Novel Goggles Blog

Premise, Narrative Structure and Plot Outline with Novel Goggles: Fantastic pantsing, perfect plotting or anything in-between

Author: Lionel Basson

6 December 2022 13:00

Last Updated: 14 December 2022 13:00

Perhaps you've heard these mysterious terms: Premise, Narrative Structure, Plot Outline and Novel Goggles. Why should you care about any of them? Well, if you want your stories to be the best that they can be, you should at the very least know what these are all about. In this piece, I will give you an overview of what they are, how they tie together and how you can use them to make the most of your story ideas and writing talents. To set the scene, allow me to sketch a few possible scenarios for you:

  • Scenario A: You find yourself scrolling through your manuscript, wondering how your characters have pulled you on this zigzagging path littered with incomprehensible leaps and confusing detours. Looking through the gaping plot holes, a terrifying void stares back. You have been pantsing and as freeing as it felt at the time, looking back, you see the road that you've steam-rolled across the narrative landscape. You've been at the wheel of your pantsing panzer. You've arrived where you are, of that you're sure, but where are you? Your creative fuel seems to have run out and your panzer has come to a halt, engine sputtering and then going quiet. You ignored structure but now you see that it is there anyway, teetering on too few supports with panzer-shaped holes in what is left of the rest. Now what?

  • Scenario B: Weeks or months into your outlining process, you're itching to get going with the writing, letting your creative plane soar, characters neatly seated at their designated places, row after row. Instead, you're rifling through your notes to find yet another scene that needs to be updated to stay consistent with your later ideas. And then you realise that your character progression doesn't fit anymore, your climax is in the wrong place and your pacing plans are in the wind. Your hopes of letting your creative narrative voice take flight are dashed for another week. Your flight plans have been declined again and departure is delayed once more.

  • Scenario C: Opening yet another browser tab, with another blog post about story structure, you're paralysed into inaction by the sheer amount of information online. Your story idea stares back at you from the page as you agonise over whether to pants or plan. You need to ignite the rocket but you're not sure if it is going to soar to the heavens, explode on ascent or even detonate on the launchpad. You switch between tabs on pantsing, plotting, structure and outlines. Where do you begin?

Have you ever found yourself in any of the situations described above? Do you find yourself in one of them now? I have good news for you. Remember those terms from before? I'll remind you: Premise, Narrative Structure, Plot Outline and Novel Goggles. These are the tools that you can use to help you make the most of whatever dire situation you find yourself in on your creative writing journey. I'll admit that I'm biased about that last one, Novel Goggles. I'll be adding tips on how you can use Novel Goggles to help you write throughout this piece. I'll differentiate them using colour, with Novel Goggles tips styled like this . Even if Novel Goggles doesn't interest you, the rest of the information supplied should still prove useful on its own merits.

As suggested by the title, I'll be covering the following:

  1. Premise

  2. Narrative Structure

  3. Plot Outline

  4. Novel Goggles

This piece has ballooned into a rather monstrous blog post, so you if you feel overwhelmed by reading it all in one go, you can click on the links above to jump to each section. I'll be adding links to individual blog posts handling each section soon:

  1. Coming Soon: Standalone Post on Premise

  2. Coming Soon: Standalone Post on Narrative Structure

  3. Coming Soon: Standalone Post on Plot Outline

  4. Coming Soon: Standalone Post on Novel Goggles


Let's first cover the basics, required for any successful journey from premise to published: The Premise. You've had an idea for a story, and you're excited to start writing or planning but let's take a moment to consider how to get the most from your idea. A good place to start is to write down your idea as a sentence. To help you do that, we can ask a few questions to tease the most out of your story idea:

  1. Ask who the story is about. Your answer should describe the lead character or characters, e.g. A bumbling vampire; An awkward couple; A crafty witch, etc.
  2. What is their goal? Something they can work towards.
  3. What is stopping them from getting what they want? Either internal or external conflict.
  4. What do they do about that? How do they react?
  5. Why doesn't their plan work?
  6. How does the story end?

Your premise sentence should answer at least three of these questions:

  1. Who is the story about?
  2. What is their goal?
  3. What is stopping them from getting what they want?

And it can hint at a fourth:

  1. How does the story end?

If it does, you've got the beginnings of your lead character, their primary goal, the main conflict, and a hint at how things end. In addition to answering these questions, this sentence can also indicate the general theme of your story. It may introduce an antagonist and divulge something about your lead character. This is the premise from which your story will follow. It is the inspiration for the rest of your pantsing or plotting to follow.

Of the six questions listed above, we've answered three and maybe hinted at the answer for a fourth in our premise sentence. What about the others? I mentioned the others because your story needs to answer all of those questions at a number of different levels. Each scene must answer these questions within the context of the events of the scene and the story as a whole must answer these questions. It is therefore worth keeping in mind whether you're working on your Plot Outline or Writing your Manuscript.

