The more I read, the more I noticed the pattern of certain writers. I started analyzing their books and applied the results to general writing components. The goal here was to determine how many words these writers used for the introduction, the buildup, the plot points, the climax, the end, and so on. I discovered something fascinating. All of the writers wrote with a fair amount of consistency with regards to the number of words contained in each writing component.
As I read through various books, I marked the pages where, for example, the introduction ended and the plot began to turn. I noted what type of change took place at each point in the story. Compiling my findings led me to generating an outline that I use to compose my own stories. It works for me and I share it here with the hope that it works for you, as well.
I am a short story writer, so for the purpose of this tip, I will show my tip for outlining a short story of 5,000 words.
Here we go!
First, Break Your Story Into Three Parts
You must have a beginning, middle and end. First, describe what happens at the end of your story. Then, describe the beginning of your story. Finally, describe what is happening in the middle of your story.
Let the middle of the story be the place in the tale where you begin to direct your readers to the basic point of your story. By the time you get to approximately 2,500 words (of a 5,000 word story), start leading your readers toward the most exciting moment in your story (known in the writing world as the climax).
Next, Outline Your Story
I created a graphic image as a visual aid to help you outline your story. Use the graphic image as a quick guide to direct you through your outline.
Now, let’s see what it takes to write a 5,000 word short story. Write a one or two sentence description of each component in the outline. Pay attention to the word count expectation, but don’t get hung up on being exactly right on the mark. Depending on your story, you may need to write more in one component than another. That’s alright. The outline is not a rule. You do not have to adhere to it strictly. Use the outline as a guide to help move your story along.
After writing a brief description for each component, begin to build your story. The beauty of having an outline and anticipated word count expectation is that you can write any part of the story in any order, and then place it all together, smoothing out the seams where they connect, creating an even flow from one component to the other.
As you move through the components, answer questions that are pertinent to your story.
Introduce the primary character and the initial scene. Who or what is your story about? What does your character look like? Where does your story take place?
Use approximately 312 words for the introduction. At the end of this component, the word count for your story should be approximately 312 words.
Build a secondary element to your story. This can be a secondary location or character. It’s your story, so, you decide. Where does your main character go? Who does your main character meet? How or why do the characters know each other?
Use approximately 312 words to build the secondary element. At the end of this component, the word count for your story should be approximately 624 words.
Initiate an Incident
Initiate an incident between the primary character and the secondary location or character. This incident does not have to be anything major, but it should at least be some sort of conflict or angst. What happens that irritates the primary character? What does the secondary character do to change the status quo of the primary character?
Use approximately 312 words to initiate an incident. At the end of this component, the word count for your story should be approximately 936 words.
This is the main part of your story. Build intensity as you ramp up toward the most dramatic part of your story. This is where you will spend the most time being creative. Make a lot of stuff happen. In building intensity, this is where you may add additional locations, incidents, and characters. Create peaks and valleys, each time, inching toward the highest point of your story. Who or what else comes into the primary character’s life and what is the foreseeable outcome of this meeting? What is this meeting leading toward?
Use approximately 3,235 words to build intensity. At the end of this component, the word count for your story should be approximately 4,171 words.
This is the climax! This is the point of your story where it all explodes or comes together – whatever you decide. This is the most dramatic and highest point of your story. It must be the most exciting thing that happens in your story. It must be the most compelling, include the most drama, and have the most emotion in your story. It must be the worst that can happen or the best that can happen in your story.
Use approximately 200 words to write the climax. At the end of this component, the word count for your story should be approximately 4,371 words.
Ramp down. Your readers have been on a magical ride. They are riled up and need to come down from the high you just delivered to them. Take them down easily. There is a solution to the turmoil you created for them, now ease them into the solution slowly.
Use approximately 380 words to ramp down. At the end of this component, the word count for your story should be approximately 4,751 words.
Write the resolution between the main character and the location and/or secondary or subsequent characters. The resolution is not meant to excite the readers. It is meant to bring the readers to a place of satisfaction – peace. It is the end of the story. This is what your readers have been waiting for.
Use approximately 249 words for the resolution. At the end of this component, the word count for your story should be approximately 5,000 words.
Adjusting the Outline to Fit Your Word Count Needs
I am a short story writer. Generally, my word count is less than 5,000 words. Sometimes, like my first published novel, “The Mountain of Love,” I wrote about 8,000 words. If the word count for the book you intend to write is more than 5,000 words, you can easily adjust this outline to coincide with the word count you prefer.
First, calculate the percentages.
If you are writing an 80,000 Total Word Book, first calculate the percentage of the total book for each component. For example:
312 Words for the Introduction ÷ 5,000 Total Word Book = .06
(312 words = 6% of 5,000 words).
Then, .06 X 80,000 Total Word Book = 4,800 Words for the Introduction
(4,800 words = 6% of 80,000 words).
Continue finding the percentages for each component and apply those percentages to your proposed word count.
Then, add up the number of words to configure the Word Count Goal.
After calculating the percentages, jot down the numbers and add them together, building the word count as you input the numbers into the component cell.
For example, in the above example using an 80,000 Total Word Book, do this:
Introduction is 0-4,800 Word Count Goal (remember from the previous calculations)
Then, add 4,800 to the calculation for the next component. In this case, the number calculated for the next component (Build Secondary) is 4,800. So add 4,800 to 4,800 to get a word count goal for Build Secondary.
Build Secondary is 4,800 + 4,800 = 9,600 Word Count Goal
Continue adding the words for each component until you have added a total of 80,000 words.
More About the Outline
Don’t stress yourself out if your book strays from the outline. Remember, there are no strict rules to how long each component should be. The outline shared in this blog is compiled from reading many books and analyzing those books to determine what percentage of the book do famous writers attribute to various components of their work. Some writers spend more time on the introduction and less time on the buildup. The outline I composed is basically an overall average.
You are the writer; therefore, you are the master of your creation. Use the outline or don’t use the outline. Modify the outline to suit your needs. Whatever you do, write.
My next blog post will be a tip about the word count used to classify the various types of books. Until then, happy writing!