The idea behind the shape is to get a sense of how your story feels. There’s no one true shape that works for every story, but you do want to make sure you can generate interest beyond the opening. It’s generally not a good idea to use your best ideas to begin with, but to build up to the most interesting and deliver a breathtaking climax.

With the premise worked out, it’s time to take the other ideas you have for the story, and produce an outline. Some people prefer to write this out as prose, but for me the most effective method has been to jot down a ten-point plan. Each point is limited to a specific, but also important, event. The points should always progress the plot, whether it is causing complications, resolving conflicts, or moving the story in a different direction. These are the vitals, or the spine of your story. There may be other ideas you have, tangents to the core story, but those may not belong anywhere in this story.

What the ten-point plan isn’t, is the Hero’s Journey. No. Bad Writer! You might choose to use that to come up with your list of events, but this is more about thinking up what happens. First up, think about what your characters want. We have the initial situation, so what’s going to happen? Where’s the complication that makes things worse. What’s going to break your characters? One thing you might note, is that the list of ten points here actually diverts from what our premises were, and that’s okay. See, no, the premise is not unalterable!

  • The Dandelion Trap
    1. Clara Bogden working in a lab, stuck for progress. Clara’s niece visits, gives her a dandelion. Eureka!
    2. The team went ahead with the design. Profits up!
    3. A mass murder occurs in an idyllic village. The culprit was a patient.
    4. One of the techs analyses the implant, finds no fault, but it happens again. In the lab!
    5. The team still has that gifted dandelion preserved in a glass cabinet. They analyse it. Something is wrong.
    6. There are imperfections in the design, but there might be a fail-safe.
    7. There is a trigger code in the neuron. They’re not just helping brain function. They can control it.
    8. The network of artificial neurons created a self-aware AI, and they’re in countless human heads.
    9. Many are affected, at various levels of government and military, but also in denial. Nobody thinks they’re being controlled.
    10. Can the neurons be disabled remotely? Is the fail-safe active? Who is affected and who is still fully human?
  • The Dandelion Empire
    1. A letter on a rainy morning. Suzie opens it. Her father has passed.
    2. The funeral. The toy empire bequeathed to Suzie. The place where he died.
    3. First night at the factory, discovers Bragin on the conveyor belt. Snaps it up.
    4. Enquires about the Snarfles with the executive board. They’re confused, but miscommunication leads to a new advertising campaign.
    5. The Snarfles are best-sellers, and there’s soon a Lorsa in every home.
    6. A travel journalist realises that the country is strangely devoid of dandelions.
    7. Suzie discovers the Snarfles aren’t just toys. Confronts Bragin.
    8. Bragin confesses his plan, which is already underway. Whoever controls the dandelions controls the world.
    9. As the Lorsa fleet arrives, ready to destroy everything, Bragin realises he loves Suzie.
    10. Suzie gives Bragin an ultimatum. Either he not destroy the entire Earth, or she won’t date him.
  • Kiss of the Dandelion
    1. The bells toll. The queen is ill.
    2. Royal Guards burst into the tavern, and drag the disgraced alchemist to the castle.
    3. Alchemist sent to the neighbouring village, where savage woman is kept locked up.
    4. A dancer calls on the woman, presents her with a dandelion.
    5. Alchemist suspects it’s not a natural immunity, but something to do with the flower.
    6. Alchemist falls ill, but for some reason the disease is held at bay.
    7. The queen passes, and the princeling King sentences the alchemist to death.
    8. The King’s betrothed falls ill before the sentence has passed.
    9. The alchemist must concoct a potion to save her life, as well as his own.
    10. A bloom of dandelions outside his cell/workshop tells him what he needs.
  • Dandelion: The Benjamin Gunderson Story
    1. Benny in his prime.
    2. Sabotage! A rival ruins his vichyssoise-infused rabbit pie!
    3. Benny is out on his ass, but his assistant still believes in him.
    4. The recipe in the museum! But… how?
    5. A failed burglary attempt. This is going to take more than that.
    6. The curator is a friend of the Queen of Quiche. Benny is going undercover at Baxter-Farrow’s Quiche Palace to steal a museum pass!
    7. Emily Baxter-Farrow has taken all of Lanningpool’s dandelions. Penelope suspects that Emily had switched recipes.
    8. Benny is refused entry to the annual pie festival. The officials have been bribed.
    9. Penny and Benny find a technicality in the by-laws, and the entry can go ahead.
    10. The cook-off. Benny hasn’t had time to test the recipe. Does he follow it, or go off-script?

Remember, unless this guide says otherwise, the outline is sacrosanct!

The Short Version:

You need a list of ten events that summarise the major shifts in the story. They should be short enough to allow improvisation, and can be uncertain in their outcomes.

Previous: The Shape

Next: The Closer

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