After writing down the premise sentence, Pantsers may be tempted to dive into writing at once, while plotters might start working on their outline without delay. Before you do, consider whether you're getting the most out of your premise if you leave it there. Is your premise unique? Unlikely. But that is ok. You can still craft a unique story and to help with that, let's consider the premise further.

If your story idea got you excited, you probably identified at least one awesome possible direction for the story to take. Now it is time to think about what other possibilities might be allowed by your premise. Ask yourself a few more questions inspired by your premise. Write these questions and your answers to them down below your premise sentence and use them as inspiration as you write or outline your story. Not sure what kinds of questions can tease more out of your premise? Some ideas include:

  1. What are the consequences for others if your protagonist achieves their goal? Is there some unforeseen detriment?

    1. Is it bad for the antagonist?
    2. Is it bad for the protagonist?
    3. Is it bad for someone the protagonist cares about?
    4. What happens to the world if things work out the way the protagonist wishes they would?

  2. What are the stakes? What would happen if the protagonist does not achieve their goals?

  3. What direction does the main character's relationship with a love interest take?

    1. Do they fall for each other?
    2. Do they drift apart?
    3. Does somebody die?

  4. How does the past come back to haunt your main character?

  5. What if your main character is acting on false information?

    1. How do they react when they discover that this is the case?

The above questions are just to get you started. Ask questions relevant to your premise that help you to explore exciting new directions for it that you may not have immediately thought of.

So, now you have a premise sentence. Short and concise but dense with possibility. If somebody asks what you're writing about, amaze them with it. Additionally, you have a few possibilities to bounce around inside your head while you're working on transforming your premise into an engaging story.

Before we move on from the premise, remember one last thing about it. You're allowed to change it as your story evolves. Maybe you realise a more dramatic reason why your protagonist can't have what they want. Maybe instead of the obstacle being competition with a rival they realise that achieving their goal might be harmful to others? Maybe the theme isn't working, or the protagonist's goal has changed. Allow yourself to revisit your premise and to continue asking yourself questions about your premise.

Novel Goggles has a premise section for each manuscript, where you can write down your premise and possible ideas of what directions you might take the story.

At this point, pantsers and plotters must surely diverge and go their separate ways? I disagree! I would implore the pantsers to be patient for a little while longer. If you pantsers do leave us here and forge ahead with your manuscript, I'll be seeing you later, when your panzer has taken you as far is it can go.

For the plotters, pantsers who wisely decide to read on and for those who are still completely lost, I would like to introduce Narrative Structure as the next element to consider before you go any further with your pantsing or plotting.

Narrative Structure

Why do you need to worry about Narrative Structure? When should you worry about it? Perhaps worry isn't the right word. There is no real need to worry about it, it isn't as complicated as you might think. While it shouldn't necessarily worry you, you should definitely know what it is about and how it can help you in your pantsing or plotting to follow and what the dangers are of ignoring it.

So why consider Narrative Structure? Because it is fundamental to story-telling. There are certain story structures that have been proven to work best and using a proven story structure will help you to create a story that has the correct elements in the correct places to keep your readers engaged. Whether it is innate or acquired through exposure to existing stories, your readers expect certain structures, plot points, pacing and tension progressions. They may not even be aware of their expectations but, if your main plot elements are out of place, readers might be bored or confused. Story structure is also inextricably linked to proper plot progression, character development, story arcs, pace and tension. To create a cohesive story, your character and story arcs need to match up with important story events (such as the inciting incident or climax). For your characters to be believable, your reader needs to feel that the characters are living the story.

If you're lucky, some elements of structure might come to you naturally as you plan or write but why leave it to chance? Instead of shying away from it, let's lean on the millennia of story-telling optimisation that has been unconsciously or consciously performed by the storytellers that have come before us.

The best time to consider story structure is from the start of your pantsing or plotting journey. If everything else about your story is fundamentally tied to its underlying structure, then it is something that you need to keep in mind from the very beginning. Is this a problem? Nope, it is actually a good thing. Believe it or not, that complicated-sounding story structure can actually simplify the plotting or pantsing process.

So, what makes up story structure? Well, at a high level, stories need a beginning, middle and end. This is how we experience many events in life. There is some starting point, a progression of events that leads to a climax and then a tapering off as things come to an end. Think of a birthday party: The guests arrive and mingle, introducing themselves to others. After a while, everyone gathers together, candles are lit, there is singing, candles blown out, cheers and eating. Slowly, things wind down and guests start to leave. Eventually, the party is over and clean-up takes place.

These three elements are often named Acts. Act I, the beginning. Act II, the middle. Act III, the end. Acts are sometimes subdivided further into Sequences and sometimes the beginning, middle and end are divided into multiple Acts, giving us structures with more than three Acts. There are even stories made up of one Act, although they limit Plot and Character development, so we'll not discuss them further here. Because this inconsistent division into Acts can be confusing, I prefer to first discuss Narrative Structure in terms of the fundamental elements. We'll discuss Acts and Sequences again later. For now, let's take a quick look at what the role of the beginning, middle and end. sections of the story are. I'll be using the classic 3-Act structure to introduce most of the ideas. With the basics in hand, you can do further research on other story structures that change things up a bit.


