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Write Your Book: Start Strong and Get It Done

Lesson 14 of 21

Write a Two-Tier Outline


Write Your Book: Start Strong and Get It Done

Lesson 14 of 21

Write a Two-Tier Outline


Lesson Info

Write a Two-Tier Outline

Now we come to a really big lesson in story structure, which is about the two-tier outline. So this is a thing that I made up. And I made it up because I saw some problems in the way that outlining is done, and I wanted a more nimble way. So most outlines are just you follow the plot. So that thing that we draft, right, that's the outline. And we start filling in scenes and knowing what's gonna be in that structure. But what it misses is that whole second tier, which is, why does it matter? Why does it matter to the character, why does it matter to the reader, the whole emotional underpinning. And that's, the two together create a cause and effect trajectory that puts the narrative drive all the way through. And this might sound a little confusing but I'm gonna explain it and show you exactly what I mean. So the problem with just plotting it out on the graph the way we did it, is that all we get then is the what. Remember, in the story, you want who it happens to, what happens, why it ...

matters. If we just plot it out, all we get is the what, we get the straight up plot structure. This happened and then this happened, and this happened, and this happened. It's not a story that's gonna sustain our attention. So there are a lot of systems that come at story from a total plot perspective. They tend to be very grid like, they tend to be very rigid, they tend to look at, they have these very strict rules like, well, at page 120 this thing has to happen, or, they're very external. And they tend to result in stories that are very flat. There's dramatic things that go on, but that whole underpinning of why we should care just goes missing. The problem with not plotting at all and doing what's called pantsing, that's the term that is often used in writing, like it's the seat of my pants, I'm just gonna go by the seat of my pants. I'm just gonna write the story, I'm just gonna go forward, I'm gonna write my way to a solution. The problem with that is that what goes missing there is the logic. The, if you're building a world, maybe the logic is not in there. If you don't know where the ending point is, we just did this whole thing on the starting and ending point, if you don't know where you're aiming, like we did with Jennie's example with the pregnancy, you could aim anywhere. You could end up in a million different places but is that the place that's gonna help you tell your story? So pantsing, and I can speak with a lot of authority about this, I've written a lot of books this way, just sort of winging it. And it's hard. And it takes, I can promise you that it takes so much more time to do it this way. It can work. You can write your way to a good book, I have done it. It just takes a really long time. Because you're doing 250 pages, and then you step back and you look at it, and you think, oh, that's not really what I wanted to say, that's not really the point I wanted to make. That's not really the journey I wanted to go on, this is not really right. So you throw it out, or you save a little piece of it and then you do it again. And you know, it takes you four years, and then you finally get something that holds together. So it works, it's just extremely inefficient. And I think that one of the reasons that pantsing kinda has a hold on our imagination, goes back to that idea of the genius in the attic. And a lot of our most revered writers who are most successful writers in the marketplace, have a kind of genius where they can do this. And they have a kind of native intelligence where they can sit down and kick out an amazing story without doing the sort of intentional work that the rest of us have to do, but there's not many people who could do it. And I would suggest that if you were one of those people, you probably already know it, and you're probably already doing it. So I always say, if it's working for you, keep doing it. If it's not working for you, you might wanna think of a different method. So the method that I teach is this two-tier outline where we marry together the plot and the point. They're in a hierarchy, they're linked together, one can't exist without the other. So the way to think of this is just to do it one step at a time, scene by scene. So, here's an example from a book that one of my clients is working on about a chicken restaurant food war in Kansas City with these two sisters. So the scene, this is the plot, this is what happens. Amanda is frantically searching for evidence of the original chicken recipe, because everybody thinks that she's stolen it. The point, the whole reason this scene exists is because she's lost, there's no one she can trust, she's realized that she's screwed up everything, she's made a big mistake. So we've got just a simple scene, something that happens, and then we've got, why are we even being told the thing? Why does it matter? What point does it make in the whole story? And we can do this again, I pulled this from one of Jocelyn's novels because Jocelyn has been coached by some of my coaches for a while so I have access to all of Jocelyn's writing and she's kind enough to share it. But the scene here is Lilly is at the Noodle Shack. She's eating dinner, and she gets a call from the bar, her father's drunk, she has to go get him. That's the plot. And if we just have that, it's sort of like, okay, alright, that's a thing