Last time I talked about my defection from Pantsing to Outlining. Today I would like to talk a little bit about what my outlining process looks like.
I did a lot of scouring the interwebs before I found something that clicked with me. I have to state right off the bat that I did not come up with this outline (though I did generate a physical template). I got the outlining strategy from Kat O'Keefe at Katytastic on Youtube- and she admits she isn't the one who came up with it either. You can click through to see the original post she made as well as a ton of other awesome writing videos!
The outline is essentially a traditional 3 Act structure (used most often in screenplays) combined with Dan Wells' 7 Point System- a common structure used in RPG's. See, we all just cherry pick what we like and make it work. Why reinvent the wheel?
The reason I liked this structure, as originally seen on Kat's channel, was because it broke the outlining process down into detailed yet manageable chunks. Most people think of the outlining systems they were taught in school- which are time intensive, clunky, and honestly not very helpful.
I did my undergraduate degree in English Literature, sure, but that was nearly eight years ago and I wrote more criticism pieces than I did creative pieces. Though I have written daily since I could pick up a pencil and make scribbles, I'm honestly not overly familiar with story structure outside of your typical high school-esque plot mountain system. I have read enough in my life time that it's fairly intuitive, but I just had no idea what to put on an outline.
In the grand scheme of things the plot mountain is not super helpful. The middle part is left completely vague- stuff happens. That's it. Well golly-jee thanks, but I knew that already. What I wanted was something more formulaic. If I am going to use an outline, as opposed to going with my writer's instinct (to Pants), then I want something that makes my life easier.
The 3 Act, 27 Chapter Outline
So let's break this bad boy down. There are, as the title indicated, 3 Acts. It lays itself out as Beginning (Act 1), Middle (Act 2), and End (Act 3). Pretty easy-peasy at this point. Now let's break each down further.
In each Act there are three blocks (conveniently lining up with Beginning, Middle and End), and in each block there are three chapters-you see the pattern. If you do some math ::pulls out calculator:: you get...27 chapters.
It doesn't look like much yet. Stick with me.
Block 1 chapters: Introduction, Inciting Incident, and Immediate Effect.
This is essentially your set up Block where you introduce your characters, world, over-arching issue, the thing that sets everything in motion and the immediate consequences of that thing.
Block 2 chapters: Reaction, Action, Consequence
A problem has disrupted your protagonist's life. Your characters are reacting to the effect of the inciting incident, the initial action they take in response to that effect, and then the consequences of that action.
Block 3 chapters: Pressure, Pinch 1, Push
The protagonist's life is changing and they are fighting against it, building up pressure and tension. Then the first plot twist (or pinch) happens and the results of that plot twist pushes/forces the protagonist into a new direction.
Block 4 chapters: New World, Fun & Games, Old Contrast
The protagonist experiences the new world (or situation) they have been thrust into. They have some time to explore, interact, or play around in this new world. This might be where you spend a lot of time building up romantic sub-plots (if you have them). Then after they've had some time to think about it they compare it to the old world- and something has to change.
Block 5 chapters: Build up, Mid-point, Reversal
Your character knows something has to change but it's not going to be easy. The build up is the struggle- internal or external- about what must come next. The mid-point usually involves some kind of reveal that further complicates the protagonist's plans and the protagonist working towards a plan. In the reversal all those plans go to hell. Just keep throwing in those road blocks.
Block 6 chapters: Reaction, Action, Dedication
In the reaction the protagonist is working against those road blocks from the reversal- but doesn't quite over come them. The action is where the protagonist actively solves or works around the roadblocks. In the dedication, having overcome these roadblocks the protagonist is renewed in their determination to over come the over arching issue.
Block 7 chapters: Trials, Pinch 2, Darkest Moment
In trials the protagonist finds a solution, but there is some complication (it doesn't solve the whole problem, don't know how/if it will really work, or solves the problem in a different way than they originally thought); perhaps they have to pass a test, or test the solution out on a small group before moving forward...and it works! But then the plot twist (pinch 2) happens. Something that prevents the protagonist from completing the task and makes everything so much worse than it was. Everything seems lost.
Block 8 chapters: Power Within, Action, Converge
The first part is pretty self-explainatory. After some wallowing your protagonist bucks up and finds the courage and strength to carry on and solve the problem- like Dorothy they discover the power laid within them the whole time. They take action on this new-found power and actively work towards getting themselves out of their current jam and taking on the bigger issue. Then all the plots come together- the big thing that happens in imminent and/or occurring.
Block 9 chapters: Battle, Climax, Resolution
The final battle, the protagonist takes on the big issue full force. Then the climax- things get worse before they get better but the big issue is defeated/solved! The protagonist achieves their goals and the outlook is good. The resolution ties up all the loose ends- rebuilding or reuniting happens, maybe it's not perfect but it is over.
Obviously none of this is set in stone. Feel like throwing in another plot twist? Do it! Cherry pick. Take what works and leave behind what doesn't. I personally like it as a guide because it makes me evaluate every major point of my story. I like it as a template to go back and organize my half-written, scatter brained, novels I created while pantsing. Sometimes I will use it and other times I won't. I outlined a novel the other day by just writing it out bullet point style- but I bet if I were to go put this outline over it it would line up quite nicely.
To see the outline in action check out Katytasic's real-time outlining video here. It also gives you an idea how to set it up using Scrivener. Start at around 24:30 for the actual outline walk through.
How do you outline? Would you like to see something of mine outlined using this process?