This Business of Writing

How to Create a Plot Outline

In The Craft of Writing on December 11, 2009 at 8:08 am

Recently a reader on Scribd.com asked if I might offer some insight as to how to outline the plot of a word of fiction. I’m glad to help.

I know of two methods by which you can outline the plot of a novel. My favorite is known as The Hero’s Journey. It’s a method by which you identify twelve major activities the hero must undergo in your story. The other is a five-step method where you perform the same task, but focus only on the most important aspects of your story. I’ve outlined the two methods below.

The Hero’s Journey, those twelve steps your hero must face, are defined in its most simplistic form as follows:

  1. Ordinary World – Your hero’s life prior to beginning his quest
  2. Call to Adventure – The event that tells your hero a major life change is approaching
  3. Refusal of the Call – Your hero’s attempt to ignore or forestall the Call to Adventure
  4. Meeting the Mentor – Your hero meets the premier person who will assist him on his quest
  5. Crossing the Threshold – Your hero moves away from his life and onto his quest
  6. Test, Allies and Enemies – The people your hero meets who aid or hinder him during his quest
  7. Approach to the Innermost Cave – Your hero stands on the precipice of fighting his villain
  8. The Supreme Ordeal – Your hero fights your villain
  9. Reward – Your hero receives some sort of treasure for defeating the villain
  10. Journey Home – Your hero travels home and combats additional, lesser villains
  11. Resurrection – Your hero proves worthy of the treasure he has received
  12. Return with Elixir – Your hero reaches his home and received the accolades due him

The Five-Step Method is loosely defined as follows:

  1. Identify your main characters then establish the setting and decide upon the major point of conflict around which your major characters will revolve.
  2. Create the building action. In effect, you place your protagonist in the position where he must take some sort of action to quell the conflict you’ve established.
  3. Bring the conflict in your story to a head. Here the conflict rises to the point of its highest emotion.
  4. Lower the emotional level for your reader and your hero. Any loose ends are tied up and your story is moved toward its conclusion.
  5. Define the formal conclusion of your plot arc or your story.

You can see the similarities between these two systems. I prefer The Hero’s Journey as it, to me, insures you don’t miss any critical scenes. Regardless which method you use, after you’ve created the basic storyline, flesh out those events you need to lead your hero from step one to twelve, or one to five if you prefer.

By first outlining your story and constructing those steps that must take place to move your story forward, you’ll enhance your chances of creating a well-structured and well-received story.

I wish you the best with this and if you have any questions, please post them in a comment. I’ll be glad to help.

Until my next post, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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  1. […] How to Create a Plot Outline « This Business of Writing […]

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