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Writing a plot outline needn't be difficult. In fact, it can be fun. When you begin plotting your story it helps to ask questions, and the two most important questions to consider are What if? and Why?
What if a young boy suddenly has a cruel stepfather? (As in Dickens David Copperfield) Following that what if? you might ask yourself why? Why does he have a stepfather and not a father? Why did his mother marry miserable Murdstone? Why does David dislike Murdstone?
Questions will get you writing, all those "what if?" questions become the key points in your plot outline, while the answers to your why? questions make up your sub points. When you've jotted down as many answers to the question why? as you can, always return to what if?
When I wrote my first novel, Burning Ground, I asked myself a lot of what if? questions because that was about all I knew about plotting:
The wonderful, enjoyable aspect of creating a plot outline like this is that it is pure play. At this stage, when you only want an outline for writing a novel, you can ask any question and imagine anything. With time, you will throw out the ideas that dont stand up well to the why? question, and you will keep only the ideas for which you can provide answers, but for now, anything goes.
"What if?" provides you with the ideas for scenes. Why? provides the motivation behind each action, and solid motivation makes characters authentic and believable.
Our own lives are made up of motivating factors, whether we think about those motivations or not. Were motivated to move to another province because we have family, friends, or a better job somewhere else. Or maybe our motivation is to put a greater distance between family and us. Were motivated to eat because were hungry, or maybe because were lonely or feeling stressed. Characters, like humans, need to have reasons for doing what they do, and those reasons should be clear to readers.
Asking why? in your plot outline will allow you to write scenes that illustrate the reasons for character action. By showing, not telling, you will expand your story in a logical, interesting, cause and effect pattern. Youll find, with this sort of plot outline, that the necessary complications come easily. Youre also more likely to plan scenes that are different from each other, but you may have to think longer about the twists your story needs.
If you can create a what if statement that turns the plot in a new direction at a key pointgood. If you get stumped and none of your scenes feels big enough to be a major turning point, dont worry about it. Thats a problem you can solve later, after you have a lot of scenes written. All youre after at this point is a plot outline that gets you excited and keeps you writing.