that happens. But why does it matter? The point is, in this scene Lilly knows something's really wrong, my dad hasn't had a drink in years, he stopped drinking after mom left. Something's happened. He wouldn't be at the bar unless something bad has happened. Did he get fired? What if he's sick, what if he's dying? So this is now marrying the scene and the point together. And then what we do is we sketch out the whole book like that. So we take that graphed line, those high and low points, and we start sketching it out like this and we begin to get a whole spine for the story, that's what the two-tier outline does. So there's a couple rules for doing your own two-tier outline. No more than two pages total, which is incredibly difficult, on purpose. So back to that idea about clay. I want this to be really nimble. I want you just to have the bare bones of the structure of your story so that we can see, is there something missing in the middle? Is the end resolving the thing that happens in the beginning? Does the structure hold? So no more than two pages total, and I get every single time I teach this, and I've taught this a lot, I get people saying, I can't possibly do that because my story is 700 pages long, my story is multi-generational, multi-POV, multi whatever the thing is, I can't possibly do it. And I would say, you can, and I have seen every writer ultimately do this. It goes back to the idea we were talking about about boundaries, putting boundaries around things in order to understand them better. So we're doing this on purpose to make it very very reductive, we're just going down to this very base level idea of the shape of your story so that we can see it, and you'll see how we can see it. The other rule is no more than two lines per bullet. Now in those other examples I saw 'cause they were on the screen they were a little bit more than that, and you can fudge this a little bit, but what I don't want is pages and pages or paragraphs and paragraphs for each bullet, because now you're just explaining. You're just dumping information. We want just the idea, what happens, why does it matter? Just the simple two ideas. And then this is the key to the whole thing. What I wanna do is I wanna look at your two-tier outline and see this cause and effect trajectory where one scene causes the next to happen. They have to be locked in together. If you took one scene out, the whole thing wouldn't work. So it's, this causes this causes this causes this, and the reason we need that, there's so many reasons we need that. But this is gonna bake in the fact that your character has agency. They're making decisions, they're making choices, they're on their own path. Things are not just happening to them. That cardboard cut-out idea we looked at before, this is how we avoid that. Is we want your character to be at a crossroads, to make decisions, to make a mistake, to make things worse, we want to see them have agency. And if we don't have this, what we get are these stories where dramatic stuff happens, but it's not anchored to anything that has to do with that protagonist and what they want, and what they're trying to get. The other reason that we want this is the whole narrative drive of the story. So narrative drive is just that engine that's chugging along when you're reading a story. You've all had the experience where you've read a book and you cannot put it down. And you turn the chapter and you think, okay, just one more. I'm just gonna read one more. And you can't stop because it's just, there's this engine that's just chugging. That's narrative drive, and it comes from this, where you're saying in your head, what's gonna happen? And what you're looking for is what action is that protagonist gonna take to get out of this situation? What's the next decision they're gonna make? What's the next problem they're gonna solve, we want to see people struggling with it. Which is why we design the protagonist to have a problem they're struggling with. They want something, and they can't get it. So if we don't have those foundational things in place, what your outline of your book is gonna look like is one of those giant plot things where just all this stuff happens that's totally disconnected from the point, or it's gonna be just some massive explainy thing that is not useful at all. So are there any questions about the rules? Yeah, we got two questions, so let's see one. Let's start with one. Quick question. Yeah. With the two-tier outline, do you want it to be, 'cause if there's subplots or other details going on padding those scenes and points throughout, or should it just be, just that outline, for that main action? So it's a great question. So when I'm coaching a writer, I always make people start with two pages, the barest bones possible, the graph, the shape, the beginning, the end, let's just get those in place. Once you have those in place, the way that I teach this two-tier outline is it becomes a living, breathing, roadmap for your novel. So that means that, let's say you're writing forward and you're on chapter five, and you have a revelation and you do something new and it like, has an impact on all the other things to come. You go back to the two-tier outline and you bake it into that, so that you've codified it almost, and what happens is it tends to grow. So I'm working with someone right now on a very complex sci-fi, multiple POV, giant thing. And her two-tier outline, she did the two pages just like the rules are. And then she started seeding in all the rest of the things and the different layers and it became eight pages, and