The beginning of the story has a few very important roles to play in storytelling. The first is to get the reader interested in reading the story. Once the reader has been hooked, the next is to introduce the characters, setting and stakes of the story. The beginning is the starting point for your character and story arcs and character development. Character introductions should serve to get the reader to care about the characters and what happens to them. If the reader is uninterested in what happens to your characters, they will lose interest in your story. After your characters and setting have been introduced, something must happen to jolt the lead character and disrupt the normality of their life. The lead character will react to this disruption, setting them off on a journey shaped by your premise. The terms commonly used for these different elements of the beginning of a story are:

  1. The Hook
  2. The Exposition or Opening
  3. The inciting incident


To grab the reader's attention right at the start, a plot element called the Hook is often placed very early on, in the first scene or even the first sentence. The hook is the first interesting element in your story, and it has the job of presenting some interesting question or unknown to the reader, with the goal of keeping them reading to discover what the answer to that question is or what the truth of that unknown is. The hook will be part of the exposition, although it is near the start.

Exposition (Opening)

In describing the exposition, the word introduce appears often. This part of the story is about introductions: Introducing lead characters, settings, conflicts, themes, stakes and establishing the point of view. While you may continue to introduce more characters and settings throughout the story, the lead characters and settings should be introduced quite early on, and the reader should have a good idea of what the story is about from these early introductions. Although this part of the story is about introductions, be sure to keep things interesting. Make all of the required introductions through events that take place in the story. While you need to keep the reader interested, don't make things too action-packed just yet.

As you can see, the exposition is not about performing introductions of the different elements of the story one after the other. Rather, these introductions are entwined with one another in the telling of the beginning of the story. The exposition leads up to the inciting incident, which I will discuss next.

Inciting Incident

The inciting incident is the start of a sequence of events that eventually leads to the story's climax. It is usually an unexpected event, and it disrupts life for the lead character, who has no control over the inciting incident itself. The lead character is forced to react due to the high stakes involved and their life will never be the same from this point forward. For the transition triggered by the inciting incident to be clear, the exposition has to have shown the reader what things were like before.

The inciting incident can be quite short and usually occurs quite early in the story, as it introduces action to the narrative. From this point forward, the story will start throwing conflict after conflict at the lead character as they react to the inciting incident and try to overcome the obstacles put before them.

The story beginning should be about 20-25% of the story length.


The middle part of the story is usually also the longest part. Most of the action in the story takes place in the middle, leading up to the climax of the story, where the final outcome of events set in motion by the inciting incident are decided. Leading up to the climax, the characters encounter a series of increasingly difficult events and decisions, and the characters are forced to develop as they handle the conflicts and confrontations that they encounter, until they reach the deciding event in the story, the climax, where the reader will discover how they handle it. The largest part of this middle part of the story is called the Rising Action, which culminates in the Climax. I will give a brief summary of what the rising action and the climax entail below:

Rising Action

Rising action is the term for the series of events from the inciting incident to the climax of the story. In this part of the story, the lead characters are confronted by obstacle after obstacle, each more difficult than the last. Usually, they come off second best and need to regroup before confronting the next. The writer can use this series of events to drive character development and it is important that the conflicts and confrontations that the character faces on the road to the climax are relevant to the story and fit within the general theme presented in the earlier parts of the narrative.

The rising action also straddles the mid-point of the story, which is an important element for the lead character's arc.


The mid-point should bring about a fundamental change in the way that the lead character has been handling the obstacles put before them up to this point. Some internal or external event should trigger this change, which usually results in a transition from reacting to obstacles and events that they encounter to planning ahead and taking actions that work towards achieving their goal.


The climax of the story is the event that everything so far has been leading up to, resolving the conflict stopping the protagonist from achieving their goal. The inciting incident in the beginning of the story set off a series of events that end here. The lead character is faced with the final/greatest obstacle and the reader will finally discover if they prevail. The climax is the pinnacle of action in an action-focused story and the pinnacle of drama in a dramatic story. Since the climax deals with resolving the goal of the lead character, the lead character's arc is integrally linked to the climax.

The climax of the story should usually occur near the end of the middle of the story (thus placing it about 3-quarters of the way through the story as a whole) and it is usually quite short. Usually about one scene, although this might be the longest scene in the book.

Note that this part refers to the main climax of the story. There will in fact be many minor climaxes throughout the story, as you will see later in this piece. Sequences typically end in a climax and scenes follow the same structure as the story as a whole, also having a climax to the events in the scene.

The middle should be about 50% of the story length.

Novel Goggles currently allows you to set a “climax” toggle on a scene, do you think we should add options to set minor climaxes, turning points, twists, etc? Let us know!


