[what is/was your first thought for what genre this book should be?]
Why that Genre?
Setting and Era: First Thought
[what is/was your first thought for what era and setting this book ought to take place in?]
Why that Setting/Era?
On Second Thought: Genre
[what other genres could you write this story in? what might they offer that your first choice doesn’t?]
On Second Thought: Setting and Era
[what other cultures, times, or locales might your story be set in, and what benefits might those choices offer you?]
Final Genre Choice
[what does it mean to your story that you’ve chosen this genre? what are the fun or required elements of this genre that you’ll want to bring into your story? what ideas come to mind when you think about putting this story into this genre?]
Final Setting/Era Choice
[what does it mean to your story that you’ve chosen this setting or era? what are the fun or required elements of this culture or time period or locale that you’ll want to bring into your story? what ideas come to mind when you think about putting this story into this time and place?]
[what are some cultural, historical, political, geophysical, and/or meteorological events that might serve as nice large-scale backdrops for your story idea?]
Final Backdrop Choice
[what does it mean for your story that you’ve chosen this backdrop? what will have to happen because of your choice? what things are suddenly available to you now that will help amplify what you’re wanting to accomplish?]
Theme or Message: First Thoughts
[what thoughts come to mind as you contemplate a theme or message you might include in this story?]
[if you have an idea for a theme or message that might go well with this story idea, what subtle ways can you think of to surface it in the book? what characters, relationships, contrasts, or events come to mind that might naturally point up this idea, without being heavy-handed?]
What Does Your Hero Want?
[what is the thing he or she is hoping to achieve or avoid?]
Who or What Stands in the Way?
[what is the troll guarding the bridge the hero wants to cross? who or what is the antagonist, the thing blocking the hero’s access to what he or she wants?]
Ticking Time Bomb Ideas
[what might be the OR-ELSE factor looming over your story, the thing coming that will be the deadline for your book?]
[how would this pending disaster or deadline affect your story and your main character? what would it mean to your book if this is the time bomb you choose?]
Beginning the Countdown
[how and when will you let the reader know that this time bomb exists and is already ticking? (hint: the earlier the better; even in the prologue, if possible)]
Letting the Hero In On It
[will the reader know about the ticking time bomb before the main character does? if so, how and when will the main character find out about it, and what will be his or her reaction?]
What Is Your Main Character’s Knot?
[this is the biggie, the thing your book is really about; what is the tumor in your protagonist’s life, the harmful belief or practice or choice that is harming him and will one day destroy him and those he loves (unless he changes)? this is the injurious status quo he’s living in, though it be killing him]
[now extrapolate on this knot; if this is the problem in your hero’s life, how would it affect him? how does it manifest? what choices has he made because of this tumor inside him?]
What Would Be the Tragic Destination?
[now project down the road your protagonist is on; if she keeps going this direction, what is the logical conclusion? what is the probable destination this choice will lead to? what would be the worst-case end result?]
What Is Your Hero’s Ultimate Fear?
[your protagonist’s knot suggests his ultimate fear; what is he trying to avoid by embracing this knot? what would be the nightmare situation for him, given this knot?]
What Is the Alternative?
[if this is her sin, what is her sanctification? if this is her knot, what would untie her? what is the antidote to the poison she’s got working inside her? what is the antithesis of this problem, the opposite? how might that antithesis be personified or represented in the story?]
Look for a Metaphor
[write down some thoughts about something you could do in the external story that would mirror your main character’s knot; if your character is all about self, consider setting the story in a race or competition in which he has to choose to win (stay with the old self-centeredness) or let someone else win in order to help someone in need (Disney/Pixar’s Cars]
What Is Your Hero’s Initial Condition?
[describe how this knot is appearing in the main character’s life as the story begins; is s/he aware of it? is s/he seeing it clearly? how is hobbling or affecting your main character?]
Ideas for Introduction
[how could you show this tip of the iceberg the very first time you bring your main character onstage? what are subtle, visible ways this knot might be displayed in a scene?]
What Is Your Hero’s Moment of Truth?
[what are the two options stretching out before your main character? what does s/he think will be the costs and rewards of each one?]
What Made Him See?
[what happened to make your protagonist truly consider the new way? s/he hadn’t been willing to even think about it, but now it’s a legitimate choice; what changed? was there a dramatic breakthrough?]
Why Might He Refuse?
[even knowing what s/he knows about the benefits of the new way and the dangers of the status quo, why might s/he still choose to hold to the old way, though it destroy him?]
What Will Your Hero Decide To Do?
[which way will s/he choose? if you don’t want to decide this yet, that’s okay; but be sure to lay out at least two actual plot paths, one for each of the potential choices]
How Will This Play Out in the External Climax?
