12 Days of Planning Your Novel: Story Inspiration

Are you stuck planning your novel outline? Try watching your favorite show for some story inspiration.

At this point in my series, 12 Days of Planning Your Novel, you probably have a pretty good outline but you might be wondering if you have enough ideas to write a full length novel. Don’t worry! The next few posts in this series will provide you with a few more ways you can add scenes to your outline, so when it comes time to write your novel, you’ll have plenty to work from.

Today, I want to share an idea I learned from author Geoff Shaw through his Udemy course Reverse Engineer Riveting Fiction and Write Best Selling Books. As the name of his class suggests, Geoff recommends starting with a finished product (a piece of riveting fiction) and working backwards.

I highly recommend Geoff’s class, so I’m not going to give away everything in this post, but I do want to touch on these four steps to help you beef up your novel outline.

Step 1: Find a Piece of Riveting Fiction

Think about some of your favourite shows (preferably in the genre you are currently working in). You can use a movie, but Geoff recommends choosing a TV show because they are typically organized in a four act structure similar to Larry Brooks’s four-act story structure. Ever notice how commercials typically cut a one-hour show into quarters? That’s not a coincidence.

If you can’t think of a show in your genre, check out the Internet Movie Database at www.imdb.com.

If you need a few more scenes in your novel outline before you start writing, try these four steps to reverse engineer riveting fiction.

Step 2: Break it Down

Now you’re going to watch the show you’ve chosen and write down what happens, essentially creating the outline for the show. Be sure and note what time in the show each event takes place. This will help you with the pacing of your own outline.

Step 3: Identifying the Four Quarters

Larry Brooks’s four-act structure consists of:

  1. The Set Up - We are introduced to the characters and what’s at stake for the hero or heroine.

  2. The Response - The protagonist’s response to whatever is preventing them from achieving their goal and how they are going to handle whatever conflict is introduced.

  3. The Attack - The protagonist takes action on whatever they’ve been plotting in “the response” stage.

  4. The Resolution - The hero solves the major problem (or discovers something new) and is changed in the process.

Go through the notes you made in Step 2 and figure out where each of the four acts ends.

Step 4: Create Your Own Outline

Now that you’ve reverse-engineered the outline for the show you chose, you’re going to create an outline for your novel based on the scenes and major plot points that occurred in the show, but considering the characters and plot points you already have in your own novel outline.

The point of this exercise isn’t to start from scratch, you’ve already got the start of a great outline. This exercise will give you some ideas of scenes you might be missing in your outline so you can add them before you start writing your novel. After you are finished this exercise and have added any extra scenes you need, you should be able to see the four act structure shaping up in your outline.

I thought this was a fun little trick from Geoff that you can use to make sure you’ve got all the necessary scenes to ensure your novel’s success in your genre. Also, the more scenes you have in your outline, the easier it’s going to be when you start writing your novel.

If you’re interested in finding out more details on how to reverse engineer riveting fiction, you can find Geoff Shaw’s class here on Udemy.