The end part of the story, after the climax, shows the reader what the world is like now. The effects of the main climax are propagated out into the world. The main plot has been completed and any subplots and other loose ends need to be tied off. This part gives the reader a chance to come down from the highs of conflict, action and tension as things return to a new normal. By the time the reader reaches the end of the story, they may have spent many hours reading your story and become emotionally invested in the characters. The events that take place at the end of the story should therefore leave the reader satisfied with the story as a whole, otherwise they may feel betrayed or disappointed. This part of the story where loose ends are tied up and the story is finalised is called the Resolution or Denouement.

The end should be about 25% of the story length.

Now that I've introduced you to the fundamental elements of narrative structure, we can take a quick look at some of the tools used to group these elements and divide the story into its different parts in your Plot Outline or Manuscript. These are: Acts, Sequences, Chapters and Scenes. I will cover each of these briefly.


Acts are simply there to divide the story into the major distinct parts of the narrative structure, such as the beginning, middle and end. The number of acts can vary, depending on the specific narrative structure being used. A common variation is to break up the large middle part of the story into two Acts, resulting in a 4-Act structure. In literature, the acts are usually not specifically indicated to the reader but are used by the writer to structure their story. Acts can be further sub-divided into Sequences.


Sequences are another tool for breaking up your story into smaller pieces. A sequence is a set of scenes leading up to an event or climax, which is not necessarily the main story climax but can be a minor climax elsewhere in the story. For example, you might have a sequence that culminates in the inciting incident or one that ends in the midpoint of the narrative structure. Sequences are also not explicitly indicated to the reader, but they will contain your Chapters and Scenes, which are.

If you prefer not to break up your acts into sequences, you can simply use a single sequence for each act.


Chapters are not particularly important from a Narrative Structure perspective. They're mainly used to break up the story into digestible pieces for the reader, giving them somewhere to pause or take a break. Chapters can also help control the story pace by varying the length of chapters, although the scene is more important in this regard. Chapters usually have one or more scenes, but, occasionally, a scene may span a chapter break. Chapter length is usually based solely on giving the reader a chance to take a break or pause at appropriate intervals.

How many scenes should there be in a chapter? The number of scenes in a chapter is a fairly arbitrary decision. If scenes are very short, the writer may decide to put multiple scenes into a chapter or to have a very short chapter. Chapters often only have one or two scenes, especially in stories with longer scenes.

You can write Chapter summaries before you start populating a chapter with scenes.

Chapter order can be adjusted and Chapters can be moved between Sequences by dragging and dropping them in the Detailed Planning Context.


Scenes are the smallest element of Narrative Structure that we'll be talking about in this piece. Scenes are the story structure element that are most obvious to the reader (other than chapters). They're usually shown by an open line in the page, or a symbol such as an asterisk. In a scene, there is a character trying to achieve a goal, there is some obstacle that must be overcome to reach the goal and there is a definite outcome for the events described.

Scene length can be used to vary the pace of the story, with shorter scenes supplying a faster-paced narrative and longer scenes slowing things down. The writer should be cautious of making scenes too long, however, since they do not provide a place for the reader to take a break. Effective scenes usually have a very well-defined structure, something every pantser and plotter should be aware of.

Scene Structure

Each scene has the same main elements as the entire narrative structure: A beginning, middle and end. The scene holds the entire arc: The goal is introduced, conflict arises, and the outcome is established. The most important aspect to keep in mind regarding scenes is that the scene must resolve the question or goal posed at its start.

  1. Beginning:

    1. The character's goal is established.
    2. The goal must tie in to the overall story goal and be consistent with the character.

  2. Middle:

    1. The conflict in the way of reaching that goal is introduced.
    2. The conflict must be a result of earlier events or tie into the character's internal conflict.
    3. The conflict must make sense for the character and in the broader context of the story.

  3. End:

    1. There is a definite outcome, either positive or negative.
    2. Usually, scenes end with a negative outcome for the lead character.
    3. The outcome must drive the story forward by setting up the next scene.

Sequels, another kind of scene?

There is a another type of scene called a sequel. If we consider a scene where a character is trying to achieve a goal as an “action” element of the narrative structure, then a sequel is a “reaction” element, where the character is reacting to the events of the scene or scenes before it. Multiple sequels may follow one another if the reactions of the characters take longer to play out, especially after a particularly taxing scene. Similarly to scenes, a sequel is made up of three parts, which I describe below.

Sequel Structure

The three elements of sequel structure are, once again, a beginning, middle and end. Only in this case, the beginning consists of a reaction instead of an action, the middle consists of a choice or dilemma and the end reveals the choice that the character makes:

  1. Beginning:

    1. The character or characters react to the events of the preceding scene(s).
    2. The character's reactions must be in-character.

  2. Middle:

    1. The characters are forced to contemplate what to do next, but all of the options are bad.
    2. This dilemma must make sense in the context of the overall story.

  3. End:

    1. The characters finally make a decision.
    2. The character's decisions must be in-character

Sequels will often use tension to keep the reader engaged and to make up for the relative lack of action.