[whatever choice your hero makes in his internal moment of truth, it will have a direct bearing on how s/he behaves in the external climactic scene in the story; how will your hero go through the climax based on what choice s/he makes here?]
What Will Be Your Main Character’s Final State?
[your main character makes a choice in his or her moment of truth; this last section (often done in an epilogue) shows the results of that choice; this is the time when you illustrate the consequences or benefits (or benefits) suffered or enjoyed because of what s/he did in the moment of truth]
Summarize Your Main Character’s Status Quo
[what is the old way s/he’s clinging to? why is s/he holding to it? you may be able to draw this information from previous answers]
Summarize the New Way
[briefly describe the challenger to the status quo; again, you may refer to answers you’ve provided above]
Describe the New Way’s Escalation Path
[jot down five to ten ideas about how God (or you, as storyteller) might increase the pressure or enticement to cause the protagonist to truly consider the new way; make these steps increasingly serious and hard to resist; include the ultimate zinger s/he won’t be able to withstand: the breaker]
Describe the Main Character’s Escalating Resistance
[come up with five to ten ideas about how your protagonist would resist these changes; how would s/he avoid or defeat or shout down these challenges? what things would s/he say or think or do to cling to the status quo and get rid of this persistent irritant? make these measures more and more severe; include the ultimate extreme measure s/he might ultimately resort to if it finally came to it [hint: it will!]
What Is the Inciting Event?
[describe the thing that launches your protagonist on her journey that will ultimately bring her to the moment of truth; what is the first appearance of the new way? it could very well be one of the ideas you listed above; what is it that is “as the coming of doom” to your hero’s status quo?]
[summarize the condition the story finds your hero in; be sure to mention how the knot is visible—to the reader, if not the hero]
[summarize the tumor your main character has inside him, the thing God is going to construct this entire story to convince him to deal with]
The Inciting Event
[summarize the thing that begins your hero’s inner journey, the thing that shatters his tidy but unhealthy status quo and sets him on a collision course with destiny (cue dramatic musical flourish)]
The Escalating Arms Race
[summarize the way the challenger brings pressure to make the hero change—and the more and more desperate ways the hero tries to avoid making this change]
The Moment of Truth
[summarize that threshold moment when your protagonist stands before two doorways, fully cognizant of the benefits and costs of each choice, and steps through]
The Final State
[summarize how your hero is different at the end of the story as a result of the choice he made in the moment of truth; be sure to refer back to the initial condition as you create this scene; the two scenes are bookends and should feel similar, even in contrast]
Act II: The Heart of the Story
[describe the thing that draws you to this story idea or characters; what is the delicious chewy center of this thing for you? why do you want to write this story and not another?]
What Do You Primarily Want To Explore in This Book?
[what is the core theme you want to explore in this story? what is the key idea you want to bring out or study?]
How Could You Dramatize These?
[now that you know what is drawing you to this story and what you want to examine, brainstorm ideas for how you could play these out onstage; we’ll get more structured later; for now, just come up with some thoughts about ideas for scenes or characters or situations that might help you do the fun thing you’re hoping to do with this book]
What Else Do You Want To Do in the Heart of Your Story?
[describe the romantic elements you want to include (if romance isn’t your genre or primary story), the other sides you want to show of main characters to help us understand them, the impact of the background or setting, and ideas for scenes or situations you’d like to include]
Tying in the Escalating Arms Race
[the main thing you’ll be doing in Act II is describing your protagonist’s escalating arms race in his or her inner journey; as you think about the wonderful things you’re wanting to do with the plot and action of this story, consider how you can marry those with this arms race; specifically, brainstorm about how the external world of your story and plot can mirror your hero’s internal battle and give rise to natural opportunities to bring that battle onstage]
Act III: Extrapolating from the Middle
[considering what you’ve just answered about your Act II, what would be the ultimate way to cap off those themes and storylines? what would be the perfect scenario that would really test the themes you’re exploring during the heart of your story?]
Remember the Minors
[go back and look over the things we did first: genre, setting, era, backdrop, theme, antagonist/villain, and ticking time bomb; how will all of those things be onstage here at the moment when the stars are falling around your hero?]
Recall Your Hero’s Moment of Truth
[glance back at the inner journey portion of this worksheet; read over your main character’s moment of truth and what s/he’s going to decide in that moment; look especially at the question that asked about how s/he would behave differently in the climax of the external story based on what s/he chose in that moment of truth; now recap that here in light of what you’ve been doing in Act II, what the villain is doing, and everything else; how is your hero going to behave now when everything is falling apart?]
What Is Your Story’s Climactic Moment?
