For me, outlining is one of the hardest parts of the writing process. Drafting and editing are so fun and fulfilling, each giving you a satisfying sense of progress, whereas an outline is always the place where I seem to get stuck.
As as result, I’m always interested in learning another writer’s process and implementing new tips and tricks that will help make outlining less of a struggle.
The middle of the story can be particularly troublesome. Even when I feel like I’ve done a good job on my outline, things always start to fall apart once I get into act 2. This was especially frustrating when participating in NaNoWriMo, where every day matters and it was so easy to fall behind. So I came up with an idea that I hoped would solve that problem – a list of prompts or plot beats for each of the 30 days, so I’d always have something to write.
This means that every day of the event, even if your outline is lacking, you’ll have some idea of what you should write next. In fact, if you stick to the outline closely, you’ll have a finished first draft in only 30 days!
If you downloaded my NaNoWriMo Scrivener template or my NaNoWriMo Notion template, you might recognize this 30-day plot outline. NaNoWriMo was a big reason why I came up with this in the first place. But I figured it would be a good idea share it here for any others who struggle with outlining like I do.
A lot of these beats may look familiar. I’ve done a fair bit of research on plot structure and I’ve read Save the Cat, among other writing craft books, and I like the way those plot beats are organized. This list reflects how I like to develop my stories, but the nice thing about these prompts is that many of them can be moved around.
The goal of this template is to give you an idea for a scene or a chapter each day so you don’t get stuck, but make it one that will also move the story forward so you don’t end up meandering.
The 30-day plot template is a great tool for developing an outline, or jumping straight into drafting if you prefer to write by the seat of your pants. It’s not perfect as any template like this is going to create a story more formulaic than a Marvel movie, but it will help when you get stuck. And more importantly, it will give you the bones of a story that you can work with. Don’t forget that you can’t edit a blank page!
Give it a try the next time you participate in NaNoWriMo!
The 30-Day Plot Template
- Hook – A scene to make the reader care about the journey they’re about to go on with the main character
- Stasis – A look at the main character’s current situation
- Initial Goal – What the main character thinks they want, and how they plan to get it
- The Wound or Flaw – What is holding the main character back and how it is hurting them
- Inciting Incident – Something external that changes the main character’s world
- Debate – The main character resists being pulled into the story
- First Doorway – A big event or revelation that forces the main character to make a choice and enter an unfamiliar world/situation
- New World – The main character gets their bearings in the new world/situation
- B-Story – Introduces a side story that is thematically relevant to the main plot
- First Trial – The main character is challenged or faces some complication to their goal as they are learning to adjust to their new situation
- New Asset – The main character makes a new ally (or allies), and/or learns something new
- Second Trial – A second, greater test for the main character to overcome
- B-Story Connects – The events of the B-story collide with the main story
- Setback – An attack by the antagonist (direct or indirect) and a reminder of what is at stake
- Midpoint – False victory or defeat on the heels of a major revelation that changes everything for the main character
- Retreat – The main character is tested and found wanting – as they are now, the main character cannot achieve their goal, and must deal with the aftermath of the midpoint
- Awareness – The main character better understands the wound/flaw that is holding them back and knows that if they don’t change, they will die/fail; they begin the process of changing and may set a new/modified goal
- Small Victory – Main character is gaining momentum and taking action and they manage to get closer to their goal
- Facing Death – The threat escalates as the main character is tested, forced to make hard choices and/or face death
- Growing Pains – The wound/flaw continues to challenge the main character as a reminder that they haven’t dealt with it yet
- Antagonist Attacks – The antagonist makes a direct, even more threatening attack on the main character
- Disaster – The main character fails, their goal seems completely out of reach
- A Price Paid – Because they have yet to complete their transformation, the main character loses something/someone important
- Black Moment – The lowest point for your main character, where they must finally deal with their wound/flaw; mirrors the debate
- Second Doorway – The main character embraces change, makes a final plan for achieving their goal/dealing with the antagonist
- Enter the Lair – The main character gathers their allies and resources to enter the realm of the antagonist
- All or Nothing – The main character is tested to see if they have truly changed and they must commit everything to seeing this through
- Desperation – The main character is locked into the final confrontation – there is no going back
- Final Battle – The main character’s final confrontation with the antagonist, where they put what they’ve learned to a final, brutal test and emerge victorious
- Resolution – The aftermath of the battle and the new life of your main character; a mirror of where they were at the beginning
You might have noticed that this outline lends itself well to a more external, action-filled story, though it can work just as well for one that is quieter and more introspective. Entering the lair, for example, doesn’t have to be literal. It can be anywhere where the antagonist is in control (or where the protagonist has very little). The prompts are suggestions and you’ll need to interpret them differently depending on what genre you’re writing.
Let me know if you find it useful and of course, happy writing!
Download the Printable
To keep these prompts handy while you’re plotting or drafting your next book, I made a template you can print yourself! I’ve broken down the prompts into the three acts as I see them, but feel free to shuffle things around to suit your own needs and process!
What is your process for creating an outline? Do you use plot beats like those found in Save the Cat? Do you not bother with structure at all? What is your favourite part of the writing process? Let me know in the comments!
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