Walking the Outline (II): Story Skeletons

Speaking of paranoia, there’s nothing like the feeling of someone you’ve never heard of before liking your post the moment you put it up.

Anyway.  Today’s bit of fun.

Jim Butcher, writer of the Dresden Files among other works, once did a series of LiveJournal posts detailing how he went about writing his stuff.  One of the parts to this process deals with something called a Story Skeleton, which in two sentences (a statement and a question) you describe the plot of your novel.  Specifically, you fill out the following in the proper places:


Butcher gives an example of this, using his own novel, Storm Front:

When a series of grisly supernatural murders tears through Chicago, wizard Harry Dresden sets out to find the killer. But will he succeed when he finds himself pitted against a dark wizard, a Warden of the White Council, a vicious gang war, and the Chicago Police Department?

Here’s another one, based on a novel you’ve probably never heard of:

When a Wizard comes a calling one evening, Bilbo Baggins finds himself volunteering to do a bit of stealing for a band of Dwarves.  But while he succeed when faced against a Goblin army, hordes of spiders, irritable Elves, and one very nasty Dragon?

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this idea put forth.  Book in a Month suggests something similar, but with a single sentence describing the plot.  I prefer Butcher’s Story Skeleton, though, because of that second sentence.  It poses a question, a conflict that must be faced, and that’s at the heart of all good fiction.

That, and I’m a wordy cuss.

Tailor, Brave and True

brave-tailor-000The Brave Little Tailor, the fairy tale I’m basing the site novel on, is about this tailor (shocking, I know) who does the unimaginable: he kills  seven flies with one blow.  So excited was he about this that he made himself a belt proclaiming this.  From there he kept meeting people and monsters much dumber than himself until finally he ends up with the preordained half kingdom and less than thrilled princess for a wife.

In essence, he’s a fantasy con man.

It’s an episodic tale.  First he’s tricking this giant and the giant’s kin.  Then he’s doing mini version of the 12 Labors of Hercules.  Finally he’s dealing with his wife, whom discovers his deception and tries to have her father do away with him.   None of it really connects well to one another, and to my mind it sort of putters out around the tailor’s second task for his future father-in-law.

brave-tailor-001When I picked it, I was thinking more of the Disney version.  This streamlines the tale, featuring but a single Giant.  It also has a more likable tailor (Mickey Mouse, natch).  The whole trickery angle fades a bit.  On the other hand, all the other characters don’t have to be complete idiots in order for the story to work.  Plus in the cartoon the fact he’s a tailor is worked into the resolution of the plot, while in the original his job could have been any one of a number of menial ones.

In any case, the basic story is as follows: a totally unsuited person gets into a (supernatural) situation above his pay grade and has to use all of his resources to get himself out of it.  I want to have the more likable tailor of the cartoon, facing multiple threats of supernatural origin while dealing with a princess who wants to end him.  While I’m shooting for a comedy with a happy ending, I’m thinking to eschew the royal marriage and half the kingdom stuff.

So how to summarize this in the form of a Story Skeleton?

How about this?

When a misunderstanding puts him in the role of the kingdom’s protector, a “brave” Tailor struggles to fulfill the role as best he can.  But will he succeed when he has to face down savage monsters, cunning murderers, an irate Princess, and the ruthless Ogre behind them all?

You might notice a lack of Giants (though arguably Giants could be included with savage monsters).  The Ogre, to my mind, sounds better.  Besides, that’s just another form of Giant.  Right?  Right.

Tomorrow we look at the advise of another, quite different writer as we start working up the outline proper.


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