The Plot Point Outlining Method
Salutations Padawan! Today, I decided to write about something very near and dear to my heart…Pancakes!
Lol, no, not really. Although, those are one of my most favorite things 🤤
A while back, I found myself really struggling to outline a manuscript. Shocking, I know, but it’s the truth.
It was a slog. I just couldn’t find an outlining method that I could latch onto and understand.
Sure, it sounds simple, “just follow the three act structure,” or “plot according to hero’s journey,” but that’s sorta like saying paint your kitchen blue. Everyone forgets there are 260 shades of blue. I tried the Sanderson Method, Action/Reaction method, Beat Sheets, Energetic Markers, the Brett Method.
Nothing really clicked for me, and I got frustrated.
Like, SO frustrated.
And then, in a moment of clarity, I decided… screw it, I’ll design my own.
For a while I just called it the Ashy Method, but that doesn’t sound as professional as the Plot Point Method… so I changed it. Cause I’m an adult. Sometimes.
If you’ve read my Plot Points post, then you already know all about the various plot points. Those really click for me because they are something I completely understand. Then I got to wondering if I could create an outlining method using those as the backbone. So I tried, and this is what I came up with.
Once you’ve done all your world building and character creation, once you know where your story will begin and end (where it ends is very important to know before you write), you can sit down and eat pancakes to celebrate. 🤣
But seriously, once those steps are complete, you can move onto actually outlining!
For this post I’ll use my zombie story I wrote a while back as the example.
The next step involves putting your thinking cap on. At the top of a paper, I write Hook. Then I write possible ideas for that hook. So, in my zombie story, my hook is where my big bad hero, Josh, kills a zombie!
Simple, straightforward, and a good hook.
Then here’s where it gets good. I write everything that has to happen before the hook for it to make sense, and everything after. So the lead up to the hook, and the reaction to the hook.
The next point is the inciting incident, and I basically rinse and repeat. I list potential ideas, working off what I’ve brainstormed coming off the hook. Making sure I keep in mind the purpose and intent of the point. Once I’ve decided on something, I decide what needs to happen before it, to lead up to it, and what happens after it, in response to that event.
Get the idea? This is a rough idea of what my zombie book outline looked like. Now, depending on your scene length, you’ll want to have more than just a few between the major points, but since this is just an example, I’m keeping it simple:
-Josh waking up in his cubicle home in T-Mobile park.
-Josh attending morning brief about zombie movements.
Hook: Josh kills a zombie in downtown Seattle.
-Josh consulting with the council about the increased zombies.
-Josh providing escort to the fishermen as they leave their boats.
Inciting Incident: Zombies attack in mass. Josh meets Max, a female survivor from the wilderness.
Make sense? This outlining method has really helped me organize my thoughts and allowed me to optimize my outlines. So I’ll continue with this example.
After the inciting incident rocks the boat, we need to have the character reaction to that event. So I’d follow with several reaction scenes to hit home the meaning of the inciting incident.
So the following scenes might look like these:
-Josh and Max defeat the remaining zombies and begin treating the survivors.
-Josh and Max meet with the council to discuss this new threat. Max tells her story and the info she’s gathered from the wilderness.
-Josh and Max eat together, both bloody and tired from the fight. Josh expresses his hopelessness.
Now that there are a few reaction scenes, it’s time to move on. The next big point is the midpoint, and the buildup to that point. And as I pointed out in the plot point post, the midpoint is an important moment to reveal new information. So as before, I brainstorm the best possible midpoint events. Once I settle on an event that really embraces the meaning of the midpoint and helps move the story forward, I list what needs to happen before and after:
-A coherent, injured zombie stumbles to the gate, begging for an audience.
-Max, Josh, and the council decide to hear them out, and they’re admitted under heavy guard.
Midpoint: The zombie tells them how zombie scientists are working on creating artificial blood/organs for zombies. That will allow them to kill off the meat (humans) and become the new world power!
-That information divided the council, half believe it, the others don’t.
-Josh volunteers to journey into the dangerous city to seek the scientists. Others, including Max, decide to join him.
-Problems and attacks plagued the trip into the city.
-Some of the volunteers are killed.
Getting interesting isn’t it? Are you seeing how this works? It’s almost like a sort of crossword puzzle. You have your major events, and the events that need to take place for them to make sense. I usually go through several drafts like this, mixing and matching events, determining which events make sense and whichdon’t.
To make it simple, I usually get a cheap dollar store notebook to fill out. I can rip out pages as they get crossed out and not worry about it.
Now, after the midpoint and midpoint reactions, the next plot point is the second pinch point:
-Josh, Max and the volunteers stay in a penthouse apartment to regroup. Max and Josh have a hot make-out session. (Yes, this zombie book had a romance subplot, so juicy!)
-The next morning the volunteers encounter a group of teens, with information about a scientist who defected.
Second pinch point- Josh, Max, and the volunteers come upon the scientist, injured, close to death. She tells them about the current location of the scientists. They’re attacked by zombies.
-Max, Josh, and some volunteers escape the zombie attack.
-Max, Josh, and the others regroup and head for the scientists.
We’re on the downward slope now! All that remains is the climax, so things are going to pick up quickly:
-Max, Josh and the others find the building where the scientists are hidden away.
-After investigating the building, they discover a group of human test subjects. Max convinces Josh to help them escape. He agrees.
-They help the test subjects escape, but trigger alarms.
-The scientists send a mass of zombies to stop them. Josh is injured.
Climax: Max and Josh discover the abandoned remnants of the scientists’ laboratories. And a virus meant to kill all humans. But the scientists are nowhere to be found.
-Max and Josh follow the scientists to a local airstrip where a plane is fueled and waiting to go.
-Max gets captured and taken onto the airplane. Josh cannot save her. The plane takes off, and Josh is devastated.
-Months later, the humans determine the scientists have created a new zombie base in Idaho. Josh packs a van and heads out to save Max.
Once I’ve got these all written out on their own pages, I lay them all out where I can see them. Then I go through each page carefully, making sure it flows logically. This gives me the chance to switch things around if it would make more sense in a different position. So perhaps scene two should be scene seven, and scene twelve would make more sense as scene fifteen. Once I’m happy with the order, I number them, and put them all into a word document. There I’ll flesh out each scene, outlining that scene with a scene outlining process I also developed!
Hahah, go figure.
Now, this is more than a quick sit down and sort of word vomit method. Each one of these points takes some serious thought and consideration. It takes brainstorming and a lot of paper to come up with these.
But the foundation is simple.
Each plot point is determined, then you fill out what comes before and after. It can take a while, so don’t be discouraged. But here’s the thing, this method allows you to consider the best approach and path you want your story to take. You can fiddle with each point until you’ve got everything just perfect.
That’s probably why I like this method the best, because I’m a fiddler. I like to mess with things for a while before I really decide which is best.
But, as always, you, as the unique starfish you are, can choose exactly which method to do. Which one works for you? Which one do you feel more comfortable with?
Experiment, test each one out, and eventually you’ll find one that works for you.
Or, you can follow my lead and develop one!
Now, go forth and write!