Novel Goggles doesn't make a distinction between Scene & Sequel. Do you think it should? Let us know!

Scene order can be adjusted and Scenes can be moved from one Chapter to another by dragging and dropping them in the Detailed Planning Context.

Narrative Structure in Practice

In practice, you'll want to use the concepts of Narrative Structure as a guide while you pants or plot. There are some commonly used narrative structures that use all of the elements described above and position them optimally for a specific type of story. I'll not be delving into the details of the different breakdowns of story structures with varying numbers of acts and sequences, but I'll list a few here so that you're aware of them and can research them further:

  1. 3- or 4-Act, 8-Sequence

  2. 3- or 4-Act Hero's Journey

  3. 3- or 4-Act W-Plot

  4. 5-Act Plot Pyramid

  5. Plot Embryo

  6. 3- or 4-Act, 7-Sequence

You can evaluate the different structures in the context of your story and make a decision about which one is the best fit for it. If you're still not sure, start with the simplest structure. If, after some time, you feel like your story just isn't working within the simplest structure, re-evaluate the other structures again, focusing on the problem-areas of your story.

Novel Goggles provides some templates with differing numbers of Acts and Sequences, pre-populated with hints on what each Act & Sequence should cover and approximately what proportion of your novel length should be dedicated to it.

Novel Goggles allows you to create Acts & Sequences manually if you want to try a Narrative Structure not covered by the provided templates.

Pantsers can start writing without creating any Acts or Sequences, but Novel Goggles works best when you're working within a defined structure.

Using Narrative Structure for better pantsing and plotting

So, you've slogged through my summary of the important elements of Narrative Structure, as I see them. You might be wondering; how does this help me? As you can see, story structure determines where the important moments in the story take place in your novel. For this reason, it is crucial to keep in mind when writing or planning your scenes to ensure that your Plot and Character progression lead up to and line up with the important story events. Your characters are living this story and they need to be entwined in events taking place, and thus entwined in the story structure itself. Similarly, story arcs need to be planned to conform to the structure and story pace and tension should also line up with the placement of the important story elements. For these reasons, plotting or pantsing without a story structure in place is a recipe for lots of revision later on.

In summary, let's take a quick look at how narrative structure can help:

  1. It gives you well-tested, proven placement of story elements to help you with your plot outline and writing.
  2. It helps you to identify missing plot elements.
  3. It helps you to structure scenes and sequels.
  4. It helps you to plan pace, tension and climaxes.
  5. It helps you revise a manuscript that isn't working by giving you guidelines on where certain story events should take place and where your pace and tension should vary.

Clearly, it would be ideal if your story structure was established before you started pantsing or plotting. To the pantsers who stayed with me, be a smarty pants and pants within a well-defined story structure, with a clear idea of what story elements are needed and more or less where they should go.

Novel Goggles encourages you to think about narrative structure from the beginning by requiring you to create Acts and Sequences in the manuscript dashboard before you start Plotting.

You can create the structure as you go, starting by simply creating one Act holding one Sequence and then creating the rest as you progress through your pantsing or plotting process.

To the pantsers who left earlier and are now back after getting stuck 100, 150 pages in. if you have neglected structure and find yourself having to revise and restructure an outline or manuscript, Novel Goggles can help! Novel Goggles allows you to create Acts & Sequences to hold your Chapters & Scenes. Chapters & Scenes can be dragged and dropped to re-organise your outline and any manuscript contents associated with each scene will move around to correspond with your changes.

Pantsers may now be itching to start up their panzer, but wait! Even if plotting is definitely not for you, I would recommend reading the following section to get an idea of what plotters are getting up to. It could help when revising your manuscript later and could even help you to reduce the amount of revising needed, if you refer to some of the plotter's tools while you write.

At the very least, I recommend that pantsers fill out their outlines while they're writing their manuscript. Filling out a Plot Outline while you write will make it easier to revise your manuscript later. Since you would have filled out an outline that matches your manuscript, you can easily jump around between scenes and update them for consistency after moving them around.

Novel Goggles makes it easy for pantsers to fill out a Plot Outline while they write, by making editable scene, location and character popups available while you write your manuscript.

For pantsers curious about outlining, for plotters who want to get better at it or simply want to refresh their memory and for those who are lost. Read on to discover the secrets to creating an effective Plot Outline.

Plot Outline

What does a story outline entail? How do you start? Guess what? If you have your premise written down, you've already started. In crafting your premise, you created the first element in your story outline. If you've done a good job, you should have a clear premise and a number of different possibilities to explore. Starting with these, you can begin to formulate what characters will populate your story, the settings that events will play out in, some basic ideas about what kinds of conflicts might crop up, perhaps a general theme to tie your character, character progression and conflict together and what timeline your story happens over. These are the elements that will make up your story outline. Let's summarise them:

  1. Characters
  2. Settings
  3. Conflict
  4. Theme
  5. Timeline

As mentioned in the section on Narrative Structure, we need to consider all of the above within the story structure if we're going to get the most out of our efforts. Scenes are the structural element that we use to tie our Plot Outline to the Narrative Structure. To create an effective Plot Outline that ties all of the above elements together, we create the following:

  1. Scene Sketches
  2. Character Sketches
  3. Setting Sketches

These 3 items are intricately linked together and you will likely work on them simultaneously, rather than creating one after the other.

