HOW TO WRITE A PLOT OUTLINE
Writing a plot outline for your novel is a super important, my friends. It’s the blueprint of your story and the overall driving force that your readers cling to as they divulge your novel’s pages.
Before I wrote my first draft for Unspoken Words, I had pages upon pages of plot details and outlines. It was only after I had finished writing it that I stumbled upon a lifesaving book that I wish I had right at the beginning. The book is called The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker. Note: this guy is awesome!
In his book, he talks about 7 basic plot structures, and 2 plot structures he finds to be inferior. Throughout this article, I will give you a brief outline of the plot structures and what they entail. If you are after a more in-depth description of the plot structures, then I highly recommend reading the book.
Let’s jump to it!
OVERCOMING THE MONSTER:
Yep, you guessed it! This plot structure does involve monsters and all things scary! The Overcoming The Monster plot structure involves stories where the hero must destroy or overcome the monster/villain that is threatening the wider community. The resolution of this plot usually results in a fight breaking out between the hero and the villain, then the hero has a magical weapon which he uses to weaken or kill the monster, therefore freeing all the glittering gold and the beautiful princess.
Sounds pretty common and simple, right? Wrong! Booker breaks the plot structure down into 6 acts that help add depth to the plot. They are:
ACT ONE – ANTICIPATION: The threat of the monster becomes known.
DRIVER – THE CALL: The hero is called upon to confront the monster.
ACT TWO – DREAM: All is well as the hero to face the monster or journey before him/her.
ACT THREE – FRUSTRATION: Coming face to face with the monster, the hero is outmatched.
ACT FOUR – NIGHTMARE: The final battle with the monster. No hope for the hero.
FINAL DRIVER: Hero overthrows the monster, escapes.
RAGS TO RICHES:
The Rags To Riches plot structure title speaks for itself. It focuses on the protagonist; a poor, downtrodden, miserable being in a commonplace who is destined for greatness. This particular plot shows how he/she leaves that life behind for one of wealth, comfort, and happiness as he/she fulfills their potential.
Again, Booker breaks the plot structure down into 6 separate acts.
ACT ONE: We first see the hero in poor, downtrodden and miserable conditions.
DRIVER– THE CALL: The hero is called to the wider world to fulfil their destiny.
ACT TWO: The hero gets a taste of the food life, riches, wealth, success, love.
ACT THREE – CENTRAL CRISIS: Everything goes wrong and falls apart. The hero is separated from love and other goodies.
ACT FOUR: Hero finds independence and strength, faces and defeats his enemy.
FINAL DRIVER: Hero wins. True love is returned and the hero obtains a permanent high status.
Now, this plot structure can vary depending on the outcome you, as the writer, want your story to have. This is where Booker adds his two variations:
VARIATION ONE – FAILURE: Booker calls this the ‘dark’ version of the story. How is it dark? The hero fails to win in the end. Perhaps because he/she sought wealth and status in a selfish and greedy way, or perhaps because a sacrifice required a dark ending. This is known as a tragedy.
VARIATION TWO – HOLLOW VICTORY: This variation is where the hero achieves success, however through a hollow victory. This hollow victory could be through his/her selfish desires or a personal failure. This usually results in judgment being placed upon the protagonist.
RELATED: How to Write a Novel Outline
‘Where are you going, Mr Bilbo?’
‘I’m going on an adventure!’
Yes, that’s right, the Quest plot structure takes your hero on a journey far far away to obtain a great prize at the end. This prize can result in large amounts of happiness or sadness. It can also result in what is called bittersweet ending, whereby the protagonist achieves this prize, but at a great loss.
ACT ONE: Story begins in a ‘City of Destruction’ whereby life is intolerable or oppressive.
DRIVER – THE CALL: The hero gets a vision, supernatural call or other driving forces that state the key to making things better it to go and get something far away.
ACT TWO – THE JOURNEY: Hero travels to the goal, experiencing adventures along the way, gathering adventures, fighting monsters and temptations.
ACT THREE- ARRIVAL AND FRUSTRATION: with the goal in sight, the hero must face another obstacle/s to overcome.
ACT FOUR – FINAL ORDEALS: Hero faces a final set of tests and his/her toughest fight yet.
FINAL DRIVER – THE GOAL: Hero survives and gets treasure, love, kingdom, etc forevermore.
VOYAGE AND RETURN:
Voyage And Return plot structure focuses on a hero who journeys to a distant world that appears to be strange and perhaps enchanting. The hero comes to feel threatened and trapped in this world, and must make an escape back to the safety of his/her home. In some stories, the hero learns and grows in this new world. In others, they do not.
ACT ONE: Enters a hero who is bored, reckless, curious, and open to new experiences.
DRIVER: Hero is suddenly transported to a new world.