[now pull together everything you’ve just answered and come up with what you want your story’s most frenetic moment to be; describe what is going on when you picture the ultimate climax of your book; what is the climax of this ultimately cool story you’re designing?]
Act III: The Final Set Piece Sequence
[what are some ideas for the big, multi-scene sequence you might have for the climax of your book to take place in? what would be the ultimate stage or event to serve as backdrop for your story?]
Where Does Act III Begin?
[now that you have some ideas for your final sequence, when would that sequence begin? what could be the clear marker between when that sequence hasn’t started and when it has? how will you know when you’re in Act III?]
Where Does Act II End?
[what is the last thing you want to have happen in Act II, given an Act III that begins as you’ve described? what is the last thing that has to take place before Act III can begin?]
Act III: Setting Up the Climactic Moment
[you know where your Act III begins and what the climactic moment will be—now you need to connect those two dots; what needs to happen between the beginning of your Act III sequence and the climax of your book? will the hero have his or her moment of truth (inner journey) during this sequence? if so, how, where, and when? what characters need to get moved to what positions? what events need to transpire to set up that beautiful, breathless, climactic moment?]
Act III: Aftermath
[describe what happens immediately after the climactic moment]
[how does your story end? what needs to be tied off? be sure to include material from your main character’s final state from over in the inner journey section; will you have an epilogue that gives a final zinger to the story? if so, what might it be?]
Act I: Setting Up for Your Act II
[look back over what you have for the heart of your story (Act II); before you can get into that fully you need to set some things up first; what are the things you’ll need to establish before that part of the book can begin? who are the characters we need to know before you can get to the good stuff?]
[consider how you might establish your villain and the stakes and ticking time bomb in a prologue; where might you set that scene? what might be happening?]
Remember the Minors
[are there certain conventions you must apply early in your book because of the genre you’ve chosen? if so, what are they and how might you introduce those early in the book? how will you establish the setting and era, the story’s backdrop, the thing your hero wants and who or what stands in her way, and the message or theme you’re wanting to explore?]
Act I: Bringing Your Main Character Onstage the First Time
[what is your protagonist’s essential characteristic? what scene could you create that provided an opportunity to show your hero doing his ultimate thing and revealing his essential characteristic? what is really likable or heroic about him, and how could you show that in a scene? create the ultimate way to meet this character and see him in his element; don’t forget to give us at least a peak at his knot even here at the very beginning]
Bringing Your Supporting Characters Onstage
[who are you other major characters (including love interest, villain, and/or sidekick) who might benefit from a consciously crafted introductory scene to give us an immediate handle on who they are?]
Act I: Setting Up the Main Thing
[describe the things and people the reader will need to have been introduced to before she’ll be able to comprehend and care about the main part of your story, which is Act II; you can’t just begin with the fun parts—you have to do some setup first (but of course the setup should be fun too!)]
[describe the moment when everything has been introduced and the protagonist decides to commit to the main action of your story (or the moment the main action of the story captures the protagonist and forces him to commit)]
Pulling It All Together
Thumbnail Sketch of Your Hero
Describe what each one of these is for your book and how it will impact your story.
Remember to let these inform everything
Setting and Era
you fill out in the fields below.
Message or Theme
Villain and Time Bomb
[describe the scene(s) in which these are introduced]
Introduction of the Main Character
[describe how you’ll bring your hero onstage the first time; describe other characters’ introductions too]
[how does the story find your hero?]
[what is your hero’s knot? how is it visible in his or her initial condition?]
[how does the new way first appear on the scene?]
[what are the things and people that must be introduced before the main story can begin?]
Main Story Engaged
[what is the moment when the hero engages the main action of the story—or it engages the hero?]
Escalating Arms Race
[describe the increasingly desperate battle between the status quo and the new way in the heart of the protagonist]
The Heart of the Story
[describe all the things that will happen in the external plot of the story, here in the core of it; what are the great things you started writing this story to explore?]
All Is Ready for the Final Push
[what is the last thing that needs to happen before the big set piece that comprises Act III can begin?]
[describe the major multi-scene sequence that will contain your climactic moment; be sure to describe how this sequence begins and what needs to be done to set up the climactic moment]
Moment of Truth
[describe your main character’s threshold moment; outline what s/he believes about the two options open, and which one s/he will choose]
[describe that one breathless moment (or sequence) in which all has come to a head and everything hangs in the balance]
[describe what happens immediately after the climactic moment; how does that scene end?]
[describe your hero at the end of his journey; be sure to reference his or her initial condition]
[describe what needs to happen in the final chapter of the book; what might the scene be like that would tie everything off and reveal the hero’s final state? if you want to include a final zinger or twist in an epilogue, describe that here too]