Novel Goggles facilitates the interconnection of Scene, Character and Setting sketches. It allows you to fill out setting details in the Scene sketch, link to separate Location and Character sketches and fill add scene notes to Location and Character sketches.

Chapters and Scenes in Novel Goggles are grouped by Acts and Sequences, helping you to keep the Narrative Structure in mind while in the Detailed Planning context. In the Manuscript Context, Act and Sequence breaks are shown on the page.

Scene Sketches

Scene sketches should have the information you need to ensure that each scene belongs in your story, is in the right place in the story structure, is consistent with your themes and to give you an overview of what happens, where & when it happens and who is involved. It could also have notes on foreshadowing, character interactions and point of view. It shouldn't have narrative elements, save those for your manuscript. Furthermore, you can also make notes about story arcs in your scene sketches, specifying which scenes precede or follow other scenes in a particular story arc.

To ensure that you capture the information for each sketch, I've included some steps for creating scene sketches. You don't have to fill out all of the information at the same time, you can take multiple passes at each scene sketch. This is actually a good idea since some details, necessary for foreshadowing and consistency will only be available once you've got a basic idea of the events of all of your scenes:

  1. First Pass:

    1. Write down the important events in the scene:

      1. Keep Scene structure in mind, ensure that you cover the scene beginning, middle and end.
      2. Ensure that your scenes end in a way that keeps the reader wanting to keep reading.
      3. Use internal or external sources of conflict to drive events forward.

    2. List Characters that are taking part in the scene and create basic character sketches for them, possibly even just naming them at this point.
    3. Write down the point of view (POV) of the scene.
    4. Capture basic information about the setting in a rough setting sketch.

  2. Second Pass:

    1. Describe the setting in more detail and set the date that events take place:

      1. Ensure that setting details are consistent.

    2. Add notes about foreshadowing using knowledge of later scenes captured in your first pass at scene sketches.
    3. Add notes about character actions and dialogue in relation to your themes:

      1. Flesh out your character sketches further.

    4. Consider story pace and tension:

      1. You can use story pace and tension to keep the reader engaged:

        1. Scenes are usually action-filled and can be fast-paced.
        2. Sequels can have a slower pace but benefit from heightened tension.

      2. Make sure that your pace and tension align with the scene's position in the narrative structure.

    5. Link your scenes into story arcs, where necessary, indicating where story arcs might diverge or merge:

      1. Story Arcs can help you to navigate your Plot outline and Manuscript, especially where multiple arcs mean that scenes that follow one another in the Manuscript might not necessarily be on the same Story Arc.

  3. General Tips:

    1. Choose the scene POV carefully, sometimes the POV of a character other than the lead character might have more impact than the same scene from the lead character's POV.
    2. Add details of character interactions to build up their relationships.
    3. Evaluate your scene within the context of the Narrative Structure:

      1. Is the scene in the beginning, middle or end of the story?
      2. Does it form part of the hook, inciting incident, climax or resolution?
      3. Are the events, pace and tension appropriate for its position and role in the narrative structure?

Scene sketches can benefit the pantser as well as the plotter. The plotter will create the scene sketches before they write, getting the maximum benefit. The pantser, however, can still benefit from creating scene sketches while they write or after they've completed a manuscript draft. Some of the benefits of scene sketches are listed below:

  1. If scene sketches are created before writing (Plotter):

    1. They help separate the burden of analytical elements of story-telling from the creative elements:

      With a scene sketch at hand, you can focus on the narrative when writing that scene in your manuscript. Referencing your scene sketch while you write will help you to:

      1. Ensure that your scene structure is correct.
      2. Ensure that you target appropriate pace, tension and mood in the scene.

    2. They are more easily checked and updated for consistency and continuity in the story than scenes already written in your manuscript.
    3. Having your entire story sketched out will help you to find plot holes early.
    4. It is easier to revise your story at the outlining stage by revising scene sketches than revising written scenes in the manuscript.
    5. They help you to make sure that all the required plot elements will be in the story at the right places.

  2. If scene sketches are created while writing or after writing a manuscript draft (Pantser):

    1. They can help to identify missing structural elements.
    2. They can help to identify pace/tension issues.
    3. They can help to identify climax placement.
    4. They can help to revise the manuscript by making it easier to quickly identify events in a scene and to evaluate a scene's pace and tension.

Scene sketches are created within a Narrative Structure and also linked to the Manuscript contents, making it easier to reference and edit them while writing or revising your manuscript.

Scene sketches can link to characters and locations, allowing you to make scene-specific notes for in the character and location sketches.

