Whether you’re a pantser or a pedantic outliner (I’m somewhat of an in-betweener), I believe that having an overall snapshot of your story—properly planning your tale—raises its quality and lessens the time it takes to write it.
Here is the process I followed in planning my post-apocalyptic novel, The Land Below.
I started by writing down my story’s premise. The story premise is a sentence, sometimes referred to as the logline by screenwriters, which captures the essence of your story—what is unique, but believable about it. It highlights its major twists and turns and ties the inner and outer journeys together, in part, through the knot of the moral premise, or theme.
I next tackled the outer journey. This is the what and how of your story. It defines the goal the protagonist strives to achieve by the end of the story.
The goal, determined at the first turning point, is then kicked around by the midpoint and the second turning point, and is attained, or not, at the end of the final, must-have confrontation with the antagonist. Here I ensured that I had three or four major incidents in mind, including the inciting incident.
The inner journey, by contrast, is why the outer journey happens the way it does. It tries to explain the protagonist’s mental and emotional states and the decisions he takes that lead to the actions at the level of the outer journey.
In planing The Land Below, I made sure I knew who the main characters of my story would be. Each character represents a point of view and drives the plot forward.
The inner journey also shows how and why the character changes during the story. It is a blow by blow explanation of, at the very least, the turning points and the midpoint. This forces the writer to consider the reasons why the protagonist acts in the way that he does. I always ensure that I have written a paragraph or two on the inner journey prior to starting any story.
In the words of Lagos Egri, “The ending proves the theme.” Is your protagonist a good guy who manages to overcome the antagonist and save the world and win the heart of the girl he loves? If so, your theme may well be: Good guys carry the day. I always know the theme of my story before I begin to write it.
A protagonist? Certainly. An antagonist? Check. A love interest? Yes. A mentor? A sidekick? I think of my characters in terms of the function they have to perform in the overall story argument. The details, the flesh and bone stuff, I build from a series of traits and incidents as I went along.
The Land Below went on to win several prizes as a result. You can download a free sample from the novel on my Amazon page.
Planning a great story premise, the outer and inner journeys, the theme and ending, and cast of characters, are important elements to consider before writing your story.
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