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Fan Fiction FanFic Con – Planning Plot Structure and Outline

Muggle Born
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Plot Structure and Outline

Last month, we explored blurbs for your stories and how they can captivate potential readers. You can find that activity here. Additionally, all previous topics can be found in the FanFic Con Directory, for your convenience. This month, we will be talking about Plot Structure and Outlines.

Plot Structure and Outline

At its core, plot structure has three parts: a beginning, middle, and end. Each part has its own purpose and challenge. Aristotle was the first to formulate this now well-worn formula in Poetics. He put it this way: “A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end.” In other words, your audience should be able to watch your story without being distracted with wondering what happened before the story started, what more happened after it ended, or how the characters got from the beginning to the end. Acclaimed dramatists Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet both consider Aristotle’s Poetics to be the primary guide to writing good storylines.

Translating a great story idea onto paper can be overwhelming and intimidating. An outline can provide a sense of control, helping a writer maintain structure while guiding a story along. The outline process, which involves making two crucial decisions before determining a story's plot, allows a writer to explore the best way for the story to unfold. Begin by freely exploring the characters and plot in your story, ignoring structure and constraints. Once you feel you have a direction, proceed to your outline.

1. Write your story's conflict at the top of your outline –To be able to move your characters along, you need to know what they're up against. Ask yourself which conflict category your story falls into: Man versus man? Man versus himself? Or man versus the environment? Once you get a specific idea, you'll be able to move forward.

2. Figure out the resolution – This step involves skipping to the end of your outline, but once you work out the story's resolution, it'll be easier to fill in the plot. Does your character make a decision? Accept his or her shortcomings? Or is it something more dramatic?

3. Write the plot – Now that you have the story's conflict and resolution mapped out, you must figure out how you'll introduce this conflict to the reader and how your character arrives at the resolution. Many short stories have two or three plot developments, followed by an epiphany, which is where insight is revealed to the reader or the main character, leading the story directly to the resolution.

4. Determine the story's conclusion – This is the last step on your outline, after the resolution. How does your resolution affect your character? What has changed? These questions will guide you to the story's conclusion.

Content source: How to Write Story Plot: Tips, Tricks, and Margaret Atwood’s Writing Prompts, How to Write an Outline to a Short Story

Do you think an outline makes a difference on someone's writing? Do you think it's important to have an outline? How much should you stick to an outline? What happens if your plot progresses outside of the outline?

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Muggle Born
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I believe that while an outline isn't necessarily the most important thing when writing, it is a good thing to have in mind. In addition, it's a good way to start writing a story, because then you'll have a solid idea on what direction to take the story in. However, there are many times when the story just takes over, and you find yourself deviating from the outline, and taking the story in a new direction. So I'd say that an outline is a good starting point, and one that can be very helpful when writing a story, but you shouldn't feel like you have to stick with it.


Muggle Born
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I think an outline can make a difference in someone else's writing, especially if you follow it closely, always doing what it says, as it could potentially change your style of writing. I don't think using an outline is so important. I think that you should write your story like you want to, but if you want to keep your story in check and being able to know in which part of the plot structure you are at, it can be very useful. Like I have mentioned before, I don't think you should stick too much to an outline. Sometimes it is just better to let your story flow, I believe. If you plot progresses outside of an outline, I think it might be useful to have a look at the outline, just to check what you should do next. On the other hand, if you know what you are doing, and you feel that your story has to go that way, just follow your gut instinct.
Overall, I believe that if you are a beginner, you could try and use the outline to keep your story in check, but you don't have to.


Mixed Blood
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Do you think an outline makes a difference on someone's writing?
I think that would depend on the person him/herself and whether or not they prefer using an outline. Overall though I feel that having an outline the writing is more 'focussed' and it allows for a clean structure.

Do you think it's important to have an outline?
Again, it depends on your writing style and what kind of story you are writing. Like I said above though I think that having an outline is definitely helpful.

How much should you stick to an outline?
An outline for me is a guideline. As long as you loosely stick to it it should be fine.

What happens if your plot progresses outside of the outline?
It depends on what those plot elements are that progress outside of the outline. I think as soon as you notice it you have to take a step back and analyze what is happening. And if the new events make sense in the overall story and if the changes change the whole story, the outcome, or just minor storylines. If you feel like the elements outside of the outline don't interfere with what you already established in your story previously, and if it doesn't affect the end of the story, I think it's okay to change the outline so that it fits the new developments.

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Muggle Born
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I think that having an outline is very important and it will make a huge difference to someone's writing. If there was no planning or outline involved, the story can end up reading like stream of consciousness babble, or a story that leads nowhere, or there are plot holes in it. Once an outline has been made of the beginning, middle, and end, it is safe to start writing. Things might change once we start to write, but then we must remember to go back and re-examine our outline and see what changes need to be made to anything we had planned out earlier. It is fine if the plot progresses outside of the outline; it simply means that we need to revise our outline and make sure that all the various strands of the story will still make sense based on the changes that are occurring. Like life, writing a story is a work in progress. Timings and events can be adjusted and revised, change is the very essence of living - but to write a good story, it needs to make sense somehow, and it is the job of the author to make sense of the events that are told in the tale.


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