Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Putting It All Together

Over the last six weeks I’ve provided eight different exercises for building a plot outline. Why so many? Every person brainstorms in a different way. Some exercises are geared toward specific genres. Most full length novels contain a major story idea plus several subplots and each subplot might require its own plot building exercise. There are many reasons why a writer might want to use more than one exercise to build the plot outline for their novel.
Hopefully, you have chosen a couple of exercises from this blog to help you with the task. Now it’s time to put it all together.

What if a potential novel was centered around a hero story, but contained a murder mystery and a budding romance? The novelist might want to complete all eight exercises. Merging the multiple subplots and story lines into one coherent point-by-point outline may seem overwhelming. Below I’ve offered one possible way to combine everything into a three-act structure. Once the exercises are merged, eliminate duplicate plot points and reorder them into chronological order. Then group the plot points in to chapters and voila! You have a completed, detailed plot outline and you’re ready to start writing your novel for Nanowrimo 2016.

I wish everyone the best of luck as you attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

I will be taking the next four weeks to work on my own Nano novel. In December I’ll be back with a new blog series on finishing, marketing and self-publishing your Nano novel. Happy writing, everyone!

The Interlaced Outline (Note that bulleted items represent scenes)


  • Stasis (from Watt’s 8-point)
       Ordinary World (from Hero's Journey)
       Exposition (from Freytag's Pyramid)
  • Hook (from 3-Act)
       Call to Adventure (from Hero's Journey)
       Limited Awareness of Problem (from Hero's Inner Journey)
       Trigger (from Watt's 8-point)
       First Conflict Introduced (from conflict & resolution table)
       Define the Crime (from 12-Chapter Mystery)
       Woman Meets Man (from Romance Formula)
  • Refusal of the Call (from Hero’s Journey)
       Increased Awareness (from Hero's Inner Journey)
  • Backstory (from 3-Act)
       Motivation for Attachment (from Romance Formula)
       Reveal Initial Clues (from 12-Chapter Mystery)
       Establish the Setting (from 12-Chapter Mystery)
  • Resistance to Change (from Hero’s Inner Journey)
       Romance Conflict (from Romance Formula)
       Meeting the Mentor (from Hero's Journey)
       Introduce the Sleuth (from 12-Chapter Mystery)
  • Trigger (from 3-Act)
       Crossing the Threshold (from Hero’s Journey)
       The Quest (from Watt's 8-point)
       Couple Is Torn Apart (from Romance Formula)
       Rising Action (from Freytag's Pyramid)
       Overcoming Fear (from Hero's Inner Journey)
       Discover the Victim (from 12-Chapter Mystery)
  • The Belly of the Whale (from Hero’s Journey)
       Committing to Change (from Hero’s Inner Journey)
       Start the Investigation (from 12-Chapter Mystery)


  • Crisis (from 3-Act)
       The Road of Trials (from Hero’s Journey)
       Second Conflict Introduced (from Freytag’s Pyramid/conflict & resolution table)
       Establish Mystery Conflict (from 12-Chapter Mystery)

  • Experimenting with New Conditions (from Hero’s Inner Journey)
       Reveal Facts about Suspects (from 12-Chapter Mystery)

  • Meeting with the Higher Power (from Hero’s Journey)
  • Disappearance of Suspect(s) (from 12-Chapter Mystery)
  • Critical Choice (from Watt’s 8-point)
        Establish Urgency and Consequence of Not Solving Mystery (from 12-Chapter Mystery)
        Couple is Drawn Back Together (from Romance Formula)

  • Preparing for Major Change (from Hero’s Inner Journey)
       Struggle (from 3-Act)
       Temptation (from Hero’s Journey)
       Third Conflict Introduced (from Freytag’s Pyramid/conflict & resolution table)
       Increase Number of Suspects (from 12-Chapter Mystery)

  • Big Change with Feeling of Life and Death (from Hero’s Inner Journey)
       Provide Answers Based on Physical Evidence (from 12-Chapter Mystery)

  • Ordeal, Death and Rebirth (from Hero’s Journey)
       Reveal the Sleuth’s Background (from 12-Chapter Mystery)
       Establish Sleuth’s Personal Investment in Solving the Mystery (from 12-Chapter Mystery)
       Couple Is Torn Apart (Again) (from Romance Formula)

