation he must choose to either stic! with his way the tried and true or switch to the alternative. $f he switches he may give up his habitual behaviour or adopt a new behaviour. He may have to give up a personality trait or ta!e on a new one. Each choice carries the ris! of failure. So now we can define plot development more precisely in terms of our four types of endings. +. %t the clima( of a )omedy the main character achieves success by either ... ' stic!ing with a good trait1behaviour ' giving up a bad one ' ta!ing on a good one 6E.g. Harry Potter succeeds in defeating Holdemort because he stic!s with his habit of putting others' lives ahead of his own.7

;. %t the clima( of a "ragedy the main character fails because he either... ' stic!s with a bad trait1behaviour ' gives up a good one ' ta!es on a bad one 6E.g. :acbeth fails to truly embody the role of !ing and establish a dynasty because he becomes a habitual murderer and betrayer ma!ing his sub&ects want to depose him.7 5. %t the clima( of a "ragi'comedy the main character fails to achieve his goal yet it turns out to be a good thing because he either... ' stic!s with a good trait1behaviour ' gives up a bad one ' ta!es on a good one 6E.g. $n the science fiction movie Bladerunner the main character fails in his mission to 2terminate3 all the artificial people on earth because he develops compassion for them 8 which is a good thing.7 >. %t the clima( of a )omi'tragedy the main character achieves success yet it turns out to be a bad thing because he either... ' stic!s with a bad trait1behaviour ' gives up a good one ' ta!es on a bad one 6E.g. $n =omeo and Iuliet the goal of ending the feud between the )apulets and the :ontagues is achieved but =omeo's unwillingness to give up his love for Iuliet ends in both their deaths.7 "hat's a lot of theory to ta!e in a once but here's how to apply it simply. "a!e a loo! at the plot summary you wrote and as! yourself the following plot development 0uestions. 9hat !ind of story do $ want to tell# 9ill characters succeed in achieving the Story ,oal# 9ill my main character be someone who changes or stic!s to his guns# $f my main character changes how will he1she change# 9ill the outcome be good or bad for my main character# Bow ta!e some time to write down various ideas for a clima( and an ending to your novel. -eep in mind that while the clima( is the moment when the decisive event occurs plot development is a process that occurs throughout your novel. "he reader must see how main character is1behaves at the start of the novel and see how his nature is challenged by the Story ,oal. %fter the clima( you must show the reader the outcome and how it is good or bad for the main character. %fter you have decided on these plot development issues revise your plot summary to reflect your story dynamics. "hen move from Plot Eevelopment to Part C. )reating %rchetypal )haracters. JBased on Eramatica theory created by :elanie %nne Phillips and )hris Huntley.