Friday, August 12, 2016

Compass (A Rough Outline Method)

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

No comments:

Post a Comment