Time to take the next step. By now you should have three big chunks of plot, a beginning, the middle and hopefully an end.
Now we are going to break these chunks in smaller pieces in what is known as the "Three Arc Structure". Any form of entertainment follows this classic structure in some way, even the smallest joke, which has the set-up, the middle and finally the punch line.
There are very creative pieces of work that throw that Three Arc Structure out the window but I guarantee that the author behind such work knew this theory backwards and upside down and thus was comfortable enough not to follow it. Know you craft before innovating.
The Three Act Structure looks like this:
Beginning Middle End
Act I Act II Act III
The Setup Confrontation Resolution
The two breaks that separates the Acts are called plot points and they are extremely important, life-changing events that steer the main plot in a whole new direction. I had a teacher that said the above should actually resemble a Witch's Hat, something like this:
Act I | | Act III
The first plot point escalates the main plot to a whole new level until it reaches a climax halfway through your story. Then your story should take another 180o, another twist, which takes the audience to the second plot point and resolution.
The above is fairly consistent and you will find it in most films and comic books. Navigating from one point to another though is where a writer has a chance to get creative and not let the characters seem stiff, like puppets being manipulated. It is important to have the outline serve as a map, but having a strong character development and a natural flow to the story is more important. I'll get into more details about this on another post though.
I personally combine the basic structure above with something called the "Blake Snyder 15 Beat Sheet", an amazing, simple and effective way of structuring your story to keep audiences along for the ride.
Blake Snyder was a successful script doctor and author of books about screenwriting, his books are easily the best I've read regarding the craft, you should pick up "Save the Cat!" if you're interested in learning more about writing. If I had to pick one book that covers all the bases, that would be it.
The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet takes the Three Act Structure and further breaks it down, eventually forming your Outline.
Whatever it is your writing, a single issue comic book or twelve issue arc, you should fit your main plot in the below structure. I'll explain each point and then complete those with the Lost Kids structure. You can apply the beat sheet in any story, make sure to respect their places though.
THE BLAKE SNYDER BEAT SHEET:
1. Opening Image: First impressions last so make sure to start your story with a striking image, something that will pull your readers into your universe.
2. Theme Stated: What is the theme of your story? Is it about love? Redemption? Perhaps vengeance. Whatever it is, you want to state it early on, think of this as the line that sews your story together. You should have your theme no later than the 10% mark of your planned story (say halfway through issue #1 in a twelve issue arc)
3. Set-up: The calm before the storm, this point is all about preparing your protagonist(s) for the worst, something huge is about to happen that will change their world and point of view. The first 10% of your work should be set-up and character development.
4. Catalyst: EVERY story must have this. About halfway through your Act I something happens that has your protagonist(s) figuring out what's next. In Star Wars it's the arrival of R2D2 and C3PO with a message from Princess Leia. Hit that 15% mark with something big, this isn't supposed to be a cliffhanger yet, save it for the Inciting Incident that comes later.
5. Debate: How will your protagonist(s) react to the Catalyst? What course of action will he or she take? Should Luke go find this Ben-Kenobi fella or should he carry on with his pacific life like his uncle wants him to?
6. Break Into Act II / Inciting Incident (or first plot point): The point of no return, this event changes everything whether your protagonist(s) is ready or not. Luke's uncles are killed so now he's got no choice but to leave with Ben Kenobi. This is that cliffhanger you were waiting to wrap your first issue or about a quarter into your planned masterpiece
7. "B" Story (or sub-plot): Finally it's time to develop that brewing romance or any other sub-plot you'd like to have to add depth to your characters (Luke's Jedi training for instance).
8. Fun and Games: The most relaxing portion in any story, the one where you get to have fun. This is where the protagonist(s) sets out after their goal and you the writer have the opportunity of creating the obstacles he needs to overcome.
9. Midpoint (climax): Another big shift in your story, your audience thinks you're heading towards one direction when you pull a fast one leaving them curious as to where is this going. Blake Snyder says "a midpoint is either an "up" moment where the hero seemingly peaks (though it is a false peak) or a "down" when the world collapses all around the hero (though it is a false collapse)." Basically he's saying you either give the hero a false victory or a false defeat. In Star Wars everything seems lost when Darth Vader kills Obi-Wan. Luke has lost his mentor, a Jedi Master, how will he continue his training? His world collapses around him... The name says it all, this is halfway through whatever it is you are writing.
