As I've said, I need to outline my novel or the story won't get written. I've tried too many times to simply start writing, and each attempt has resulted in a few chapters that went nowhere. When I plot it out, however, I actually get a finished manuscript. Today I'll show you how I begin my outlining/plotting process.
I use a form of the three act structure. Act one goes from a strong opening scene to the first turning point--or first really big problem for the protagonist. Act two is obviously the large middle section of the book. For my purposes, I break it into two sections. Part one of act two goes from building on turning point one by intensifying the problem to the temporary triumph for the protagonist--it looks like he or she has won, but we'll soon learn that it won't last. The second part of act two goes from the reversal--where we see how the protagonist's triumph has gone sour--to the second turning point of the story--the lowest point for the protagonist, where it looks like it's all over. The third act goes from the protagonist discovering what the final obstacle is and moves forward to the final resolution of the story. Of course, for readers to really remember the story after they've finished the book, it should end with a bang.
In order to start plotting, I use that three act structure and break it down into ten key scenes. These scenes are the anchors to my plotting. A novel, obviously, is much more than ten scenes, so these ten are an excellent place to put the initial dots I need to connect. I will list below the framework I use for the ten scenes. 1 and 2 are act one; 3 through 5 are act two, part one; 6 through 8 are act two, part two, and 9 and 10 are act three.
1) Decide what the opening should be (should be a strong scene).
2) Decide what turning point #1 is (what makes the story big, or the first huge problem for the protagonist).
3) Decide how the problem intensifies (how the story gets bigger, more meaningful).
4) Decide what big even can happen in the middle of act two, part one (relates to the protagonist solving the problem).
5) Decide what the temporary triumph for the protagonist is.
6) Decide what the reversal is (how the protagonist's triumph goes wrong).
7) Decide what big event can happen in the middle of act two, part two (relates to the protagonist solving the problem).
8) Decide what turning point #2 is (this should be the lowest point for the protagonist--it looks like he or she can't win).
9) Decide what the final obstacle is for the protagonist to overcome.
10) Decide what the resolution to the story is.
That's the beginning framework I use. Bear in mind that if the story later calls for it, I'll move things around. I'm only strict in my structure at this point because I don't yet know much about the plot--but more on that in weeks to come. Next week I'll give you a look at how I fill in the details of these ten scenes. Until then, keep writing and/or reading.