ACT TWO – DREAM: The hero explores the new world, finding it fascinating and enchanting.
ACT THREE – FRUSTRATION: Over time, the world becomes alarming and overwhelming. This causes the hero to become frustrated.
ACT FOUR – NIGHTMARE: A serious threat to the hero’s life arrives.
FINAL DRIVER: Thrilling escape and return to their world.
A tragedy is very much like comedy, whereby it is defined by its ending. The plot structure focuses on the end goal not being achieved and the hero/protagonist does not resolve their inner conflict.
ACT ONE – ANTICIPATION: The story starts with a hero that is unfulfilled and wants more.
DRIVER – TEMPTATION: The hero finds focus in someone of something.
ACT TWO – DREAM: The hero commits to his goals and everything goes extremely well for him/her.
ACT THREE – FRUSTRATION: Things soon begin to go wrong and the hero may resort desperate and unwise actions that cannot be undone.
ACT FOUR – NIGHTMARE: The hero loses control of the situation. Forces opposing him/her close in.
FINAL DRIVER: Hero is destroyed in some way.
The Rebirth plot structure tells the story of a hero who is trapped in a living hell by a dark power or villain until he/she is freed by another characters loving act. Booker makes a good point of stating that this plot structure is a bit sketchy. Why? Because the protagonist does not solve his/her own problems, therefore resolving any inner conflict.
ACT ONE: The hero is under the shadow of a dark power or villain.
ACT TWO: Things seem to be going well and the threat is fading.
ACT THREE: Threat returns imprisoning the hero in a state of living hell.
ACT FOUR: The dark power or villain seems to have won.
FINAL DRIVER: Someone miraculously rescues the hero.
Okay, fellow writers, this plot structure is a bit different to the rest. Initially, traditional comedy looks something like this:
- A story that ends happily.
- A story which is humorous or satirical
- A comedy/love story ending in marriage.
Booker takes a new perspective on this, though, slightly turning it on its head and taking a better look to find a more suitable definition.
- The story takes place in a community where the relationships between people (and by implication true love and understanding) are under the shadow of confusion, uncertainty, and frustration. Sometimes this is caused by an oppressive or self-centered person, sometimes by the hero acting in such a way, or sometimes through no one’s fault.
- The confusion worsens until it reaches a crisis.
- The truth comes out, perceptions are changed, and the relationships are healed in love and understanding (and typically marriage for the hero).
This is one of the inferior plot structures that Booker has singled out. Firstly, he states that the plot structure of Mystery has a story in which an outsider experiences some horrendous event or drama and tries to discover what exactly happened.
A good point that he makes is that a Mystery is basically a story that is based on other plots other than your character. He also states that he is not a big fan of mysteries as your protagonist has no personal connection to the characters he/she is interviewing or the crime he/she is investigating. So in all, the character has no inner conflict to battle, and therefore no inner resolution.
But hey, if you are looking to write a Mystery novel, then don’t let this deter you. Break apart your plot and delve deep into the depth of the story. Make personal connections or a way that your character can battle and overcome some sort of conflict.
REBELLION AGAINST THE ‘ONE’:
The second plot structure in Booker’s inferior category is Rebellion Against The ‘One’. This plot structure revolves around a hero who rebels against an all-powerful entity. This power controls the world until he/she is forced to surrender to that power.
The hero is usually a solitary figure who feels the ‘One’ is at fault and that the hero must preserve his/her independence, morals and honor and refuse to submit to the ‘Ones’ power. Eventually, the hero is faced with the ‘One’s’ controlling power and submits, becoming part of the rest of the world again.
I get why Booker feels this plot structure is inferior, because honestly, what was the point of it all? As a reader, that is how I would feel. But there are ways in which you can change that. Perhaps add depth into why the hero is rebellion? Is it an emotional connection to the one? Instead of submitting to the ‘One’, have your hero go out in a blaze of glory, having the plot of the story means something, and opening up the prospect that perhaps through this sacrifice a change is to come in the future.
I ALSO HAVE SOMETHING AWESOME FOR YOU!!
There are so many ways and different ideas you can use to create a plot outline for your novel, I mean, look at everything you just read! I want to help you out to the very best of my ability. That’s why I created a FREE WORKSHEET just for you all to provide a basic structure you can use to plan your plot outline. All you have to do is fill in the blanks! Check it out and get writing!
All finished. Let’s chat!
Congrats, fellow writers. The plot outline process is a daunting and dark place to venture, but you’ll soon see the light, just as Bilbo stated that he was going on an adventure, so are you, and I can’t wait to see you on the other side!
Let me know if my How to Write a Plot Outline with 9 Unique Structures treated you well, and if you think there is anything missing that you would like to learn about.
Hit me up in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!
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