Writing Formulas

The Quintessential Action Adventure Plot Outline lives up to its name, and you will find no more complete outline for writing a pulp adventure, spy story, martial arts story, superhero story, or other action-packed tale than this amazing outline by writer Dixon Kinquade. However, since so much choice can be a little intimidating, I’ve put together a Random Action Adventure Plot Generator based on Dixon’s outline that you might also find useful.

The Eight Sequences Method, which is based off of Chris Soth’s “8 Mini Movie Method” and others. In this method (which is intended for movies, but would work for books) you break everything down into 8 sequences and then into 6-8 scenes. Each sequence is a mini-story by itself which fits into the larger whole to form a complete action-packed movie/novel.

Dan Harmon’s Story Circle, which is similar to the above 8 sequence method, but more character driven/focused and thus more flexible. Harmon (creator of the TV show Community, and co-creator of Rick and Morty) does a good job of laying it all out and this is a recommended read. I did my own modified take on Harmon’s Story Circle here, combining it with a method used by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame.

The Nine-Act Structure of Feature Films is a long and detailed article with many images and embedded videos which outlines David Siegel’s take on modern Hollywood film story structure. Naturally, it can be used for novels or other kinds of stories as well.

Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! is one of the best books on outlining a story in the classic Hollywood movie method you can read. Blake lays it all out, and adds a lot of great details. I personally think this is a book best read after you’ve had a little writing experience so you can really appreciate what he’s saying, but his Story Beats can work for anyone.

Libby Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants Method– Libby wrote a whole book about becoming a plotter instead of a pantser, and her methods are pretty impressive. Ultimately I find her to be a variant of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat story beats, but she has some interesting ideas of her own and this one is highly recommended.

In How to Write a Better Screenplay (or Tell a Better Story) Victor Pineiro hybridizes a couple different methods and boils them down into a fairly straightforward movie plotting formula. It’s essentially a variant of Save the Cat! for the most part, but with a dash of a couple other storytelling gurus thrown in for good measure. I think Libby Hawker does it a bit better, and her approach is more geared toward novels.

How to Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps- This article outlines a very systematic approach to figuring out what needs to happen in your book and why. It almost takes a mathematical approach to outlining, which may or may not work for you.

The One Page Novel Formula– This site offers a very detailed single Google Docs file (and a Scrivener version) of a step by step outline for writing a novel by Eva “Lady Writer” Deverel.

Writing Teacher Dwight V Swain wrote one of the earlier books on how to write a novel which some people have used to great effect. Swain passed away back in 1992, but blogger and writer Karen Woodward wrote up a great summary of his method which she found useful.

On his Spy Novel Plots page, thriller novelist Graeme Shimmin outlines four of the most common plot structures used in spy stories. If you plan on writing spy thrillers, this page should be number one on your hit list!

The Shonen Battle Manga Formula is a brief introduction to the structure used by Japanese comic book writers and Chinese martial arts fiction writers when producing the serialized comic book stories so popular with young adults around the world.

I have also done a breakdown of some more specific plots commonly used in Japanese storytelling.


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