The Skeleton of a Story

Today, I wanted to talk shop.

Last night I attended an open house for the Frederick Community College Writer’s Institute, a collection of personal enrichment courses for writers. During this open house, Linda Alexander gave a short seminar on her views of character building. This put me in the analytical mindset this morning, and surfing that wave of analysis, I feel moved to discuss some Writing Process theory.

Plot. This is the fundamental purpose of a story. Every author has his or her own methods toward exploring and developing plot. As I mentioned before, I am a very mechanical, step-by-step kind of guy. When pre-writing, I like to use outlines, flow charts, spreadsheets, and tesla coils whenever possible. I have worksheets for plot, scenes, and characters, all of which I poke and prod until they yield results, or I am forced to seek therapy, whichever comes first.


"Let's put the sunroom next to the Hero's Black Moment."

My plot outlines are simply a list of milestones along the storyline. I borrow from several generally accepted plot theories, including Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, while altering it to suit my personality. Here are my basic plot milestones which I attempt to define prior to drafting:

Act I

– Boom! (this is the attention-grabbing first image.)

– Status Quo (establishing the world in which the protagonist lives, prior to blowing it directly to Hell.)

– The Prod (the protagonist is nudged towards conflict, but refuses to act.)

– The Plunge (s/he is swept inexorably into the conflict of the story.)

Act II

– The Threshold (the protagonist moves into an in-between world which will last only for the length of the story. A deadline is established, at the end of which loss must occur.)

– First Trial: Investigation (s/he must learn the rules of this new world.)

– Second Trial: Salvo (s/he makes the first attempt to resolve the conflict, but fails, making matters worse… this is often repeated.)

– Third Trial: Evolution (s/he begins to transform and adapt, accepting failures as experience.)

– Final Trial: Deadline (the deadline is reached, forcing the protagonist into action, usually resulting in failure or the loss of something dear… often a mentor.)

– Black Moment (the protagonist experiences defeat on a profound level, causing a figurative death that leads to an epiphany.)


– Climax (the protagonist uses abilities or options unavailable prior to the Black Moment, and makes one final attempt to resolve the conflict or overcome the antagonist.)

– Resolution (the fallout of the climax, be it success or failure, is explored. In either case, the protagonist moves into a new world, a new status quo. This includes for my purposes Campbell’s “The Road Home”.)

I often stray from this skeleton during drafting, but having this outline keeps me moving forward. It is far easier for me to alter the outline than it is to attempt to piece one together after wandering through the woods for a few hundred pages!

In other news, I have now reached the “Final Trial: Deadline” milestone in my latest project, The Curse Merchant. I feel utterly swept up in the story at this point, which is one of the big “highs” one gets from writing. Now I’m looking forward to reaching the climax, and I sense that when I type the last period on this manuscript, I’m going to have a big emotional drop.

Image credit: Felixco, Inc.

3 responses to “The Skeleton of a Story

  1. Pingback: Tools for Pre-writing: Dissecting the Scene Worksheet « J.P.Sloan's Fistful of Fiction

  2. Pingback: Writer’s Block during… Revision? « J.P.Sloan's Fistful of Fiction

  3. Pingback: #MyWritingProcess Blog Hop | J.P.Sloan's Fistful of Fiction

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s