By nastyjman on Aug 12, 2016 at 4:24 PM
  1. nastyjman

    nastyjman Senior Member

    Sep 27, 2010
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    Compass (A Rough Outline Method)

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by nastyjman, Aug 12, 2016.

    I have an idea for a rough outline that’s tailored for discovery writers. I’m no expert (and not a published author yet) so this is a system devised by a budding author.

    I thought of this rough outline based on advice, how-tos, interviews and lectures from different authors. This also borrows concepts from “Story Grid” by Shawn Coyne and “Take off Your Pants” by Libbi Hawker.

    A bit of background on myself. I am finishing the 3rd draft of my novel which began as a short story, which mutated into a novel. The 1st draft was written by the seat of my pants. I didn’t have an outline nor did I have any guides to where I was going. I just wrote and wrote until I reached the ending.

    I liked my story, but 80% of it needed to be rewritten. Although time is never wasted when you’re having fun, I still feel I could have saved time for myself.

    An outline was off the table. I had used outlines before, and I don’t like it. Pages upon pages of bullet points felt like a chore rather than a journey. So I looked for other solutions, a compromise between a pantser and a plotter.

    “The Story Grid” had a concept called “Foolscap Method.” You can search it up and see for yourself. Basically, it is a one-sheet that delineates your three acts, and in each act, you list five essential scenes that ends with a bang. I grew interested with this concept, but the details it required was daunting and felt like outlining. What I liked about it, however, was its restriction of keeping it on one page.

    The next one was Libbi Hawker’s quick outline. In there she asks you to list your main character their flaw, their goal, their ally, the antagonist, the ending and theme. Good points to keep in mind, but she then asks you to outline some essential scenes.

    With those in mind, I borrowed some of their concepts and created my own system. I call it a compass because it’s only four items, and it will be limited to only one page.


    Here are the items:
    • What If Statement
    • Inciting Incident
    • Protagonist’s Weaknesses/Flaws
    • Potential Climaxes/Endings
    With these, you have enough to cook up a novel and enough room to play and discovery write.


    The What If statement captures the uniqueness of your story and the enthusiasm you have towards it. It is something akin to a mission statement. Almost all stories can be captured in a what if statement (What if we’re inside a pedophile’s mind? What if people are used as batteries for robots? What if you woke up one day as a cockroach?)


    This is the event that pushes the protagonist out of his comfort zone, the moment when their problem begins. The inciting incident is not necessarily the first scene of your story. It could be a scene or two until the fun begins.

    Write down the inciting incident. You can be terse by writing one sentence that begins with When (example, When the power dies in Jurassic Park; when Humbert meets Lolita; when Neo meets Trinity).


    When you start with your discovery writing, you don’t want to have a cardboard cutout of your protagonist. You might already have a character sketched in your head, have a certain trait or quirk in mind, but writing down their weaknesses or flaws would help limiting them.

    Here you will list possible weaknesses and flaws for your protagonist. You could put one or more, but don’t go crazy. Their weaknesses or flaws must be pertinent to the story. Positive traits can be a weakness or a flaw.


    This is your target, your destination. I labeled it as “potential” because you might discover a better ending as you write your novel. Having a potential climax or ending gives you direction for your story, preventing you from snaking around or writing endlessly.


    There you have it. Four points, just like a compass. Anything between, from inciting incident to the ending, will be discovery-written.
    This is just a tool, a simple one at that. If you have any questions or feedback, please post below. It is a work in progress that I’m trying out myself.

    What If...
    • What if humans had lost a war against robots? Then they were enslaved and then used as batteries to keep them alive?
    Inciting Incident
    • When Neo meets Trinity
    • Inexperienced. Neo is new to everything and is still fresh from being awakened from the matrix.
    • Self-Doubt. Neo does not believe he is the chosen one despite people telling him otherwise
    Potential Climaxes/Endings
    • Neo becomes the ONE and destroys Agent Smith
    • Neo doesn’t become the ONE, but still destroys Agent Smith
    • Neo dies, but returns to become the ONE, then destroys Agent Smith
    JJ Mac, orangefire, A.S.Ford and 8 others like this.


Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by nastyjman, Aug 12, 2016.

    1. MarcT
      Thanks for this guide.
      I'll be trying this because I'm a little disorganised and it's got to the point where I really need to structure the story and see it before me as a kind of plan.
      I've never outlined, except maybe in my head, but you know what ideas are like. they usually need to be written down.
      Great post.
    2. Que
      Outlining a story isn't my favorite way to get from the beginning to the end, either. But your ideas might help me in my current novel. And I like the "compass" label because a story has to begin somewhere and end somewhere. If you don't know where you're going, ANY road will take you there.

      All metaphors break down at some point, of course, and to use a compass to get from where you are now to where you want to be, you gotta know where you want to be. My current novel, for example... one day I stopped typing and realized I had no idea how I wanted my story to end. No destination to aim my writing at.

      Your discovery writing sounds a bit like my "free writing" in which I don't even brainstorm. I just sit down with a (What if...?) idea and let the words flow. It's almost like my characters and their predicaments find me rather than the other way around.

      Peper Shaker likes this.
    3. SoulGalaxyWolf
      Thanks for posting :) It helped me more with outlining my story
    4. TheWriteWitch
      Just the in-between I was looking for! My favorite moments in writing are always the discoveries but I'm also a bit of a control freak and like to know where the story is heading. I think I can work with this and find a good first draft. Thank you!
    5. writingone
      I once wrote as a free writing writer, then found out I could not understand what I wrote. I had a hard time with grammar and studied sentence structure and fell in love. But putting words in some order is hard work, so I tried to follow sentence structuring which has grammar in it, which I do not understand.

      I feel somewhat handicapped because of not understanding grammar and it seems like learning a foreign language, so I went to sentence structure and got so much better order from writing than with grammar if that is possible. With that said, should I continue to write or give it up. Critique, please. Chat One
    6. jannert
      I think this is an interesting approach. It would be excellent if, after you've written a story using this method, you might come back and let us know if (and how) it worked for you. And maybe give it a few tweaks, if it didn't.

      We all write different kinds of stories, but I think your method could be adapted as a basic starting point for just about anybody. You've got a 'what if' inciting incident, a character, the character's personal vulnerability or flaw, and you've got a notion of how this story will end.

      Personally, I think the 'what if' part of this plan is the most important. This is the thing that will both excite and challenge you, the writer. The 'what if ' is the basic story problem, and it drives how the characters and the plot develop. I don't think always having the end in sight when you begin is necessary, unless you immediately know what you want to happen. Ideas will occur to you as you write, and create new characters who interact with your protagonist, and throw plot developments into the mix—and this may alter your ending. But without a 'what if,' your story will struggle to get going.

      I struggle to encapsulate my finished novel in a few sentences. However, I have NO trouble articulating the 'what if.' It's how I started, and I don't think I would ever start a story any other way.
    7. QueenOfPlants
      I really like this!
      As somebody who is torn between getting ideas from her pantser side and having them taken apart by her planner side, this might help me get a raw skeleton for my story early in the process so that it doesn't fall apart so soon.
    8. joe sixpak
      joe sixpak

      I have been researching HOW to write and various processes and methods. This is isomorphic to what a couple of others use.
    9. joe sixpak
      joe sixpak
      Freewriting is a form of brainstorming albeit a less efficient method.
    10. joe sixpak
      joe sixpak
      Keep writing.
      An editor can fix grammar.
      Only you can provide the creative ideas that are essential.
    11. Marina Grönbäck

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