then it became 14 pages. And as she writes forward, it's a living, breathing document, and it captures that iterative nature. So here's the thing you guys. Writing a novel is an incredibly complex intellectual undertaking. Or a memoir, a book length narrative. It is very very complex. There are so many things going on. And to hold them all in your head is ridiculous. It's not possible. And to put them all down in some rigid format is also not possible, 'cause that's not the way creativity works. Creativity moves and flows and you have inspiration. I was actually listening to a talk by Malcolm Gladwell about his creative process, and he was talking about this exact thing, and he just was so beautiful the way he was describing it where he's researching something, and then he just follows this idea and this spark, and then it sparks this other thing, and that grows, and that's exactly how it works, and you want a thing to capture all that. To capture all the ideas in your head, and that's what I use this for. So I like to insist that it start out very spare, but then it absolutely can grow. Does that answer the question? Yes. And did that answer your question? No. Okay, well we have just a little second for your question, and then we'll move on. Okay, quick question on the second bullet point. When you'd say point, is that internal? Yeah, exactly. Why does this matter to the character, what is the point of this scene even being here? What is the point showing, what is it showing inside, yeah. So like, going to the misbelief. Yeah. Okay. So the way to think about this cause and effect trajectory in this causal nature that gives a narrative drive. This is an exercise, I call it the because of that exercise, and it's not mine, it's from Pixar. So, Pixar and their unbelievable storytelling process is captured in a book by Ed Catmull who was one of the founders, Creativity Inc. is the book and he talks about the Pixar brain trust. And the brain trust is very much like being coached. It's being in with some extremely high level storytellers and story analysts to help with your story. And this is the basic structure that Pixar uses for story. And it captures a little bit what we're talking about, the beginning and the end point, the narrative drive. So this idea, once upon a time there was something. There was a day before this was a story. Life was going on as normal. Every day, some normal thing was happening. And then one day, that's when our story starts. One day something happens and because of that, some other thing happens, because of that, some other thing happens, until finally, there's a resolution. And ever since that day, this is the new person. So this captures the arc of change, it captures the protagonist becoming someone new, seeing the world with new eyes, all of that. And it's just this nimble, simple, fantastic little exercise, and if you start with this and then you translate it to the two-tier outline where you take each one of the because of thats and you make it the scene and the point. You're gonna have an incredibly powerful roadmap for your whole story. So this is just a little version of the two-tier outline that you can start with, and keep it really small. Keep it as spare and simple as you can. You wanna be able to see this and see that it's a whole thing, it's got that shape. This is showing us the structure, and once you see that then you can plot it out and marry the two points together and it's gonna be great. So with the two-tier outline I always say, don't cheat. (laughs) Everybody always wants to cheat. They make their fonts really small, they make their margins really small, they do all kinds of crazy things, which I think is always so funny 'cause they think that we're not gonna notice. (laughs) But editors look at pages all day long, and we look at standard, I can tell you in a heartbeat if something's not. I was once working with my daughter on her resume, and I was reading it, and I said, well, it looks great except for those two lines are 10 point font, not 11 point, and the whole rest of your thing is 11 point. And she looked at me like, how do you know that? Like, this is what I do all day long. So don't cheat, because you're actually only gonna be cheating yourself. And I suggest that people take about 60 minutes to do this, which is ridiculously short. But again, we're trying to not belabor. We're trying to not be perfect. We're trying to work with clay, like just throw the pot on the wheel, make the pot, and let's see how it looks, and then you can step back and think, okay, how can we make this better? And with the two-tier outline, we can work literally for days on it, and we actually do. With my personal clients, I often go back and forth on the two-tier outline five, six, seven, eight times until we get it right, because this will solve every story problem before you actually start writing. It's really super fantastic. Would you recommend, 'cause the two-tiered outline was probably the hardest part of the workbook for me, would you recommend that you start small, with like, here's my opening, my turning points, and my end, would you recommend you go four pages and cut it down, do you work from the outside in, or the inside out, how do you recommend getting a handle on this? That's a really good question. And I think it just depends on what feels good to you. I know, you're like, that's not helpful. If you wanted me to tell you what I would do, what I would do is I would do the start and end point of your story, make sure those are locked in and you've nailed those down. Then draw a graph. I would do