Working the Outline (III): Letting Dent Be My Guide

From Jim Butcher we move to another writer entirely: Lester Dent.

Saying that name might earn a blank look.  Dent was a pulp writer during the early parts of the previous century.  Among the many, many works he created (well over 150, according to Wikipedia) was one of the most influential characters of all time: Doc Savage.  Supposedly he wrote 200,000 words in a month.  So when you’re in a dead hurry to writer a novel (which, frankly, I am), there are worst people to turn to.

Dent at one point wrote his own “How To” on writing.  It’s this work we’ll be leaning on for the next step of our outline journey.

Before that, though, let us look at where we left off yesterday with Tailor, Brave and True.  This is our Story Skeleton, the two sentence outline we have now:

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?

Now we turn to Dent for advice on advancement.  We’re just going to use the meaty bits and leave his examples where they are:

Here’s how it starts:


One of these DIFFERENT things would be nice, two better, three swell. It may help if they are fully in mind before tackling the rest.

Okay then.  Where does that leave me?

#4 is a snap.  Our brave Tailor finds himself put into a dangerous situation.  He has to do something that he’s not equipped to do.  During the course of the story, the more he tries to extract himself from the situation (one of his own making, remember) the worse things get.

Now what about the other three?  Where does that put our Ogre?

#1 doesn’t seem that practical right now.  I’m not writing a mystery or a thriller; I’m writing a comedic adventure.  If I can think of something along these lines to add, righteous.  Otherwise, it’s getting tabled for now.

Same holds true for #3.  This is a bog-standard fairy tale/Fantasy setting of a quasi-medieval kingdom.  I suppose I could finesse it some how, but right now it’s easier just to leave things be.

That gives me #2.  The different thing for the villain to be seeking.  Not the other #2.

Cheap humor from a man with little coin to spend.


Looking at our antagonist, what do we have?  According to Wikipedia, which is never EVER wrong, an Ogre is “often depicted as inhumanly large and tall and having a disproportionately large head, abundant hair, unusually colored skin, a voracious appetite, and a strong body.”  They tend to be smarter than regular Giants (or at least as smart as villains tend to be in Fairy Tales.)  They also tend more towards made (the one in Hop-o’-My-Thumb has seven-league boots, while the one in Puss in Boots can shape-shift.)

So how about this.  This Ogre, he’s also a Sorcerer.  He makes monsters.  These monsters he’s using to threaten the kingdom.  What does he want from the kingdom?  Nothing less than the princess for dinner, literally.  He’d never eat Royalty and wants to see if they taste any different than the regular people he normally eats.

This sort of conflicts with a part of the Story Skeleton–I seem to imply that the Princess abets the Ogre–but maybe not.  Even if it does, what does that matter?  Things change.  Nothing is set in stone.

And maybe we can cover #1 here after all.  This Ogre makes strange monsters.  Giant Wasps with kitten heads, puppies with tentacles, combinations that don’t really make a lot of sense but are lethal

There we go.  Three out of four.  What’s next, Dent, what’s next?

Here’s the second installment of the master plot.

Divide the 6000 word yarn into four 1500 word parts.

We’re stopping here a second.  Dent’s talking about writing short stories, i’mdoing a novel.  So I’m expanding on this by one zero.  So instead of finishing at 6,000 words I’m doing 60,000 words.  Thus I’m looking at four 15,000 parts.

This was how noted Fantasy writer Michael Moorcock handled it.  I’m sure it’ll work fine for me.

And if I do a novel in three days, as intended, that means 20,000 words a day to hit 60,000.

Not insane at all.


To continue (remember to add the zero):


  1. First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved–something the hero has to cope with.
  2. The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)
  3. Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.
  4. Hero’s endevours land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1500 words.
  5. Near the end of first 1500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.

 As I’ve been working on this post, I’ve been thinking about how to handle this part.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

The other day the Tailor did something he found amazing.  He accidentally uncovered a wasp nest at his shop and while dealing with the angry insects managed to kill all seven of them with one swing of a ruler (the only weapon he had on hand).  Rather pleased with himself, he goes out that night and gets plastered at the local pub.  

During the course of this, he brags about killing seven with one blow.  And maybe the size of the wasps gets exaggerated a bit.  Okay, it gets exaggerated a lot.

Next morning, he finds out he’s volunteered to head out and kill some monstrous wasps located in the woods.  This is not good.  But the tailor feels he has to go.  He’s a man of his word, his oath is his bond.  Besides, the man he agreed to do the job for happens to be the local Baron, a man you simply didn’t want to cross.  Maybe even more than giant insects.

The Baron, it should be said, doesn’t expect the Tailor to live through the experience.  In theory he’s supposed to send men out to deal with the threat himself, only he doesn’t want to lose said men.  This way, when the Tailor fails, he can say he did the best he could (sent out a great Hero, even) and call for the King to send out some Knights or something.

To further hedge his bet (and to make it look like he’s giving his all to help), the Baron gives the Tailor a little helper in the form of a recently caught Thief.  The two are armed with really big sticks (not even pointy) and sent out into the forest to meet their destiny.

 A couple points here.

Point #1: The above is all back story.  Little of it if any gets directly told.  I’m thinking maybe being placed in front of the Baron.  Maybe not.

