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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In Defense of Outlining: Raising a Barn Begins With a Frame

It's really simple - if you don't frame your barn first, you may later discover a weakness in the structure, and before you know it, the roof is caving in. FRAME YOUR BARN.

Stories are no different. At some point in school, your teacher taught you about the three act structure, and as you progressed as a writer, maybe you took more classes or learned a bit more, but somehow you picked up a few more terms:

Act 1
-Inciting Incident

Act 2
-Rising Action
-The Turn

Act 3
-Climax
-Denouement/Resolution

If you've written a first draft of your book without having at least a general sense that you are hitting those beats, you may have a problem. Let me tell you, it's easier to fix a structural problem with your story in outline form rather than tens of thousands of words.

You may be wanting to argue with me right now that storytelling shouldn't be a paint by numbers affair, that plenty of writers have manipulated the three act structure to serve their own purposes. That's very true. None of those writers are you. Until you have successfully mastered and understood the three act structure, you're not in a position to invert it.

Over the next few days, I'm going to break down the three act structure in detail. Outlining makes your story work for you, and understanding story structure can help get you out of a bind when you're stuck.

Let's take a look at that frame before we get to our barn raising.

4 comments:

stu said...

Although I'm not a fan of writing completely to a formula, I certainly use a preplanned structure these days to underpin my work. The difference between the fiction I'm writing as a result and some of my earliest stuff only becomes apparent reading the whole thing, but it is definitely there.

Jay said...

Good topic. I look forward to seeing your updates on the subject, and I could always use another writer's perspective on how to build a story.

Andi said...

I hate outlining. Hate it. But, necessary. Unfortunately.

Randika said...

The things about outlines... they change! I used to detest the idea of outlining until I realized that it freed me to get to the end of the story/book. I knew where I was going. Certainly changes can be made along the way. To go along with the house metaphor, sometimes you just need to put in a skylight. Outlining gives you permission to just go ahead and write until the end. That being said, I'm flat out terrible at using them and hate the whole process. I do keep trying, though.