it, Jocelyn showed us, and label the graph. So now you've got four or five, maybe six points. Because they're the high points, they're the low points, they're the beginning, they're the end. And I would just start with those. And do a two-tier outline just for those. What is the scene? Meaning, what happens, what's the plot, what are we watching unfold? And then the point underneath it. Why does it matter? How does that resolve into the whole? How does it help us with that meaning, with that deep layer of meaning? And just start very small, and then look back on your graph and say, okay, between these two points, this has to happen. Or this other thing has to happen. Now with a memoir what's really interesting is you're choosing from nine million stories that actually happened, and which one is gonna help you make that point the best. Which one is gonna be the best iteration of that thing that you need to show or you need to have happen? You know, you probably went to the doctor five million times. We don't wanna go with you to the doctor five million times. You know, that's not an interesting story. We want the ones that show us your decision making, how are you resilient in the face of this horrific thing? How did you keep your hope up? What helped you do that, and to pick the moments that help with that and start placing those on the graph and building it out. That's what I would do. Until you get to two pages, and then you can step back and look at your two pages and think, do I like this? Is this the story I wanted to tell? Go back to your point and think, does this reflect the point that I wanted to make? Is it in there, do I see it, do I feel it? Does it have that arc of change? And you ask those questions of your little spare outline, and then you might, we're gonna look at one in a minute where you're gonna see, we might have to take out the whole middle. (laughs) So you're gonna kind of analyze it. Does that help a little bit? (student speaks indistinctly) Okay, well a little is better than none. Was there a question back here? Yeah, it's just kind of a follow up to that. 'Cause I did my two tiers. And I had a bunch of blobs, like you drew on the board. So now what? Yeah, it's a really good question. Okay, so if you have a bunch of, and I say this a lot, info dumps, or random things that happen, or in the case of a memoir I'll get people saying, but that really happened. Those things really happened. That's not a good criteria for story. A story is manipulated, a story is curated, a story you select what you want to say. So knowing that, you would look at each individual blob and you would think, how do I connect this? So everything wants to be connected. The scene that happens wants to be connected to a point, and each scene wants to be connected to each other. So these chains of connection. So what I would start doing is looking at, how come it's not connected to the next thing? The next thing is random, it sort of comes out of the blue, can it connect? Can I tie them together, can this thing cause the next thing to happen? And I'm gonna show you, hopefully, an example of that. But ask, you had another? No, no, no, that's good, it's a good start because I'm realizing that some of my stories say the same thing, so I can cut those down. Totally, and that's exactly what you're gonna see, is you're gonna see like, oh wow, these five scenes do exactly the same thing. That's why I make the point in there. Because without it the plot, it may look really dramatic, like, ooh, dramatic thing happens, dramatic thing happens, other dramatic thing happens, but you look at the point and it's like, oh, it's the same point. Yeah. And it's like, okay, we only need one of those. And then, why do we need one of those? Well we need it because it drives to this next thing. So we're gonna connect it on. So let me show you an example of that. I'm gonna go, this is back to Jocelyn, who is really kind to let us show this. (laughter) Or foolish. Or she didn't have a choice and I made her, one of those things. She's very kind. So let me give a little overview of what Jocelyn is writing so we know what this two-tier outline is about. And then you can correct me if I butcher this, Jocelyn. So this is a YA story. It's about a girl, a 17 year old girl who has cancer, and everyone thinks she's going to die. And then she doesn't die. She has an experience in the hospital where she awakens, and she doesn't have cancer anymore, and it's a miracle, and everyone's going, yay, except for her. She's going, wait a minute. I'm not dead, I don't have cancer, I don't really feel like I am who I was before, I don't think something is right here in this world. And then there are some things that happen where she grapples with that and tries to figure that out, and makes some choices, and the point that you're trying to make is about, be who you are, not who other people want you to be. So that's the underpinning. Did I get that right? Perfect, yes. Okay. See, you did a really good job of conveying it if I was able to get that. So what we have here in the two-tier outline is first of all I would like to praise Jocelyn because you can see it really was only two pages. Good job. You can also see, I mean, they're little. These are little, they're just a couple lines. And you can see as we proceed, so here's this opening scene. Audrey's getting ready for school, putting on clothes she hates. That's a plot, we can see that, it's a scene that happens. What's the point, why do we care? It introduces Audrey to the reader, what she survived, and that she doesn't thing think, think