Managing Action in Your Fiction

Managing Action in Your FictionPhoto license

When you deal with the big problems successfully, you have the resources you need to deal with the small problems. It works like this in both real life and fiction. The resolution of the main story problem, the engine of the story, should also wipe out the smaller problems.

How do you make sure the smaller problems are tied in to the bigger ones? You write the big problems first. The multiple draft process follows below. If you’re a seat-of-your-pants writer, you can write the prep docs in your imagination.


The synopsis starts with your big story problem, the idea you want to turn into a story. What starts the problem? How are you going to open the novel with action? Who are the important characters? What attempts will they make to solve the problem without success? How do they change at the halfway point from investigating the problem to being on top of it and actively working for a solution? How will you create major changes in the story at the one third and two third points? How do they resolve the problem at the end?

Once the main conflict is worked out, you add the minor obstructing problems. You also need to have all of those problems resolved by the end of the novel.

If you’re not tired of dealing with problems yet, there’s one more problem. Your synopsis should be three pages or less. It leaves out the fine details and some of the smallest problems.

The Bullet Outline

Save the synopsis as a new file named “bullet outline” and break it down into chapters. Now you can introduce more small problems and attempted solutions that fail. Each chapter should cover one event, conversation, or choice that moves the story forward. Limit it to one or two sentences per chapter.

Does every chapter contain action? Even action on an emotional or intellectual level is acceptable. A new relationship begins. Enemies become friends. A bankruptcy. A lawsuit. An inheritance. The antagonist orders violent action be taken against the protagonist. A character gets out of hospital.

The bullet outline will show you when a chapter is weak. Chapters that are boring or fail to move the story ahead need help. The bullet outline is a great place to fix them. You’ve written almost nothing. Wipe out the weak chapters and add their information to strong chapters.

For example, the character getting out of hospital doesn’t sound interesting. The reader will know they’re out of hospital when they appear later. If the chapter was meant to foreshadow the character taking some action in revenge, there are other ways to reveal they’re back. A phone call. A sighting. The rumor mill among characters that know each other.

Your bullet outline is a reference for looking up information as you write and revise.

The Outline

The outline should be about a tenth the length of your finished novel. Since 100,000 word novels are the current standard, you’re going for a 10,000 word outline.

Save the bullet outline as a new file named “outline”. Go through all of the chapters and write the scenes in as few words as possible. Answer the investigative reporter’s five questions: who, where, what, when, and why?

When you have your whole story outlined, read it through several times. Take a day off between readings. Try to visualize the final novel. Look for anything that isn’t going to work out as it’s written. It will be easier to fix 10,000 words now than 100,000 words after you’ve finished the first draft.

As you fix the outline, update the bullet outline and synopsis. The bullet outline will always be a handy reference for looking up which chapter something happened in. The synopsis won’t be useful until you finish the final draft and need to write a presentation synopsis to sell the book to a publisher or promote it as an eBook.

I swore I’d stop writing about the multiple draft process and here it is again. Until you’ve written about 10 novels, it seems to be the only sensible way to go. And even then…

Article by Ivan Izo.


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