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Step Six: Outline

We’ve made it! This is it, where you finish your Ultimate Outline of Awesome.

Now that you have your four Acts, neatly divided by your Tentpoles, you can use them as containers for all those handy plot points you came up with for your Hero’s Journeys.

That’s all that this step is, really. Compiling.

You can do it multiple ways. If you just want to bull through and put all your plot points in order in one go, you’re welcome to do so, but the reason I take the time to decide on my Acts and Tentpoles is because it gives me a handy guide and a sort of measuring stick for pacing. It can be unwieldy to try and shuffle 39+ plot points (my last outline had over sixty!) into proper order. However, if I take each plotline and divvy up which points belong in which Act, I can then organize each section individually and ensure none are too short or too long.

(Also, the Tentpoles are pretty distinct signposts, and it’s usually easy for me to decide whether a plot point comes before or after a certain Tentpole.)

So step-by-step, how do we compile? Well, this week you get very detailed instructions for your assignment.


Assignment

1. Sort plot points under the correct Act or Tentpole.

I’ll start with my Acts and Tentpoles like so:

  • Opening
  • Act I
  • 1st Doorway
  • Act II
  • Midpoint
  • Act III
  • 2nd Doorway
  • Act IV
  • Closing

And my list of Hero’s Journey plot points like so:

(Note: […] denotes where I’ve cut content to make this a little less unwieldy.)

  • Public
    • Public 1
    • Public 2
    • Public 3
    • […]
    • Public 13
  • Personal
    • Personal 1
    • Personal 2
    • Personal 3
    • […]
    • Public 13
  • Private
    • Private 1
    • Private 2
    • Private 3
    • […]
    • Private 13

You get the idea.

And through the mighty power of drag-and-drop (if you’re doing this on a computer rather than longhand, but to each their own!), I’ll go through each plotline and sort each plot point under the correct Act or Tentpole. I don’t worry about order within the Acts at this point. This is just straight-up sorting.

2. Organize the plot points inside each Act and Tentpole.

After all the plot points are tucked under the correct heading, then I’ll go section by section and put them in order. You may have duplicate plot points (remember when I said some important scenes could pull double- or triple-duty?), so this is where you can combine the copycats into one. You may have a plot point that actually takes place over several separate scenes—this is where you divide it into however-many new points and sort them into the appropriate Act(s).

So your list winds up looking like this:

  • Opening
    • Personal 1
    • Private 1
    • […]
  • Act I
    • Personal 2
    • Public 1
    • Public 2
    • […]
  • 1st Doorway
    • Personal 3
    • […]

And so on.

3. Look for gaps.

(Hang in there—you’re almost done!)

Now you go through your plot points, line by line, and look for gaps. Maybe one plotline has your main character at home, getting ready for bed, and the next one has them on the run from a mafia hit man in a shopping mall. There should probably be a transition between those two scenes, don’t you think?

I’ll add an empty line to show a gap that needs to be filled. Continue through the list and do this whenever you come across a place that needs a scene (or scenes) to bridge between plot points.

4. Fill in the gaps.

This is where being able to “visualize in fast-forward” comes in handy.

Start at the top of your list and skim down. Imagine the scenes, how they fit together, and when you hit a gap, add in whatever scenes are necessary to get from Point A to Point B. But the key is to do it quickly—don’t get bogged down in details! Fast-forward, not slow-motion.

Things to look for here are:

  • Big gaps
    A big gap means there’s a big area of your narrative where nothing is happening to support your central plotlines. Consider whether you need to shuffle some plot points around to fill in this gap or whether you need to alter your story’s timeline to close this gap.
  • Gaps that have a repeated theme
    Is there a plotline that you haven’t looked at? Consider whether there might be a hidden Hero’s Journey that needs to be worked up and added in. If so, take this chance to create a new Hero’s Journey outline and sort the plot points into the correct places.

(Tip: I use a different color when filling in gaps, so I can easily see what scenes don’t directly relate to my main plotlines.)

“Fast forward” through your outline however many times it takes to close those pesky gaps. There may be quite a few! One novel I have in progress had most of the latter half of Act III as one gaping hole. It took some work fixing that, but I discovered a new plotline that worked to fill in other gaps, so it worked out in the end.

5. Remove the headings (optional)

Once everything is organized, I like to delete the headings and leave myself with a list of my plot points in chronological order. This is the outline I work from when drafting.


Once you’re finished, sit back and bask in a job well done.

Because you have done something awesome, incredible, extraordinary—you’ve created a detailed, multi-layered novel outline, ready to be turned into a first draft.

Congratulations!

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