How to create a complex story outline

by Nas


The reason that I am asking the question is because my story doesn't follow the usual outline involved in storytelling. It is more autobiographical (which I intend to tell as fiction) about my journey through life in 5 different countries.

The first country is my home country which the character tries to escape from for personal and politcal reasons. She succeeds in attaining a year's stay in a first world country where she naively tries to 'make it big' but time runs out and nothing permanent comes her way. Tail between her legs she goes back home only to jump at the opportunity to go to yet a third country- this is not her dream destination, she sees it as a stepping stone to get somewhere else, and the content of this part is based on her experiences and continued angst due to not wanting to be there, feeling as if she is in a limbo. She exits also after a year.

In the fourth country she gains some career success, meets her future husband, but both of them can never settle down there, and as they are both educated but from third world countries they struggle with issues regarding what and where to call home, and how to build a life for their kids to come.

They end up in a fifth country and this is the victory, but also tinged with uncertainty and hopes. This is the shortest part of the story because she arrives at a sought after destination, and of course, has to start over- leaving the rest to the readers imagination.

Please guide me as to how I can create a successful storyline without the reader getting bored along the way, or losing identification with the character due to her growth through the book. Of course there will be many upheavals and conflicts throughout each destination that leads her from one place to the next.


Answer: I have to tell you, this outline fits quite will with a standard four-act story structure. The outline would look something like this...

Act 1: Your protagonist escapes to the 1st world but fails to thrive in it.
Act 2: Your protagonist's adventure in the "stepping stone" country.
Act 3: In the fourth country, she meets her future husband (and everything builds to the crisis).
Act 4: The protagonist finds a happy life in the end.

Each of these four acts should begin and end with a major event (driver). In this case, the drivers seem to be the decisions to emigrate to a new country. The final driver (at the end of the fourth act) will be her decision, or realization, that she has now found a place she doesn't need to leave.

Of course, while she will have different types of problems to explore and cope with in each act/place, she will also have an inner journey in which she is pressured to change. This journey will look like this...

Act 1: Establish who she is and her unique way of trying to cope with life.
Act 2: Show her in a situation where her way of coping does not work or where she is pressured to switch to a new way of dealing with problems.
Act 3: Her personal crisis will be her decision whether to change (and that change leads to success) or remain steadfast and the world around her changes and validates her approach (since you want a happy ending).
Act 4: Show that she made the right choice, that she is happier or has resolved her personal dilemma in a way that leaves her better off.

Hope that helps. But don't take it as definitive.

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