Stage 1: Basic Idea
Perry’s first stage is to develop the basic premise of the novel.
Start with the Logline and Back cover ‘blurb.’
The logline is a single paragraph (ideally a single sentence) describing the story. It should be:
- Present a compelling mental picture
- Acknowledge the target audience
IMDB uses this for the 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice (collect a sticker) as it’s promotional logline:
Sparks fly when spirited Elizabeth Bennett meets single, rich, and proud Mr. Darcy. But Mr. Darcy reluctantly finds himself falling in love with a woman beneath his class. Can each overcome their own pride and prejudice?
This is a simple statement along the lines of:
…status quo, but when… and now…
It should include:
- who are the protagonist and antagonist – character and initial status quo
- the catalyst (but then)
- the high stakes (and now…)
Single Elizabeth Bennett and her four equally single sisters face an uncertain future despite their desperate match-making mother. Their prospects brighten with the arrival of a rich single gentleman and his haughty friend Mr Darcy.
But sparks fly as Darcy and Elizabeth stand by their pride and prejudice. Meanwhile the repellent Mr Collins stakes his claim to the Bennett inheritance and the youngest sister’s behaviour threatens the whole family.
Now Elizabeth has to choose between duty to her family and her own future happiness. Can she refuse the unwanted attentions of both Darcy and Mr Collins, gain justice for the wronged Wickham and somehow save the family from ruin?
Perry advises no more than three paragraphs
A Killer Title
Perry puts some emphasis on coming up with that killer title, but only after you have the premise, logline and ‘blurb’ worked out.
Story Check; story level
Next Perry advises a story check:
- Clarify the Wants/Goals of both protagonist and antagonist
- Clarify the core conflict between the characters
- Identify the crisis and decision the characters must face
- Identify the character’s internal arc; how do they move from their starting-state to their ending state?
Stage 2: seven Big Picture Scenes
Perry uses Blake Snyders’s Save the Cat for her outlining tool, advocating for seven key scenes to map out the story:
- Opening image (status quo)
- Inciting incident/catalyst
- Point of no return (decision)
- Midpoint (mirror moment)
- All is lost (Dark night)
- Final image (transformation, internal, external change)
Next is to story check each of these main scenes to ensure they deliver the plot points and story developments in the right place.
Stage 3: The Whole Idea
Perry suggests after the seven key scenes you should be able to fill the gaps between them with additional scenes. Perry adopts a common formula to determine how many you need:
The typical 80-100,000 word novel contains scenes of around 2,000k-2,500 words. Simple arithmetic dividing total word count by scene word count gives between 40 and 60 scenes for the whole project. Note that like many writing coaches, Perry works in scenes not chapters.
Perry suggests plotting for a minimum of 40 scenes to make up the required length of the novel. Using a typical three-act structure, this breaks down into:
- Act 1 opening/status quo: 10 scenes
- Act 2 to midpoint: 10 scenes
- Act midpoint to end of act 2: 10 scenes
- Act 3 climax and resolution: 10 scenes
This may seem like a big workload but in Perry’s method, for each scene:
- Describe it in 1-2 sentences. Include or list separately:
Perry reminds us to assess cause and effect as we map out each scene. This is our story check for each scene:
- What happens (plot);
- Why (internal arc)
We’re looking for a trajectory of cause and effect where the outcomes of one scene flow into the decisions or actions of the next linked scene, so I’ll add:
- Cause (input)
- Effect (outcome)
Perry’s whole approach comes down firmly on the side of the Plotter/Planner. If you’re a free-writer, feel free to take or leave as much of this as you want.