There are two ways to write fiction: write and see what happens, or do an outline and plan what you write.
The planning involves coming up with a plot outline, character identities and the backstory, or what occurred before the story begins. In the very least, writers need a premise, the basic concept of what the story is about, or what the characters undergo as a result of what happens in the story. It’s the underlying idea or the foundation that supports the entire plot.
8-Point Narrative Arc
To do that planning, I like using Nigel Watt’s 8-point narrative arc, as explained in his book, “Writing a Novel.”
The 8 points are Stasis-Trigger-The Quest-Surprise-Critical Choice-Climax-Reversal-Resolution. The main characters experience something that upset the status quo, sending them on a search to return to normal, but they encounter obstacles along the way. They have to make a critical choice that leads to the story’s climax and eventually their return to a fresh stasis.
In three plot points, it’s the inciting incident, rising arc and falling action.
Outlining a Novel
To outline, here are a few things to think about:
- First, think about what your basic premise or idea is for the story. What will be your hook? How will you introduce your main character or characters? What will be the inciting incident?
- Identify a few of the big plot moments and what character actions or settings could complicate them. What does the character want and what plot complications stand in her way from getting that one thing?
- Think through characters and plotlines to see if you can sustain both to the end of the story.
- Consider the point of view, and think about the character’s back story.
- Find a setting that cannot be separated from the plot and eliminate any extraneous settings.
Just a Suggestion
Finally, think of the outline as a suggestion that can be changed as you figure out what your story actually is about. Writing is a process and not a final product until the story is written and edited. Even with that outline, there’s that element of seeing what happens until you get to the story you love and want to share.