things, wow, that's hard to say. She doesn't think things are all right with her. Who am I, am I crazy? This is just a perfect example of a two-tier outline. It's a thing that happens, and why are we paying attention to it? What is it showing us, why does it matter to this character? Well it matters because she's doing a regular thing, going to school, but she hates these clothes, and she doesn't know who she is. Like that's pretty profound. And if we think about the start and the end points, well now we know, okay, this character is either going to figure out who she is, and come to terms with it, or she's not. That's the journey that we are going to go on. So we can get a sense of the shape or structure of the story. So here I made a comment, what we want is for these events to cause the next scene, what does experiencing this force Audrey to do or understand? So immediately I see no cause and effect trajectory. (laughs) I don't either! She's grimacing over there. So what happens is, Audrey's at school. People treat her carefully, they avoid her in the halls, they talk about her behind her back. A girl who had been her friend before is awkward around her, it's revealed that Audrey has forgotten this girl's birthday, she's forgotten a lot of things. Audrey, because she's been through this huge traumatic thing. And the point is, she's the girl who survived cancer, she doesn't wanna be treated differently, doesn't wanna be constantly reminded of who she used to be or who she should be. So the reason I made a comment here that immediately we lose the cause and effect trajectory is because it's that so what, right? So, she gets dressed, she hates it, she wonders if she's crazy, she goes to school, and it's just stuff that happens. Do you see that? I'm sorry. (laughs) That's okay, that's why I'm here! Right? It's just some more stuff that happens. And it's interesting. Like of course she doesn't wanna be the girl who survived cancer, that's interesting, that's good. And of course she doesn't wanna be treated differently. But it doesn't move anything forward. Nothing happens as a result. So we go on and it gets worse. (laughter) So I said, same thing here. This one, this feels totally disconnected. Can she do something, can she have some agency, can she make a choice? Here's my famous, and so? What does this realization mean to her, do for her, cause her to do? So it's kind of what you were saying back here, the same thing, right? Here Audrey, things happen, there's some drama that happens, she wakes up in the hospital, she was brought in having a seizure, doctors can't find anything wrong that would provoke a hallucination, her parents are there, they're worried the tumor is back. The mother wants the hospital to keep her for observation, the doctor agrees. Like we get some medical drama going on. But so what? So what? Poor Audrey. And she's afraid she's losing her mind, well guess what, she was afraid of that in scene one. So now we have four or five scenes where nothing has happened to drive it forward. Nothing has, what we want is for her to make some decision, take some action, take some kind of stand, do something, to make it worse for her own self. And then, and I know, I mean you're just so nice to let us go through this whole thing. (laughter) But okay. So this is the logic thing, when I said, your book coach, if you purchased the book coaching, this is exactly the kind of thing you're gonna get. We're just great at poking holes in things. So like, this stranger comes into her hospital room and is the first person who reflects to her, actually something has happened to me. Here's a guy who understands that. But I'm like, why would she let a random strange man come into her hospital room, and why would she believe him? So that's just like one of those logic things, like, no, we don't buy that. We don't. So if that's gonna happen, you need to bake in somewhere why she would do that. And that you could do that. So if you want that to happen, it's so fine, but you need to build in that logic. Does that make sense? Yeah. And you can see in my note there, I can see, I instinctively know it's falling apart. Okay, so I love this so much about your two-tier outline. Okay. You know how when you go to the doctor, and often times, like you just tell them what's wrong with you, even if it's some esoteric thing, like you know what's wrong with you? Then they have to do all the tests and all the things to prove that they, but you're like, I knew that. It's like this. Writers almost always know when they're not getting it. But you've gotta trust that instinct. I mean you almost always know. So TK is a term that is a proofreaders term, and Jocelyn knows it because she has been in our coaching before, it means, to come. Something to come. It means, I don't know something so I'm just gonna put TK in here. And it's actually really kind of cool, the reason that this is the term that is used is because TK does not appear in the English language. So you can search your whole document for TKs and find where there's holes, so that's why we use it. But yeah, you totally knew. That's why I like this. Well I just kept throwing stuff at the wall. At that point it's like, okay, I know this is not working but I just throw some more at the wall. So Audrey needs to be a primary catalyst of getting information. Yes. And you totally have the solution. Right there, which is great. And I was asking, so Audrey has to meet and chat with one of the other, there's like a spiritual supernatural thing going on, that she has been sort of co-opted into. Now it's taken us way too