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.


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.



Weekly Writing Wrap Up!

Step Three: Climax

Without giving too much away, the climax involves Tori and the three Wyswrii (the giant-alien-lizard-warrior race now has a name–much easier to type!) infiltrating the Nanoia Central Core… basically a massive computer brain-slash-infestation with the creepiness factor dialed up (details still in the works).

Tori, against all orders, suggestions, and pleas to the contrary, does something stupidly dangerous and self-sacrificing to try and take down the Core before it spreads to the universe at large.

(Again, not sure how much detail to put into these parts… Do you guys want spoilers or suspense?)

Step Four: Hero’s Journey

The happy plotting fun-times has begun! There are still muzzy parts to be worked out, and some of the notes might not make much sense without more context (sorry!), but bear with me, please.

This will also be a little strange to read because the timelines overlap, but not in a really easy-to-explain way, and some steps may occur in a slightly different order than shown below.

All the plot points will be laid out in proper timeline order a couple steps from now. In the meantime, it’s probably easiest to read each column top-to-bottom on its own.

Table O’ Plots – Nanoia Version

 Ordinary World Tori sees the Nanoia container in her father’s lab. Tori lives a lonely life. / Wyswrii are trying to hide on earth while investigating the Nanoia. Tori lives mostly alone, goes to school, never makes waves.
 Call to Adventure Nanoia escaped from lab, infecting humans. Tori is home alone when the power goes out and an ‘invisible monster’ breaks into her house. In the lab, Tori feels conflicted when her father captures the ‘monster’ aka Giant Alien Lizard and hurts it.
 Refusal of the Call Tori and the Wyswrii flee to seek help. Tori runs away from the monster, gets a ride to her dad’s lab to try and get help. Tori obeys her father and leaves the lab where the alien is being held.
 Meeting the Mentor*
  • Wyswrii
  • Intergalactic Council Whose-Name-Is-Yet-To-Be-Determined
Master Lra-Hna (alien ancient-guru-type character) tells Tori about Wyswrii culture.
  • Wyswrii
  • Lra-Hna
 Crossing the Threshold Tori’s father is taken by the Nanoia. Tori helps the captured alien to escape the lab.
 Tests, Allies, Enemies Tori travels with the Wyswrii to speak with the Intergalactic Council Whose-Name-Is-Yet-To-Be-Determined. Tori learns about the Wyswrii, sees how they argue yet respect each other (new concept for her).
 Approach Tori insists on returning to earth with the Wyswrii to help fight the Nanoia.
 Ordeal Tori attempts to forge a mental link with the Nanoia to find it’s central core–almost loses herself in the hive mind. Tori and the Wyswrii take down a decoy Core. Tori’s mental link with the Nanoia.
 Reward Tori knows how to find the Core. Tori and the Wyswrii rescue the Nanoia’s hostage and learn the Nanoia’s endgame plan (to infect the intergalactic travel system to spread everywhere). Tori knows how to find the core.
 The Road Back Tori and the Wyswrii travel to the Core.
 Resurrection Hero Tori sacrifices herself to the Core to stop the Nanoia. Wyswrii hold off Nanoia drones while Tori makes her way to the Core. Tori disobeys the Wyswrii and does something stupid and self-sacrificing to stop the Nanoia.
 Return with the Elixir Nanoia defeated. Tori is officially adopted into the Wyswrii group. Tori lives with new confidence in herself.

That’s it! The bare-bones beginning of Nanoia’s plot. Are you excited? I’m so excited.

Thoughts, comments, questions?