Outlining Your Novel in 90 Minutes

In closing down my old blog, there are a few more posts I would like to transfer over because I feel they have value. And with Norwescon 38 (2015) coming up in two weeks, I thought I would start with this one. 


Flipping through my panel notes from past conventions, (this one from Norwescon 2011) I came across Mark Teppo’s Outline a Novel in 90 Minutes. Mark’s method gave my characters the in-depth boost I’ve been struggling for.
The questions:

1. What distinguishes your protagonist from everyone else? Why are you writing about this person? (Don’t focus on physical appearance or who they are.)

2. As the book opens, what is your protagonist doing or about to do that is interesting? Keep in mind Kurt Vonnegut’s rule to enter into the story as late as possible. (The back story will come later. See near the end of the blog.)

3. What external situation will influence, shape or affect your protagonist throughout the course of this book? (or) What is the external/internal stressor that is going to be applied to your protagonist? (What is the conflict?)

4. What is the protagonist’s goal in this story? What does this character want? (May not reflect the main plot.)

5. Who is the protagonist’s mirror? (Friend, love interest, antagonist). Who would be the other character in the story you would use to define the protagonist based on their interactions with this character?

6. What obstacles are going to stand in your protagonist’s way? (Old school rules required three. There could be more or less.)

7. What qualities of the protagonist are going to help or hinder them in overcoming the above obstacles? Why is this person right for the job? (If you don’t think your protagonist has the proper tools to overcome these obstacles, rethink your protagonist. Characters have to operate at the best of their ability.)

8. How will the protagonist change over the course of the story? (Characters in serial fiction may or may not change.)

9. What is the authorial goal of telling the story of this character? Are they going to succeed or fail? Why or why not? Why did you make that choice? (In simpler terms, why is this story important?)

Now, write a one line description for (25) chapters. If each chapter averaged 3K, that is a 75K novel outlined and ready for writing.

Your first four chapters should answer questions 1 through 4, in no particular order. Chapter 5 should address your first obstacle. Chapter 23 or 24 is the answer to question number 9, which is the sacrifice. Chapter 25 is the answer to question number 8. (How has the protagonist changed?)

Guidelines if you get stuck:

First act: Introduce your characters and world they live in. That will ground you to what’s going on. It provides the rules, then have something happen. Your main character is thrust out of their comfortable surroundings. The meat of the story is for the protagonist to overcome the obstacles set in their way.

Second act: Everything around your character collapses. Nothing’s going to work.

Third act. Something happens which enables the protagonist to move through to the end.

Points to consider for this guideline suggestion:

Does your first act break around chapter 6?

Does your third act break around chapter 18?

The second act may be a good place to seed any back story.

What is the definition of a chapter? By the end of each chapter, something major has to have changed or the character should have discovered something new that changed their perception. The following chapter may cover their reaction or their decision to act.

So now go out and outline.

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