Scenes sketches can be linked into Story Arcs, helping you to visualise the sequence of events in a story arc. This is especially useful for stories with multiple subplots, each with their own story arc.

During plot outline or manuscript revision, scene sketches and the manuscript can be traversed by scene order in the structure, chronological order, story arc order, character arc order and location.

As you outline or write, keeping re-evaluating every scene to see if it fits in your story and drives the narrative forward. Remove scenes that don't. Remember that you can be flexible with your outline, keep updating it. You can also work backwards from an important event to build up the scenes that take you to that point if you're struggling to create a sequence that leads to a specific climax.

From the list of tasks above for the scene sketches, you will have seen mention of character and setting sketches. While these will be created in tandem with the scene sketches, I'll describe them in more detail in the sections that follow.

Character Sketches

Character sketches can be used to plan and track characters, character relationships, character development and character arcs. Characters might be 1-, 2- or 3-dimentional, depending on their role and prominence in the story. Your primary characters will have the most complete, 3-dimentional, character sketches while characters that only make brief appearances might not need very much detail. In addition to various levels of detail, different characters can also have different types of character arcs.

Like scene sketches, you can use multiple passes when creating character sketches as well. You don't necessarily need to decide if a character is 1-, 2- or 3-dimensional at the start, this might become clear as you develop your story further. Similarly, the character's arc will also become clearer as your Plot Outline or Manuscript mature. For your character sketches, make notes about the following for each character, where relevant:

  1. First Pass:

    1. Motives: What reasons do they have for doing what they're doing?
    2. Desires: What does the character want that they don't have control over?
    3. Goals: What does the character want that they DO have control over and can work towards achieving?
    4. Conflict: What conflicts does the character bring to the story? These could be conflicts with other characters or internal conflict.
    5. Possibly a rough sketch of their backstory.

  2. Second Pass:

    1. Add more detail to their backstory, including dates for events.
    2. Add detailed notes on their appearance.
    3. List and add notes on character traits:

      1. You can start noting which traits are becoming more or less dominant as the character arc progresses.
      2. Character traits can be used for character development. For example, fear might hold a character back early in the story. Later on, they could overcome these fears to achieve some goal. For this character, fearfulness could be a dominant trait early on that slowly loses influence over the character as they develop.

The motives, desires, goals and conflicts for your characters are what you will use in your scenes, when formulating the scene beginning, middle and end. Your scene sketches and character sketches are therefore strongly linked and should be created together. Additionally, your themes are also tightly coupled to your character sketches since your character behaviour is used to present the themes to the reader.


The theme is the message that the writer is trying to convey to the reader. There might be more than one theme in a story, at the discretion of the writer. The theme is not explicitly stated, rather, the actions of the characters in the story, what they say, what they think and how the world is presented help to convey the theme to the reader. The themes are therefore tied to character, conflict and character progression.

Character backstory

Character backstory can be used to create a feeling of more depth for your characters. Hinting at formative events in a character's past or revealing titbits about these events throughout your story can help to pique the curiosity of your readers. Your character backstory can tie into their motives, desires, goals, conflicts and theme. Furthermore, the sum of the backstories for your characters will mostly make up the backstory of your novel, creating a sense that there is more to the world that your story takes place in.

To be effective, you should hint at character backstory or reveal small portions of it rather than revealing all of the details of it unless it is relevant to the story at that time. Sometimes it is sufficient to just hint that there is something beneath the surface influencing events. When you do reveal any of the backstory, keep it brief to keep the momentum with the story you're trying to tell.

To help you fill out some details about what makes your characters who they are, you can ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What has happened to them in the past and how did these events influence them? E.g. Did they lose a loved one or experience some hardship or disaster?
  2. What have they done in the past? Perhaps they took actions that they regret and wish to make up for, perhaps they feel guilt or shame about something. Perhaps they are trying to live up to some earlier level of achievement.
  3. Who has influenced and affected them? Did they have siblings or close friends? Was family a big influence? Do they have a role-model or were they bullied? Are they trying to live up to the expectations of others? Were they spurned by a previous love?
  4. Where have they been? Have they travelled extensively and experienced many cultures? Have they lived a protected life in a small town?

Answering these types of questions for each of your more important characters will give you events, actions, characters and settings to hint at during the events of your story. You will also have some underlying substance propping up their motives, desires, goals and conflicts. Use these elements to create depth and intrigue.

Character Finer Details

In addition to the general information about your character described above, you can make more detailed notes on the specifics for each character:

  1. Specifics around appearance: Are they tall or short? What colour is their hair? Are they athletic? What types of clothing do they wear?
  2. Character Traits (strengths/weaknesses): Are they quick to anger? Do they help others, even strangers? Are they generous or stingy? Are they confident or timid?
  3. Dates of events in their backstory.

These additional details can help you to imagine and describe them as they live through the events of your story.

Novel Goggles allows you to use images and descriptive text to describe your character's appearance.

Novel Goggles allows you to Assign Character Traits in two cageories: Strengths and Weaknesses.