  • Epiphany (from 3-Act)
        Reveal Hidden Motives and Secret Relationships (from 12-Chapter Mystery)
        Clarify Significance of Earlier Clues (from 12-Chapter Mystery)
        The Sleuth Reveals the Results of the Investigation, but Has Not Completely Solved the Mystery (from 12-Chapter Mystery)
        A New Perspective Is Shown (from 12-Chapter Mystery)

  • Couple is Drawn Back Together (from Romance Formula)
       Resolve Second Conflict (from Freytag’s Pyramid/conflict & resolution table)


  • The Plan (from 3-Act)
       The Sleuth Revisits the Case from the New Perspective (from 12-Chapter Mystery)
        Reveal the Chain of Events Which Precipitated the Crime (from 12-Chapter Mystery)
        Resolve Second Conflict (from Freytag's Pyramid/conflict & resolution table)
        The Sleuth Begins to Understand What Actually Happened (from 12-Chapter Mystery)
        The Sleuth Weighs All Evidence and Information (from 12-Chapter Mystery)
  • Climax (from 3-Act/Freytag’s Pyramid/Watt’s 8-Point)
        Reward/Seizing the Sword (from Hero’s Journey)
        Accepting Consequences of New Life (from Hero’s Inner Journey)
        The Sleuth Finds Proof to Substantiate his/her Theory (from 12-Chapter Mystery)
        A Confrontation Occurs Between the Sleuth and the Perpetrator Where the Mystery Is Solved (from 12-Chapter Mystery)

  • Ending (from 3-Act)
       Justice Is Served (from 12-Chapter Mystery)

  • Falling Action (from Freytag’s Pyramid)
       Refusal of the Return (from Hero’s Journey)
       Reversal (from Watt’s 8-point)

  • The Magic Flight (from Hero’s Journey)
        New Challenge and Rededication (from Hero’s Journey)

  • Rescue from Without (from Hero’s Journey)
       Final Attempts with Last Minute Danger (from Hero’s Inner Journey)
  • Resurrection (from Hero’s Journey)
  • Resolution (from Freytag’s Pyramid/Watt’s 8-point)
       Resolve all Outstanding Conflicts (from conflict & resolution table)
       Crossing the Return Threshold (from Hero’s Journey)
       Resolve All Conflicts that Change the Sleuth (from 12-Chapter Mystery)
       They Reconcile Their Problems (from Romance Formula)

  • Master of Two Worlds (from Hero’s Journey)
       Mastery (from Hero’s Inner Journey)
       Couple Makes a Commitment (from Romance Formula)

  • Freedom to Live (from Hero’s Journey)
       New Stasis (from Watt’s 8-point)

All of the brainstorming exercises described in this blog series can be found in my Scrivener template on Google Drive at

