Welcome to part three of the thriller outlining series.
In the first two blog posts in this series we examined the basic fundamentals of a thriller, compared and contrasted the differences between a thriller and a mystery, and learned two methods to conceptualize story ideas using the story idea generator and two books I recommend to help you brainstorm new plot ideas.
If you’re starting work on a new novel idea, and are having difficulty brainstorming an exciting idea, I recommend you start from the beginning of this series by clicking on the links above.
If you have a basic story concept ready for expansion, than this is for you.
In this post we are going to build out your concept using a Hollywood screenwriters technique, and then expand further by increasing the stakes and the consequences of failure to make your story more interesting.
You have a Story Concept, Now What?
You’ve developed a simple story concept. You might have one or two sentences or you may have as many as a few paragraphs. The purpose of this first step is to combine all of your ideas or expand on your current idea into one focused story line.
Hollywood screenwriters and authors alike use several different methods to condense their thoughts into a manageable storyline. One of my favorites is to use a movie industry method called log line.
Log line is a method that summarizes your story in one sentence. It’s a powerful method that reveals the motivations and story goal of your focus character. It’s a simple and fun way to drill down to the core of your story concept and determine if you have a complete story idea, or if you it requires more thought.
To help you get acquainted to a log line, let’s look at a few examples from some well known movies in years past.
The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.
The lives of two mob hit men, a boxer, a gangster’s wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.
Forrest Gump, while not intelligent, has accidentally been present at many historic moments, but his true love, Jenny Curran, eludes him.
You may have noticed a familiarity with the log line examples above. It’s not a coincidence that each reads in a similar pattern. The reason? Log lines are formulaic. That is, they all include the same four elements within their sentence. They each include:
- A hero
- A situation (inciting incident)
- The hero’s goal
- An antagonist
You may be thinking, aren’t log lines similar to a synopsis? The answer is no. A synopsis is a general view of a story that includes a narrative arch that summarizes what happens and who changes from the beginning to the end of the story. A synopsis is more detailed than a log line. A synopsis also includes characters names, which a log line does not.
As I mentioned earlier, log lines follow a certain formula. Because this is the case, the construction of your log line will be a simple fill in the blank. The difficulty lies in your choice of words related to the situation and the hero’s goal.
Now it’s time to create your own long line. To help you get started, I’ve dropped in three variations.
Log Line Formula’s
When [inciting incident] happens, [our hero] decides [to do action] against [antagonist].
When [INCITING INCIDENT OCCURS], a [SPECIFIC PROTAGONIST] must [OBJECTIVE], or else [STAKES].
Log lines can also include setting and conflict. This is a more detailed approach, but requires more thought.
Example 3: (setting and conflict included)
In a (setting) a (protagonist) has a (problem) (caused by an antagonist) and (faces conflict) as they try to (achieve a GOAL.)
Using the information you learned above, expand your story concept into one or all of these log line examples. Having more than one is not required, but it requires you to look at your story from a different angle, and that’s always good.
Increasing Character Stakes
I debated on whether or not I would add this portion of the germination process into our series. I have a series of questions I refer to that help me expand on my idea and increase character stakes of my hero. They’ve become an important part of my creation process. However, the issue arises in how far along a certain idea has matured and whether or not the increasing character stakes questions are something I can answer at this stage. In the end, I decided to include them here, because they are very powerful, but if you find you cannot answer them now, keep them in mind for later, because they do help.
Answer the following questions and statements about your story idea to this point:
- Write down your stories central conflict or problem.
- What would make this problem worse? Write down at least five different scenarios.
- When you’re done, ask yourself of each of the five, what would make those scenarios even worse? Write them down.
You should now have deepened the conflict in your story idea with 10 additional scenarios. If you build on each new scenario, things have definitely gotten worse for your character, and that’s a good thing! By deepening the conflict you lesson the chance your readers will see the ending coming.
Last question of the day. After completing the above exercise related to increasing character stakes, did your long line change? If so, update it now.
Next in this outlining series, we’re going to develop your characters and their motivations as it relates to your overall story plot. We’ll examine elements of a great hero and villain, and also begin to build out your side characters.
Tip: If you want to get a head start, go to the vault and download the character worksheet. It’s very detailed questionnaire to help you flesh out your main characters.
Need access to the vault? Register here
Already have access? Log in here