long to get to that. Yes. So we, it's kind of a thriller, there's the thriller ish thing. And you wanna know, the wolf wants to be at the door way at the beginning. So she can wake up, go to school, hate what she's wearing, think she's crazy, but we want right away, there's a glimmer of, something's not right, right? And then, so she has to meet, so I say, who, why, who's forcing her? What's compelling her? That's the author imposing her plot on the story. Like, now this cool thing will happen. And it's like, no, we want her, and you said it, we want her to be figuring it out. Her to be doing something. Her to take some action. And she learns that the guy in her hospital room is a bad guy, and it's like, well duh. I say, she learns this too easily and possibly too easily in the story. Right. So, we want her to struggle, and fight, and figure this out. So what this girl wants is to know who she is, and is she still her own self, and what is identity? Huge questions, right? And who am I if I'm not who I am? And so we want her to be like, working and struggling and figuring it out, and how am I gonna get this, and earning it, not just like, and now somebody should come in and tell her, right? Right. I know. It's so hard. So then we continue on. (Jocelyn laughs) So here, I say, so she figures out that the guy is a bad guy, she's not going to be or do what he wants her to do. And I said, I think this should come before she learns of his intentions. So if she learns he's a bad guy, and then she's like, well I don't wanna do what the bad guy says, like so what? What we want is for the 17 year old to be like, I don't like this guy, something about him creeps me out, and I'm not gonna do what he says. And then learn he's a bad guy, 'cause then she's like, I'm awesome, right? That's what we want, we want her to earn it, so she can have agency. And then (laughs) I love this. I love this so much. I love this, this is my favorite thing. Something something. (Jocelyn laughs) It's very technical. Something something. She finds out she's really a fragment of the bad guy. TK. Okay, this is so great, because like, why not? Like why not do it, you don't know. So that's a great thing, you don't know. Now you know you don't know. And you need something in there, you need to go back to your world building, back to your point, back to your why and figure out what is the something something. Because guess what, that's your whole story. Right. (laughter) The something something is her whole story. And it's just completely not on the page. And I say, good, but what does she do as a result? So what I just love about this is you know. You're so good. You know. It's like in black and white that you know that you don't know, right? (laughter) So all you have to do is go figure that out and go back and just a couple of steps. What does she do? Right. How does she figure it out? You know, think about all the great quest stories. How they figure it out. They dig, they go to a magic library, they go to a great sorcerer on the hill, like whatever the thing. She gets a sign, gets a headache and it turns out she has a vision, like something, you know? Something something. Something something. And then, oh my gosh, I'm so sorry. So, and what does she do as a result? What does it cause her to do? And then this was so great. (laughter) Okay wait, I wanna make sure people can rad the whole thing. (laughter) Some sort of confrontation. I mean, for sure, that's great. Some sort of confrontation. And then, this is my favorite. So she has this badass moment, and you actually say that. She gets to have a kick ass moment where she claims her identity, rawr! And it's like, yes. She does, but she has to earn it. Right. She has to, so you know where it's going, you know exactly where it's going. But you have to have it be, I say, yes, I love that, but she needs to earn it by making decisions and choices that bring her to the moment, otherwise it will feel empty and flat, it needs to cost her something. Something needs to be at stake. What is she gonna lose? That goes all the way back to, so what if she doesn't find out who she is? When you're talking about your protagonist. Okay, she wants to know who she is, she wants to be comfortable in her own skin. So what if she doesn't? You know, lots of us don't. (laughs) Right, like so what if she doesn't? And that's what you've gotta kinda answer. Is what would be lost, what would be at stake, and maybe it's that she grows up and looks like all the sad depressed suburban people around her, which is all of us. You know like, I don't wanna be that. I don't wanna grow up and be that. I don't wanna be like those sad adults. Or whatever, that's a lot to be at risk. It doesn't have to be the fate of the world. It just has to be like, I want that, for my own self. And then we wanna see her earn it. And then what was really interesting was at the end, you actually brought it around really nicely. So here, Audrey's getting ready to go to school. TK. (laughs) So she stared getting ready to go to school, now she's putting on clothes she likes, so it's like, that's a thing, we see that arc of change. Okay, she got comfortable in her own skin. She knows who she is. She's okay with herself, and she's decided who she's going to be for herself, she claims her own identity. This is fantastic, I mean it's great. We're totally there. We just need the whole middle. (laughter) Smooshing the clay again. Exactly. So you're gonna smoosh the clay again, but knowing, great setup, I love your setup. I think it's really interesting. A girl who everybody thinks is gonna