The Joy of Outlining II

So, last time I talked a bit out my new way of laying out story structure and plotting. It’s been fantastic.

The method I use enables me to follow a road map leading me along the path of my story. I know right where I need to put things, and I know when something’s missing. I also know what’s missing when it is. And so, with this tool in mind, I can go through the writing process fearlessly. I won’t get lost in details, I won’t have story arc problems, and I won’t have plot holes. Those things are all visible and addressed in the planning stages. I can write to the markers I’ve set out and be sure the story is the focus.

I also mentioned Dramatica theory. Here’s what Dramatica brought to the party for me:

Story Goal

Dramatica wasn’t the first to introduce the Story Goal idea, but I don’t know if I’d ever apprehended the idea before. Basically, it’s the story in a single statement. The Story Goal is what your characters are trying to accomplish, whether that’s an external goal of some kind or an internal one.

It’s a lot of fun to come up with the Story Goal, and once you have it, you can use other aspects of Dramatica theory to write the Plot Summary. The theory also provides some things to think about and add in to make the experience richer for the reader. It’s awesome.


For one thing, the idea of Throughlines helped a lot. For Dramatica theory, there are four Throughlines required. The four Throughlines are:

  • The Overall Throughline – The main story throughline. This is the structure of the overall story, the arc in the story which impacts the most characters and leads the characters along the path to the Story Goal.
  • The Main Character Throughline – The main character throughline parallels the overall throughline, but is entirely impacting the main character. It’s how the character either changes or chooses to remain the same in the course of the overall throughline.
  • The Impact Character Throughline – The Impact Character is the one with the greatest impact on the main character. This might be the antagonist, but in something like a romance, it’s generally the lover.
  • The Relationship Throughline – The relationship between the main and impact characters has its own story arc which defines, deepens and decides the final outcome of the relationship between the MC and IC.

One those four throughlines are in, the story you craft will be rich and rewarding. (Entertaining is up to you, the writer, of course. How skilled are you?) But there are more possible. If you have subplots, each of those will have its own throughline.


Oh, the signposts! I love me some signposts. For Dramatica theory, the signposts are analogous to the milestones I’m so used to. With Dramatica, there are four such:

  • Signpost 1: The Inciting Incident. This is the event which sends the character off on the journey toward the Story Goal.
  • Signpost 2: The Complication. The second signpost is either a major victory for the main character, or a major defeat for the character, depending on how you want the book to turn out.
  • Signpost 3: The Climax. Don’t confuse “climax” with “end” – it’s not the same thing. This is the moment of greatest tension in the story, the moment when things are at the height. This is the story’s most tightly-wound point. But it’s not the end of the story.
  • Signpost 4: The Resolution. This is where the story resolves; the Story Goal is either achieved or not.

If the Story Goal is achieved, your story is called a “comedy” – which was a drama in which the protagonist is successful in his quest and the story has a happy ending. If the main character fails in the Story Goal, then your story is called a “tragedy”, which is a drama with an UNhappy ending. Nice, eh?

You know what else? Each of the throughlines has its own signposts, all four of ‘em. And so does each scene of the signposts themselves. Yep, you can subdivide this down to four throughlines of four markers each – sixteen markers total – which can be sub-subdivided into four signposts, giving you a total of something like 48 scenes. That’s the book, for the most part. (This varies, but 48-64 scenes in a book is about right.)

And that’s what Dramatica has added to my way of plotting and outlining. And I have to concede, while I hated Dramatica theory in previous attempts to write using it, I love it now. Next time, I’ll tell you how the Hero’s Journey fits in to all this.

Aren’t you excited?


2 thoughts on “The Joy of Outlining II

  1. That’s pretty cool. I didn’t realize there was so much math behind a good story. At this point I’ve read too many post-modern, Waiting For Godot-like literary novels in which almost nothing happens. I dig the idea of a plot that goes somewhere!

    HA! Good description of Lit-fic, Spark. I actually think having a character-driven story where there’s still a point is possible. I’ve been piddling with one for about four years now, though I’ve not returned to it recently. I think the new stuff I’ve learned would add valuable data to it so I can finish it. I’m glad you enjoyed and thanks for commenting! I was lonely!

  2. Pingback: Story Structure, Part Four: 5 Sure-Fire Ways to Structure a Story

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