I don’t know about all of you out there in your desk chairs, kitchen chairs, recliners, couches, or if you’re like me; laying in bed with my laptop, well, on my lap attempting to throw myself down the rabbit hole in the hopes of getting my outline structured in a way that allows me the ability to actually look forward to that dreaded first draft. I still believe ‘Outlining Your Novel’ by KM Weiland is the best book on the subject I’ve come across, but this article lays it down in a pretty straight forward manner that caught my eye and I thought it might help some of you as well. I would love to hear any of your outlining/structure techniques that work for you–if your willing to share your secret with the world. Till we meet again…
Character Arc and Story Structure
- Act 1
- In the Beginning of a story the main character, being human (even if he of she isn’t), will resist change (inner conflict). The character is perfectly content as he is; there’s no reason to change.
- Plot Point 1 – Then something happens to throw everything off balance.
- It should come as a surprise that shifts the story in a new direction and reveals that the protagonist’s life will never be the same again.
- In Star Wars this point occurs when Luke’s family is killed, freeing him to fight the Empire.
- It puts an obstacle in the way of the character that forces him or her to deal with something they would avoid under normal circumstances.
- Act 2
- The second Act is about a character’s emotional journey and is the hardest part of a story to write. Give your characters all sorts of challenges to overcome during Act 2. Make them struggle towards their goal.
- The key to Act Two is conflict. Without it you can’t move the story forward. And conflict doesn’t mean a literal fight. Come up with obstacles (maybe five, maybe a dozen—depends on the story) leading up to your plot point at the end of Act 2.
- Throughout the second act remember to continually raise the stakes of your character’s emotional journey.
- Simultaneously advance both inner and outer conflicts. Have them work together—the character should alternate up and down internally between hope and disappointment as external problems begin to seem solvable then become more insurmountable than ever.
- Include reversals of fortune and unexpected turns of events—surprise your reader with both the actions of the main character and the events surrounding him.
- Plot Point 2
- Act Two ends with the second plot point, which thrusts the story in another unexpected direction.
- Plot Point 2 occurs at the moment the hero appears beaten or lost but something happens to turn the situation around. The hero’s goal becomes reachable.
- Right before this unexpected story turn, the hero reaches the Black Moment—the point at which all is lost and the goal cannot be achieved.
- In order to have a “Climax”, where the tension is highest, you must have a “Black” moment, where the stakes are highest and danger at its worst.
- During this moment, the hero draws upon the new strengths or lessons he’s learned in order to take action and bring the story to a conclusion.
- Dorothy’s gotta get a broom from the Wicked Witch before she can go home.
- Luke’s gotta blow up the Death Star before fulfilling his destiny.
- Professor Klump’s gotta save face with the investors of his formula and win back Jada.
- Act 3
- The third Act dramatically shows how the character is able to succeed or become a better person.
- Resolution/denouement ties together the loose ends of the story (not necessarily all of them) and allows the reader to see the outcome of the main character’s decision at the climax. Here we see evidence of the change in a positive character arc.