die, doesn't die. Wakes up, whoa. And everyone's like, oh thank goodness, you're alive. What a great medical miracle. And she's like, uh huh. This is not okay. And then that slow unfolding of like, my mom doesn't know who I am. My best friend doesn't know who I am. They boy I like doesn't know who I am. My English teacher doesn't know, I mean that's profoundly disturbing. We wanna see that, and then what does she do as a result of that? She's like, forget my English paper, I'm gonna go research weird medical trauma, I'm gonna go talk to some doctor guru. Like, she's gonna do something. And then she's gonna learn something, and then soon, like I would say really soon, she's gotta get a glimmer, something's not right. And we talked before about structure, you can steal structure. Go look at something like, I mean, it's just my go to thing, Harry Potter, 'cause everybody's read it. There's a magical system at work here. We're introduced to a regular boy in a regular sad life. But there's something afoot, you can feel it. There's magic afoot. There's a cat who's reading a newspaper, and you're like, what? There's a snake who talks, and you're like, hmm. Like there's something going on. And then (explosion sound) he's yanked into magical school. But like a glimmer that not is all as it seems, is what we want. And we want her to feel that, we wanna be in her skin. Like how horrifying, actually. It's horrifying. And I think it's really great for your ideal reader. What 17 year old doesn't feel like, nobody knows me, I am totally not this girl, in this body, in this school, in this place, and nobody gets me, and I just have to do what they all want and I hate it? Like that's what they think, so this is fantastic. This is what they want. It's so good, you're gonna give them to her. So you gotta get the whole middle. I've just gotta get it! I know. So does anybody, I think we have time for maybe one question, does anybody after going through that, have an idea, a better idea about how that two-tier outline works? You wanna ask a question? Oh, I do have a better idea, but we wanna know what a fragment is, that's what we wanna know. (laughter) Well I can tell you. So it's like your soul gets split into a bunch of pieces and there's a war of all the fragments to consolidate power, and they want her as a pawn in their game, so she's gotta fight for her own self. It's a great setup. It's super fantasy, you know, sci-fi sort of stuff going on, it's great. (laughs) Okay, back there, and then back to you. You spoke about your characters having agency. Yes. Several times, and I don't understand that adjective, could you explain that a little further? Yeah, definitely, so it's just simply this. The character is making decisions and choices that impact their own self. The opposite of that is, stuff is just happening to me. Just, the world is impacting me. Just stuff keeps coming at me, bad stuff just keeps happening to me, and I'm just sitting there like, reacting. Or not reacting. Or, it's that paper cardboard cutout thing. Like, here I am in this bad situation, here I am in this bad situation. And never making a decision or taking action, and it makes the readers crazy. You're like, do something! Right, you're yelling at them. Now the only way that this wouldn't be something you have to have is if you have a character whose goal is to not change. So that would be a goal. Like, I'm thinking of Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist, which is kind of an old book. But it is a fantastic book about a guy who was a travel writer and he hated to travel. And he would go and he would do these, like he'd go to Paris and he'd write this book on how to be in Paris if you don't wanna be in Paris. Like how to be there if you have to be there, but you don't really wanna be there. And he's the perfect person to write these things, 'cause he didn't wanna be there. And it turned out, the underlying thing was, his marriage had fallen apart. And he was just this guy who was just trying to survive and make his way through the world. So his whole goal was, he didn't wanna get better. He didn't wanna go to Paris and be like, this is awesome. He just wanted to do the least amount of work possible. So that type of character is actually trying really hard not to change. So a character that doesn't wanna change, you have to work really hard not to change. You have to fight for that. So even a character who's not changing is making choices. So he's making choices so that he doesn't have to talk to anyone. He's making choices so he doesn't have to enjoy Paris. So he doesn't have to spend time with people. You know, all the choices he's making are to be alone, and to have everybody leave him alone. So agency is just having the power to make your own choices, and to make your own way in the world. We want to see people taking action. And it can even be inaction. I mean, Hamlet's a perfect example of a character who takes no action, but that's the arc of change. Like will he do something, or will he not do something? And we're watching him wrestle with the existential crisis of having to do what he thinks he has to do. So you know, you want your character to choose. That's the simplest way to say it. To do things that cause things to happen. It's all about just action. And action can be mindset. It can be decisions. It could be taking a risk. It could be choosing not to do something. You know, I shall not do it, I'll not do it, I'll not do it, I'll not do it, and then there's a moment where I have no choice. But they're constantly choosing. That's the best way to describe it.

