The hook in John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller is that when a piece of fiction doesn’t “work,” or the writer feels blocked, the likely culprit lies in the structure of the story, in an element that the writer hasn’t thought through. Instead of hand-waving through the concept of structure, Truby takes a hard stance on what makes a piece of writing a story. Whether or not you agree with his stance, each component in this structure is worth serious thought when you craft your fiction. And while writing in a state of exploratory “not-knowing” can produce some good results, my first experience with NaNoWriMo taught me that starting with an outline keeps you on track when on a deadline.
For outlines of any sort, Workflowy rules my world. I use it for everything from note taking to to-do lists to project plans to professional journaling. It’s also nifty for writing fiction. I create items for each scene, use @ tags for each character, hashtag each plot line, and rearrange and filter the scenes as I figure out the best sequence. It’s a slick way to restructure a story without cutting and pasting big blocks of text. Workflowy has proven to be a great way to brainstorm through John Truby’s 22 Steps as well.
I made a stab at extracting the concepts of The Anatomy of Story into a Workflowy outline. It pays to read Truby’s book — he provides precise definitions and exhaustive examples of each element — but after you’ve done that, you’ll want a more concise cheat sheet. I’ve tried to provide this in the Workflowy outline. And as Workflowy allows you to share sections of your document with a read-only link, I’ve made this outline public. Just duplicate it into your own Workflowy document (or export it as rich text into an editor) and fill in the sections. I’ve found this works best after you’ve written into your piece a bit, captured a few of the most interesting ideas, and are searching for how to grow them into an actual story. Use the outline as a checklist of questions you ought to think through to ensure your story is structurally sound.