For non-Scrivener users, Personal Noveling Assistant (PNA) pages are at

For more about my stories, check out my author page at

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Classic Mystery Formula

Here’s a concise twelve chapter formula for a classic mystery novel. I borrowed this synopsis directly from Time2Writes “Plotting the Mystery Novel” at
The Classic 12-Chapter Mystery Formula
Act I — Introduction of the crime (mystery) and the sleuth
1. Define the crime. Introduce the sleuth. Describe the setting. Offer a hook.
  • Disclose the crime and mystery to be solved. The crime must capture the imagination. It should have been committed in an extraordinary way and either the victim the perpetrator, or both, should be unusual. Give the reader enough information about the victim to make them truly care that the perpetrator is found out and that justice is served.
  • Early in the story, clues should be revealed which suggest both physical and psychological aspects of the initial crime. Those clues should point to suspects and motive which will carry the sleuth to the end of Act I. Some clues should point the sleuth in the right direction, others may not be obvious or be recognized as actual clues unto later in the story.
  • Introduce the sleuth who will solve the crime early, and have him or her do or say something very clever or unexpected which will establish that person as unique. Create this character with care. His or her personality should be interesting enough to sustain the interest of the reader to the very last page. (or through an entire series of books). It is not necessary to disclose all aspects of the sleuth’s personality at the onset. Let the description unfold gradually to sustain interest. Do reveal enough background to let the reader understand the world in which the protagonist functions. (Small town sheriff, Scotland Yard detective, Pinkerton agent in the old West, country squire, investigative reporter in New York City, etc.)
  • Ground the reader in the time and place where the crime occurs. It is often useful to include some sort of symbol, an object or a person, in the opening scene which serves as a metaphor for what occurs in the story. The reappearance of this symbol at the conclusion of the story will create a certain organic unity.
  • Begin with a dramatic event. Some writers offer a prologue, describing the execution of the crime in detail, as it occurs, possible from the point of view of the victim or perpetrators. The same information could also be revealed by a character, through dialog. Sufficient details should be furnished to allow the reader to experience the event as though he or she were actually there. Another good opening would be to put the sleuth in a dire situation and allow detail of the crime to unfold in due course.
2. Start the investigation. Introduce plausible suspects. Add a twist.
  • Set the sleuth on the path toward solving the mystery. Offer plausible suspects, all of whom appear to have had motive, means and opportunity to to commit the crime. Select the most likely suspects, and have the sleuth question them. One of these suspects will turn out to be the actual perpetrator.
  • At the approximate mid-point of Act 1, something should occur which makes it clear to the reader that the crime is more complicated than originally thought. Hints may be given to allow the reader to actually see possibilities not yet known to the sleuth.
3. Define the theme as a sub-plot. Introduce a conflict from which the protagonist will grow and change.
  • The sub-plot should be introduced. The plot will continue to maintain the progress of the story, but the sub-plot will carry the theme, which is a universal concept to which the reader can identify. Sub-plots tend to originate either in a crisis in the sleuth’s private life, or in the necessity of the sleuth to face a dilemma involving a matter of character, such as courage or honesty.
  • The ultimate resolution of the sub-plot with demonstrate change or growth on the part of the protagonist, and will climatic on a personal or professional level. That climax may coincide with, or occur as prelude to the climax of the main plot. The sub-plot may be a vehicle for a romantic interest or a confrontation with personal demons of the sleuth. The author can manipulate the pace of the novel by moving back and forth between the plot and sub-plot.
Act II — Direct the investigation toward a conclusion which later proves to be erroneous.
4. Reveal facts about suspects through the discovery of clues. Disappearance of suspect(s). Establish urgency and consequences of not solving the mystery.
  • Reveal facts about suspects, through interrogations and the discovery of clues.
  • Flight, or disappearance of one or more suspects.
  • Develop a sense of urgency. Raise the stakes or make it evident that if the mystery is not solved soon, there will be terrible consequences.
5. Increase number of suspects. Provide answers based on physical evidence.
  • The investigation should broaden to put suspicion on other characters.
  • Information gathered through interviews or the discovery of physical evidence, should point toward the solution, although the relevance may not yet be apparent.
6. Reveal the sleuth’s background. Develop the character arc of the protagonist. Establish the sleuth’s personal investment in solving the mystery.
  • The sleuth’s background is revealed as the sub-plot is developed. Tell the reader what drives the protagonist, what haunts or is missing in his or her life.
  • Make it clear that the sleuth has a personal stake in the outcome, either because of threat to his or her life, or the possibility of revelation of matters deeply disturbing to the protagonist on an emotional level.
Act IIIChange of focus and scope of the investigation. This is the pivotal point in the story where it becomes evident that the sleuth was on the wrong track. Something unexpected occurs, such as the appearance of a second body, the death of a major suspect, or discovery of evidence which clears the most likely suspect. The story must take a new direction.
7. Reveal hidden motives and secret relationships. Clarify the significance of earlier clues.
  • Reveal hidden motives. Formerly secret relationships come to light, such as business arrangements, romantic involvements, scores to be settled or previously veiled kinships.
  • Develop and expose meanings of matters hinted at in Act I, to slowly clarify the significance of earlier clues.
8. The sleuth reveals the results of the investigation, but has not completely solved the mystery. A new perspective is shown.
  • The sleuth reveals the results of the investigation. The reader, as well as the protagonist and other characters, are given an opportunity to review what is known and assess the possibilities.
  • The solution of the crime appears to be impossible. Attempts to solve the crime have stymied the sleuth. Misinterpretation of clues or mistaken conclusions have lead him or her in the wrong direction, and logic must be applied to force a new way of grasping an understanding of the uncertainties.
9. The sleuth revisits the case from the new perspective. Reveal the chain of events which precipitated the crime. Identify crucial overlooked evidence. The sleuth begins to understand what actually happened.
  • Have the sleuth review the case to determine where he or she went wrong.
  • Reveal the chain of events which provoked the crime.
  • The crucial evidence is something overlooked in Act I, which appeared to have been of little consequence at the time it was first disclosed. That evidence takes on new meaning with information disclosed in Act III.
  • The sleuth (and perhaps the reader, if a keep observer) becomes aware of the error which remains undisclosed to the other characters.
Act IV — Solution
10. The sleuth weighs all evidence and information. The sleuth finds positive proof to substantiate his/her theory.
  • The sleuth weighs the evidence and information gleaned from the other characters.
  • Based on what only he or she now knows, the sleuth must seek positive proof to back up the yet undisclosed conclusion.
11. Resolve the conflicts which will change the protagonist and reveal how the protagonist is different.
  • Resolution of the sub-plot
  • The protagonist, having been tested by his or her private ordeal, is strengthened for the final action leading to the actual solution of the mystery.
12. A confrontation occurs between the sleuth and the perpetrator where the mystery is solved. Justice is served.
  • The Climax - a dramatic confrontation between the sleuth and the perpetrator in which the sleuth prevails. The more “impossible” the odds have been, the more rewarding the climax will be.
  • Resolution - Revelation of clues and the deductive process which lead to the solution. Establish that the case has been solved and justice has been served to the satisfaction of all involved (except, the villain).