Class Description

Do you dream of writing a book but can’t seem to get started? Or maybe you’ve started but can’t quite get to “The End”? You’re not alone! Most people who set out to write a book don’t know how to begin or how to proceed through the development of their story. They quickly get overwhelmed with the sheer number of decisions to be made and often fall into frustration or even despair.

The truth is that creativity alone won’t get your book out of your head and onto the page.In this course, you’ll learn to capture your creative energy and master your craft with a step-by-step plan to build your story from the ground up. You’ll create a framework that can support your book-writing process the same way a foundation holds up a house.

Author, teacher and book coach Jennie Nash will help you learn about your characters, your structure and your story so you can stop staring at a blank page wondering what to write next and instead move forward with confidence. You’ll get to know your story inside and out so that this time, you’ll finally finish your book—and finish strong.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Design every element of your novel or memoir, including the protagonist, plot, story structure and a project success plan.
  • Define your narrator’s voice.
  • Determine where your story begins and where it ends.
  • Decide what point you’re making about human nature.
  • Make sure you’re giving your ideal reader exactly what they want.
  • Gain the confidence you need to push past any doubts and finish your book.


Nom Johnson

This is the first class I purchased on CL. I listened in on the Live Streaming day, taking notes furiously while feeling sooo blessed to finally have found such an outstanding industry expert who knew -- really knew -- what writers problem areas and blindspots were. Furthermore, Jennie is a GREAT teacher who doesn't just tell her listeners how to do things smarter but takes us by the hand and leads us through smart exercises or great stretches of well laid out logic that is deeply illuminating on how to do our job, LOADS better! And that, in the 1st draft instead of the 5th or 10th (if we're still tenacious enough to be hanging in by then.) I purchased it because streaming quality was poor (not sure why, I have top rate streaming package; made me think it could be a CL purposeful thing) and the course content too great to not own. I've started relistening, and will do so as many times as I need to in order to receive full benefit from Jennie's obvious expertise and great instruction. For ANYONE starting out in the world of novel or memoir writing, I DEEPLY RECOMMEND you get this course along with Lisa Cron's Story Writing one. With the 2 of them you will have done yourself the biggest favor EVER on the learning curve of the art -- and the science -- of writing the best book you're capable of.


Loved watching Jennie give this class. She brings great clarity to the writing process that for so long for me, has been so daunting. I can't wait to learn more from Jennie who's passion for writing is incredible, but also her heartfelt compassion for us writers is nothing I have ever seen. Thank you Jennie. ~Denise

Deborah Lucas

I love listening to Jennie Nash, especially for free any day. But I found this class to be so valuable, I bought it in a flash. I recommend it for anyone working on a novel. Even if you are well into a manuscript, this class will give you structure to understand your plot/emotional trajectory as well as the audience you are writing for. I can't say enough good things about it. FABULOUS!!!!