By Barry Marshall
Author can be reached at
Last modified: November 03 2012 12:33:13

Here's the method I use to plot long pieces such as a novel or screenplay:

First, a writer must determine the approximate length of the work. For a novel I choose twenty chapters, each approximately 4000 to 5000 words in length (this will vary). A finished novel will be approximately 80,000 to 100,000 words (the norm for commercial novels). Screenplays of course, already have a set structure depending on 1 hour teleplays, or feature length films. In the case of screenplays, I just use this method for ideas about the plot.

The outline is divided into four sections:

  1. Story Specifications:

  2. Setting

  3. History

  4. The Plot (or chapter outline)

    1. This is the most useful section. Here is the outline for each chapter:

      1. Goal (s): In each chapter, the antagonists and protagonists have goals. State the goals here.

      2. Problem(s): To create interesting conflict, the characters can't immediately attain their goals, so list problems here that the character(s) will have in attaining their goals.

      3. Resolution(s) (if any): List the resolutions to the above problems here. Note that problems introduced don't have to be solved immediately. Sometimes in my stories several chapters may pass before problems are solved.

      4. Hook: Each chapter should end with a cliff-hanger (hook) that will make the reader want to continue reading the story.

      5. Notes: Put any notes (or changes) here about the chapter.

      6. Repeat this formula for each chapter.

    2. You can also tie a whole novel together by dividing the chapters into sections and using the same technique:

      1. If the story has 20 chapters, divide it into 5 sections of four chapters. Use the same formula as above, but the goals, problems, and resolutions are prevalent in each of the four chapters of the section.

      2. In the case of screenplays, think of the "Acts" as chapters and use the same formula.

This outline has almost totally abolished Writer's Block for me. I can refer to it, make changes, etc. and it will inspire me to continue with the story because I know where the story is going. This method may not work with some writers because they might like a more "free form" style. Notice though, this outline allows for any changes a writer may want to make in the story. There's just enough structure here to keep on track while writing the story.

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