The Map is Not the Terrain-Jon Franklin and His Outline

449654476_3428a059bc_tWith the last of t he edits underway on my new publication, The House, due for release in Fall 2009, I’ve found myself pondering my next story. A novel, the idea came to me sometime last week.

I now realize it popped into my head after overhearing a conversation wherein a middle-aged woman in speaking to a younger woman was discussing how she would be spending Mother’s Day alone.

We were all patrons in a restaurant. I was with my husband. It was in the evening.

The story, despite its dramatics was sad.


And I couldn’t fix the situation.

So as always, my mind, rather unconsciously I now realized, brought me a story to write instead.

I suppose this is my process.

This is one of the good things about blogging. If you’re honest, and write about things that are up in your life as a writer, connections, or rather patterns will present themselves.

As I began doing about two years ago, when a story comes to me I begin to think of it in terms of an outline I learned while preparing to teach a class at Perelandra College where I am on the staff of the MA Program in Writing.

Pulitzer Prize Winning essayist, Jon Franklin, offers in his book, Writing For Story, a simple way to organize, plan or outline your stories and novels, even epics. It involves five parts:


1st Development/Revelation

2nd Development/Revelation

3rd Development/Revelation


Franklin suggests that you first name, or identify your major character’s Problem/Situation or dilemma when using this approach, and then give or develop the Resolution. After that you list the Developments/Revelations.

It’s also quite helpful to write the entire outline using 20 or fewer words, not including the names of the parts.

I started out writing The House, as a part of the exercise in using Franklin’s approach. I was a student in the class I now teach. I had no idea it would turn into a novel. Neither did I think I would have so much fun.

It was not a cakewalk either. But I did have fun–fun of discovery and simply getting not only the words and scenes down, but also keeping a clear plot.

Clarifying and establishing plot without falling into detracting back-story has always been my weak point in writing. Getting into character and writing emotion is my strength.

But good fiction has forward movement. It is propelled by not simply character or descriptions of personality. But people and characters acting and behaving within character and out of their personalities.

It was two years ago that I discovered Franklin’s outline for plotting stories and novels. The thing I love about his plan is that not only is it simple enough for me to hold in my head.

I don’t necessarily need to begin writing it down when pondering the possibility for a story or whether a story premise offers a plausible plot.

Unlike other more in depth outlines, such as John Truby’s blueprint as listed in The Anatomy of a Story, Franklin’s approach is pristine and simple, allowing space in between the various developments and the stretch from Problem to Resolution for discovery. I know what is happening, but not exactly how will take place.

Interestingly I’ve found Franklin’s outline has rendered me more able to utilize the various aspects Truby lists in his book, The Anatomy of a Story.

Franklin’s plan, while providing a way to clear map my stories, leaves ample room for surprises in how I will reach the destination of my character’s transformation, such that I don’t go crazy along the way in my attempt to keep everything straight.

The old adage, “The map is not the territory or the terrain,” is so true for Jon Franklin’s outline. And yet that is its gift. It is simply the map, one that leaves the writer more organized to write and describe, and provide the terrain of their story.

Do you outline or plan your stories and novels, or simply write?

What plan do you use if you outline. How in depth is it?

Have you always planned your stories?

If you have, why?

If not, why?


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