FROM “Plotting the Mystery Novel”.

In my next post I’ll discuss putting it all together.

All of the brainstorming exercises described in this blog series can be found in my Scrivener template on Google Drive at
For non-Scrivener users, Personal Noveling Assistant (PNA) pages are at
For more about my stories, check out my author page at

Brainstorming the Romance Novel

Most romance novels, especially category romance, follow the same basic formula. Start brainstorming your romance by answering these questions.
How did they meet?

What was the main character’s initial reaction?

What keeps the main character(MC) and the love interest(LI) apart?

What pulls them together?

Why does the MC fall in love with the LI?

Why does the LI fall in love with the MC?

How do they resolve the problems which keep them apart?

What commitment do they make?

Then, build your plot by following this tried-and-true outline.

The Romance Formula by Kathryn Falk from How to Write a Romance and Get It Published published by Signet, a division of Penguin Books, copyrighted in 1989.

1. Woman meets devastating man; sparks fly.

2. Motivation for their attachment is established, along with a conflict.

3. They are torn apart.

4. They are drawn back to each other. (Steps 3 and 4 may be repeated)

5. They reconcile their problems.

6. They commit themselves to marriage. (or some type of lasting relationship which extends beyond the book)

In my last post for this series I’ll discuss putting it all together.

All of the brainstorming exercises described in this blog series can be found in my Scrivener template on Google Drive at

For non-Scrivener users, Personal Noveling Assistant (PNA) pages are at

For more about my stories, check out my author page at

Mystery Plotting in Five Steps

Here’s a quick brainstorming exercise to help you develop a plot outline for your mystery novel.
Mystery Step One: The Crime

Define the crime.

Determine exactly how, when, and where it was committed.

Describe the weapon(s) used.

Describe the condition of the body when found.

Mystery Step Two: The Motive

Define the motive.

Describe why the villain was driven to commit the crime.

Describe what he/she hoped to achieve.

Define the results of the crime.

Mystery Step Three: The Suspect List

             WHO                                    WHY____________

Mystery Step Four: List of Clues

        CLUE                             FOUND WHEN/HOW
  1. Victim        
Mystery Step Five: Red Herrings

  FALSE CLUE                       FOUND WHEN/HOW
In my last post for this series I’ll discuss putting it all together.
All of the brainstorming exercises described in this blog series can be found in my Scrivener template on Google Drive at
For non-Scrivener users, Personal Noveling Assistant (PNA) pages are at
For more about my stories, check out my author page at

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Three-Act Plot Structure

Aristotle proposed a three-part structure for dramatic plays in fifth century (BC) Athens. It has been a popular part of story writing ever since. The three parts, or acts, consist of a setup, a confrontation, and a resolution. This version of the three-act structure is designed by Steve Alcom in his online course, “Write Fiction Like a Pro” available at The story structure architect is Victoria Lynn Schmidt, PhD.
Act 1 starts with a Hook. This is the opening event which grabs the audience’s attention and defines the premise of the story. The main character is generally introduced in this opening scene.
Act 1 continues with some back story. All the major characters are introduced so that the audience knows who they are and what relevant events have already transpired.

