9 Steps to Outline Your Story

Check out this graphic by Jono Hey that explains the Story Spine

Although I sometimes write fiction, I loathe outlining a fictional story. Unless we are talking picture books. I get picture book structure. When the time comes to outline a picture book, I get out fourteen post-it notes and my story board and get to work.

But a novel? It just feels so big.

Today while watching a Pixar in a Box video from their Story Structure series, I learned about creating a story spine, an outline form created by Kenn Adams, a professional in improv theater. Here are the 9 elements needed to create a story spine.

Once Upon a Time . . .

This is the beginning of your story. “Once upon a time there were three little pigs.”

Everyday . . .

Mark the routine in your world. “The three little pigs each built a home, one of straw, one of sticks and, the most industrious pig, built a brick house.”

But One Day . . .

Think of this as your inciting incident. What happened that brought about change? “But one day along came the big, bad wolf and said ‘Little Pig, Little Pig, let me in.”

Because of That . . .

The inciting incident leads your characters to take action which leads to the next action. “Pig One runs inside, the wolf blows down the house of straw, and Pig One runs to Pig Two’s house.”

Because of That . . .

Your characters are led to another action. “The wolf blows down the house of sticks. Pig One and Pig Two run to Pig Three’s house.”

Because of That . . .

This is the last step leading to another big change. “The wolf tries and tries to blow down the brick house.”

Until Finally . . .

This is your climax. “Until finally he realizes this house is too strong and climbs onto the roof. But Pig Three had built a fire and the wolf fails to climb down the chimney.”

Ever Since Then . . .

This is the ending or denouement. “The Three Little Pigs live happy ever after having learned their lesson that . . .”

The Moral of the Story Is . . .

“. . . hard work pays off.”

I like this idea a lot. Now that I’ve managed to see how it works ala The Three Pigs, it is time to try it out with Air Stream. That’s the working title for my middle grade science fiction novel. Wish me luck!


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