In any case, I’m just setting up a place to put my feet.  I noticed doing NaNoWriMo that I sometimes take too long to get to the point.  For instance, last year’s attempt, the main character had no idea anything was going on as the novel moved towards the halfway point.  The reader knew, and depending on the story that’s enough.  In an adventure, it makes the Protagonist look a little unaware.  And inactive.

Point #2: You might also be curious about the addition of the Thief.  The twin sources I sited yesterday have no such character.  What gives?

Another of the things I noticed while doing NaNoWriMo is that I tend to keep my protagonists solitary far, far too long.  The Thief gives the Tailor someone to talk to.  Some one to bounce ideas off of.  Not to mention give back story to.

That said, here’s the plot proper:

The Tailor and the Thief wander the woods for a while until they find the wasp nest.  As it’s dusk, they figure most if not all the wasps are in the nest.  All they need do is plug the entrance, cut the nest free of the tree, then set the thing alight.  Simple, right?

Only as they near the nest, a little head pops out the entrance.  It’s a kitten.

The Tailor is startle by this–what is a kitten doing there?–but the Thief immediately wants to kill the thing.  This proves the wise course, as on seeing the two, an evil cast comes over the kitten’s face.  It gives a strange, almost buzzing cry, then starts coming out of the nest.

It’s a Giant Wasp with a kitten’s head.

A fight ensues.  The first Kitten Wasp manages to escape, but as the Tailor deals with it, the Thief manages to kill the next one as it tries joining the fray, blocking the entrance and containing its now furious comrades.  A third one, who hadn’t returned to the nest, attacks, and before being killed stings the Thief, putting him out of action.

Now by himself, the Tailor knocks the nest from the tree and sets fire to it.  Whenever he sees anything remotely feline or insectlike, he strikes it.  Finally the nest grows quiet and the battle done.

Which is just as well, as the Thief isn’t weathering the wasp poison well.  The Tailor gathers his comrade up and manages to return to town to find help.  It’s touch and go for a while, but the local healer manages to save the Thief’s life.  It’s also at this point that the Tailor learns the Thief is a she and not a he.

Far as the Tailor is concerned, this is the end of it.  He’s done his part and kept his word.  Back to hemming up pants.

Only the next day (or thereabout) a group of Knights come.  The King requests the pleasure of his company.  Now.

Without much say in the matter, the Tailor heads off with the Knights.

At the palace, the King lays things out like this.  He needs his best Knight (call him the Paladin) for a special task.  The Paladin is located off in the boonies somewhere, with horrible monstrosities in the way.  The only person the King feels can be trusted with the mission is the man who killed seven Giants in one blow.

Say what?  Well, the story’s been exaggerated yet again, this time dropping the wasp portion of things.

The Tailor really wants to correct this misunderstanding.  He also wants to gracefully bow out of the task.  Before he can, though, he’s introduced to the last person that disappointed the King so.  Or, at least, the sole bit of that person.  The rest has been quartered and buried in disagreeable parts of the Kingdom.


Before the Tailor leaves, a young woman accosts him.  This is the Baroness (no relation to the Baron earlier).  She’s a friend of the Princess and she’s just appalled by the Tailor coming in here under such patently false pretenses.   She tells the Tailor flat out that while he’s fooled the King and the Princess, she isn’t fooled, and she’s going to prove to them that he’s a fraud, not a hero. So there.

What can be said to that?  The Tailor wishes the Baroness well, then heads off to find the Paladin.

Not far down the path, a strange man comes up to the Tailor, asking for help.  Being familiar with fairy tales and magic helpers appearing along the path, the Tailor is more than willing to ablige.  Right up until he finds out what the man wants help with is the Tailor’s sudden, painful demise.

Also?  The man has crab claws for hands.  Just as a point of information

Anyways, the Crabssassin (he’s got to have a name) does his best to kill the Tailor.  During the struggle, the Thief makes her presence known.  She wants to pay the Tailor back for saving her life (wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more).  This she doesn’t quite do, but facing two foes is a bit much for the Crabkiller (a better name will come, right?) and he splits the scene.

This was an odd thing to happen, but a coincidence, right?  After all, there are going to be monsters on the trip.  That was just one of them.


 And that’s where I’m going to end this installment.  How do I stand, with Dent in mind?

The trouble I’ve come up with for the Tailor–the weird wasps–gets dealt with right away, but as I implied earlier, it’s connected with the Ogre.  So too is the man with claws.  More oddities will pop up as the story proceeds.

By this point I have my other characters in play.  We have the Tailor and his boon companion, the Thief.  While the Ogre isn’t mentioned, his hand’s at work, too.  Then we have the King, who while not the real threat is threatening our Heroes, and the Baroness poised to either add a threat or add help later in the story.  Mentioned but not directly involved are the Princess and the Paladin.  The latter, at least, will pop up in part two.

Not sure about the surprise twist.  Crabstalker (seriously?) might cover it (why are our Heroes being targeted for death?) as might the Baroness’s quest to expose them.  I’m going to label that close enough for right now.

Tomorrow (maybe) we’ll continue on with part two, maybe part three, depending on how the words go.  For the rest of my day, though, I’m writing more little essays like this for myself, trying to kick start a few more essays.  Not only that, I want to see how many words I can squeeze out of my little gray cells.  A full accounting will be given tomorrow no matter what else I go with.

For the record, this post was 2,172 words long, including this sentence and excluding anything Lester Dent wrote.


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