10. Bad Guys Close In: The antagonist(s)'s evil plot seems to be working and your protagonist(s) is cornered, ready to be struck down. This is the moment when the Death Star arrives to destroy the Rebel base.
11. All is Lost: Usually this is the opposite of your midpoint, so if you had a "down" moment where the hero seems defeated, here you should give him a false victory. Same thing happens if you had a "up" moment, here you would have a false defeat then. Using Star Wars again as an example, the Rebels seem to be winning, they have a clear shot into the weak spot of the Death Star, they fire but wait, here comes Darth Vader and takes their false victory away. About 70% into your story you should have one of these moments, leave the audience wondering...
12. Dark Night of the Soul (panic attack): Give your characters a moment to despair, the deeper the hole you put your protagonist(s) in the more heroic it will be when they climb out, rising up as heroes.
13. Break Into Act III (second plot point): Your last twist, the audience thinks they have everything figured out when you fool them one last time. Darth Vader is about to pull the trigger and end Luke's life when the Millenium Falcon shows up out of nowhere to save the day! This is roughly 2/3 of the work, you're almost there!
14. Finale: Tie up loose ends, resolve your conflicts and end your story.
15. Final Image: Make sure to give your readers a last image they can hold on to and cherish their time together with your characters. (Think Indiana Jones riding into the sunset)
How the Lost Kids structure fit into them:
1. Opening Image: A turbulent, twilight sky. A fantastic walled city visible against jutting mountains. On the center bluff stands the castle, its crimson banners flutter along the cannon lined battlements.
2. Theme Stated: During a lecture at school the themes "how our culture and history affects who we are" and "family matters" are established.
3. Set-up: JJ has just lost her parents and moves in with Tommy and his family.
4. Catalyst or Inciting Incident: JJ receives a mysterious package addressed to her which has been in storage for over thirteen years.
5. Debate: Should JJ open the package? Should Tommy do it? What might lie inside?
6. Break Into Act II (or first plot point): The packaged is opened and inside lies a strange looking marble sphere which shoots rays of light and transports them to a new world.
7. "B" Story (or sub-plot): The drawings in Tommy's Notebook seem to be the key to finding the mythic city of Samarkand and returning home.
8. Fun and Games: Kate is mistaken as Princess Evelet and they are all taken to the castle in Akkades. There they meet Sheridan Colt which happens to be a treasure hunter who can help them in their quest. They all escape the castle together, but the villain, Kardis, isn't too far behind.
9. Midpoint (climax): The Lost Kids are stranded in a strange town, have lost the Notebook and the Pendant necessary to reach Samarkand, all seems lost (false defeat).
10. Bad Guys Close In: Kardis has got his Princess and heads back to Akkades, where his plan of marrying her and gaining access to the throne is close of succeeding.
11. All is Lost: They manage to reach Kardis' airship and the Notebook & Pendant are within their reach. (false victory)
12. Dark Night of the Soul (panic attack): Tommy is seriously injured, doesn't look like he will make it and Kardis turns the tide, his men overpowering the Lost Kids and their guardians.
13. Break Into Act III (second plot point): Evelet elects to stay behind and strikes a deal with Kardis in exchange for the Lost Kids' safety. Tommy is healed back to his health by Meital.
14. Finale: The Lost Kids find Samarkand and return home... except JJ, she chooses to stay behind (not telling why, but this is exactly the type of situation where a juicy detail can make all the difference)
15. Final Image: JJ, Colt, Evelet and the others fly into the horizon in their airship.
So there you have it, the Lost Kids entire mini-series broken into fifteen little pieces. As you can see, the whole main plot is there but all the fun details which make up a good story are missing, so the point is An Outline is a guide to help you navigate through your story and characters' actions but they should not be set in stone. Leave some breathing room in between and allow your creativity to take you where it wants, as long as you figure out a way to reach the next plot point.
Recommended reading: Here's another column by Terri Rossio where he discusses the protagonist's failure as a way to measure their success, like I said above, the deeper the hole, the more heroic is the climb up out of it.
Also, if you have the chance, pick up Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat!", it is just a phenomenal and fun read.
Thanks for bearing with me, and as always, if you have questions or comments, feel free to post them here!