Act 1 ends with a trigger. This inciting event establishes the major conflict and sets a goal for the main character.

Act 2 starts with the main character in crisis, in response to the trigger event from the previous scene. This is where the hero begins his journey; where he accepts that something must change.

Act 2 continues with the struggle, a series of events that lead the main character to the climax. Perhaps this is where a series of trials occur, minor conflicts are resolved, and the main character evolves as a result of the experiences.
Act 2 ends with an epiphany, where the main character recognizes his flaw and understands what must be done to accomplish the goal set at the end of Act 1 and to complete the journey.

Act 3 starts with the plan. Having had the epiphany, the main character know what must happen, and figures out how to achieve the goal.
Act 3 continues with the climax, the point at which the final confrontation takes place. The goal is achieved and the main character is a changed person because of the accomplishment.

Act 3 ends with the resolution of all conflicts and an understanding of the new status quo.

In my next post I’ll discuss genre-specific exercises for developing a plot.

All of the brainstorming exercises described in this blog series can be found in my Scrivener template on Google Drive at
For non-Scrivener users, Personal Noveling Assistant (PNA) pages are at

For more about my stories, check out my author page at

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Developing the Narrative Arc

In 1996, successful author and writing instructor, Nigel Watts, published Writing a Novel and Getting Published (part of the “Teach Yourself” series). The book quickly became a standard for writers worldwide. The book is filled with skill building exercises that walk an aspiring author through the process of developing a story idea, developing plot, characters and theme, and marketing the completed novel to agents and publishers.

It was in this guide that he identified the 8-point narrative arc, a method for structuring a story. The eight points are as follows:

1.          Stasis — the start of the story showing the characters in everyday life

2.          Trigger — the inciting incident that sets the story in motion

3.          The quest — the answer to “What does the character want?”

4.          Surprise — a series of events that make the main character’s goal harder to achieve

5.          Critical choice — the point at which the character makes a significant choice or sacrifice in order to accomplish the goal

6.          Climax — the point at which the tension of the story reaches its highest peak; when the goal is met

7.          Reversal — consequences from the critical choice permanently change the main character

8.          Resolution — after all conflicts are resolved, a new point of stasis is achieved

Notice that some elements of this exercise are similar to those in the Hero’s Journey and some are similar to those in Freytag’s Pyramid. In the next post I’ll discuss how to merge all these plot elements into the three-act structure.

All of the brainstorming exercises described in this blog series can be found in my Scrivener template on Google Drive at
For non-scrivener users, Personal Noveling Assistant (PNA) pages are at

For more about my stories, check out my author page at

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Freytag's Pyramid

In 1863, German novelist and literature professor, Gustav Freytag, studied classic Greek drama trying to identify what made a good, entertaining play. The result of his analysis is called Freytag’s Pyramid, or the Dramatic Structure.

According to Freytag, a drama is divided into five parts, or acts. This structure is also called a dramatic arc. The five parts are exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

A Freytag’s Pyramid is the first exercise I use to develop the backbone of my plot. The focus of the exercise is to define the events in the story which build suspense, leading to the climax. The events are dire3ctly t5ied to the conflicts defined in the last blog post’s exercise.

I start with three questions used by Susan Warren Utley of Haunted Waters Press.

1. What does the main character want?

2. How does he/she get it?

3. Why do we care?

Then I fill out the pyramid with successive dramatic events.

Exposition: Start of the story, situation before action starts.

Rising Action: Series of conflicts and crises leading to climax. A typical novel repeats this step at least three times.

Climax: Turning Point, the most intense moment of the story.

Falling Action: Everything that happens following the climax.

Resolution: Conclusion where all things come together. At this point all conflicts should be resolved.
In my next post I will look at Well’s 8-point story arc.

All of the brainstorming exercises described in this blog series can be found in my Scrivener template on Google Drive at
For non-scrivener users, Personal Noveling Assistant (PNA) pages are at

For more about my stories, check out my author page at