Updated: May 31, 2019
If you didn't get a chance to read Part I, click here to read it now.
How long did you lock your outline away? Hours? Days? Weeks?
I usually let mine sit about a week…
Before we get to your outline, a brief refresher on dramatic structure for stories.
I’m not going to go too in depth, but I believe to break the rules, you have to know the rules first. Ultimately, it comes down to you – do you think your story structure works?
There are many lists for determining story structure. They are generally named something like “Character Arc”, “30 Plots Tell All Stories”, or “The 23 Plot Points”. All of them claim that if you follow the list, your story structure will work. They’re right, but there’s a bit more to it.
In my opinion, the definitive list of elements of story is The Anatomy of Story by John Truby. As a writing structure geek here, I found his take fascinating. He doesn’t just tell you how to use his list, he shows you step by step and helps distill the overall thought process behind the list as well.
A quick definition of each:
MAIN CHARACTER WEAKNESS & NEED
What holds your Main Character back from getting what they want. Ideally, this weakness becomes their strength or “power” they use to defeat the Opponent later in the story.
Their need is the thing they need to become a better human and is usually closely associated with their weakness.
MAIN CHARACTER’S DESIRE
This is the thing they want, their goal in the story.
This is your story villain. The Character that keeps your main character from getting what they want.
MAIN CHARACTER’S PLAN
Your main character must have a plan to defeat the Opponent that is stopping them from getting what they want.
BATTLE BETWEEN MAIN CHARACTER AND OPPONENT
The climax. The main character defeats the Opponent or the Opponent wins.
MAIN CHARACTER’S REVELATION
When they realize their weakness and what they must do to change their path. Often times, this is a life vs death choice. They must sacrifice something they have or want to get what they want.
The new world after defeating the Opponent and now with the “need” firmly in place.
The musical also has Story Structure:
There are lists for musical plots too:
For our outline purposes, I am modifying this list and combining it with John Truby:
THE OPENING SONG/SEQUENCE
Musicals waste no time and thus the Opening Sequence introduces the world quickly and usually the characters that matter (but sometimes not the main character)
The first action plot point known as the Inciting Incident many times happens in the opening sequence to kick off the entire story.
MAIN CHARACTER I WANT SONG
Early in a musical a character often sings “what they want” commonly referred to as an “I Want Song.”
Sometimes it’s a direct statement “All I Want Is A Room Somewhere”, sometimes it’s a feeling “Something’s Coming”, or possibly a longing “Waving Through A Window” but usually sang by the Main Character(s).
This is the motivation or reason for your story.
If the Opponent wasn’t introduced in the Opening Sequence, then they usually get a scene to themselves that reveals their reason for being the Opponent and may also include what they “desire”
Once we’ve met the characters, witnessed the first action plot point and understand the forces, it’s time for our Main Character to take action to get what they want. In a musical this will sometimes be a production number, “The World Will Know”, “Some Fun Now”, “Sex Is In The Heel”, and other times it will be a scene.
No matter how it’s presented, this is the reveal of the structure of how the Main Character will defeat the Opponent and get what they want.
This point is sometimes combined with the Battle/Climax point and is the moment the main character understand the situation and can solve it
This is the “new world” plot point showing the Main Character in their new world with their new found “Need” in place.
Okay, we’re through the structure stuff – for now. But as I said in Part I, if you’re structure is solid and “works,” – your musical will work too.
Pull out that outline…
Did you maintain a list of ideas that came to mind while your outline was locked away? If so, add them to your outline now.
Next, do you have any gaps in your story? Did you solve them? If not, I usually put the outline away again until I solve one or more gaps.
As you can see, I still have a plot point that I haven’t figured out yet. I’ll leave it as a note and work on other things while I wait for my subconscious to solve it.
Read your outline one last time for this session. Can you apply the Musical Structure to your story?
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you work through the Structure with your Outline:
1. Do I hit all of the Musical Structure points?
2. For each point, is the point solid and clear? For example, if the character’s desire is to “fit in”, how are you portraying it so that your audience understands it?
Look for Part III soon!
Alan Saunders, WRITEineer.com
Friends told me I was late to the game for writing musicals, even though I've been writing them almost my entire life. so this blog is my journey into writing professionally for the stage.
Check out WRITEineer.com for how-to articles and resources for writing your own musical for the stage!