Character Development/Progression and Character Arcs

Each scene in your story may have some elements of character development or progression where external events or internal factors will drive some kind of change in the character. Depending on the scene, these changes may be positive or negative and might illustrate short-lived growth or regression or perhaps tie into the direction of the character change as seen over the entire duration of the story. The changes tracked over the length of the story for a character will reveal their character arc.

The character arc describes the entire change in the character that takes place over the duration of the story. Some characters won't change at all while others will change a lot. Certain character traits might become more or less prominent as the story progresses and relationships can change and evolve.

We can group character arcs into three different kinds in two categories:

  1. 3-Dimentional/Round/Dynamic Character Arcs:

    1. Positive character arc: A character changes for the better over the duration of the story.
    2. Negative character arc: A character changes for the worse over the duration of the story.

  2. 1-Dimensional/Flat/Static Character Arcs:

    1. Flat character arc. A character remains consistent throughout the events of the story, despite the changes taking place around them.

How your character arcs progress should fit into the overall Narrative Structure. For example, your Positive or Negative character arcs should line up with the climax.

Similarly to scene sketches, character sketches can also benefit the pantser as well as the plotter. The plotter will create the character sketches before they write, getting the maximum benefit. The pantser, however, can still benefit from creating character sketches while they write or after they've completed a manuscript draft. Some of the benefits of character sketches are:

  1. Character sketches can help you to create character depth by providing a place to keep track of information about characters that isn't explicitly stated in the story but is hinted at.
  2. You can use character sketches to plan and track character development and character arcs before you start writing or to evaluate and adjust character arcs for an existing manuscript.
  3. Character sketches can help you to maintain consistency in your characters by providing a reference that you can refer to as you plan or write scenes.

Novel Goggles provides the following tools for managing Character Arcs:

  1. You can set characters to be Dynamic (Positive or Negative Arc) or Static (Flat Arc)
  2. You can make Scene-Specific Notes for characters, linked to the scenes that they appear in.
  3. Character traits are plotted for you with multiple viewing options:

    1. View trait influence Per Scene
    2. View trait progression across All Scenes

  4. Character arc traversal tools:

    1. In the character details view, you can jump between scenes that a character is in.
    2. In the plotting context, you can navigate the Plot Outline by the scene order that the selected character appears in.
    3. In the manuscript context, you can navigate the Manuscript by the scene order that the selected character appears in.

Setting Sketches

Setting sketches can help you to keep track of the environments that your various scenes take place in and how they fit into the greater world of your story. Using setting sketches helps you to ensure continuity between scenes that take place in the same location and consistency between different story elements. For example, ensuring that the weather matches the time of year, and that the resulting mood matches the requirements of the scene. Setting sketches can be divided into two parts. parts that are independent of the scene and parts that are dependent on the scene:

  1. Independent:

    1. The Location and its overall appearance can be described separately from any specific scene taking place there.
    2. How the location fits into the broader world that the story takes place in.
    3. Potential backstory for the location.

  2. Dependent:

    1. Date and Time.
    2. Weather.
    3. Character interactions with the setting and feelings about the setting.

You may wish to create separate Location sketches and setting sketches, where the same location sketches can be used in the setting for multiple scene sketches.

To create a setting sketch, make notes about the following:

  1. Location (Possibly separate into its own sketch):

    1. Make notes on the location appearance.
    2. Use images as inspiration: You can draw or sketch locations if you are able, ask a friend, use a generative AI, or pay someone to make a sketch for you.
    3. How does the location fit into the world of your story and relate to other locations?
    4. How long does it take to move between locations?

  2. What is the Date/Time
  3. Conditions at the location:

    1. Weather and temperature.
    2. Create tension and atmosphere and match the mood to the scene, e.g., dark and gloomy or bright and sunny.

  4. Characters:

    1. How do your characters feel about a setting? Is it familiar, alien? Does it inspire wonder or fear?
    2. Different characters might have different feelings about a setting.

Sometimes a setting is simply a backdrop for a scene, sometimes it is integral to the scene. For the former scenario, you can make adjustments to the setting to affect the scene mood or have a different effect on characters. For the latter scenario, making changes to the setting will fundamentally change the story and more caution should be exercised when considering changes to the setting.

A final tip about settings is to be careful of creating too many primary locations for your story. If your story is constantly introducing new locations, the reader can become overwhelmed with all of the new information. When introducing a new location, evaluate if it is really necessary or whether it would be better to re-use a location, perhaps with different environmental conditions to match the mood of the scene.

Novel Goggles allows you to create separate Location and Setting Sketches. Setting sketches are linked to the scene sketch and Location sketches can be linked to a setting and scene sketch.

Novel Goggles has fields for Setting information in each scene, including location, weather, temperature, which characters are involved, the date.

Locations in Novel Goggles can have scene notes for each scene that takes place there.

Some stories go beyond settings and expand into full-on worldbuilding. If your story calls for it, spend some additional time on worldbuilding.


Worldbuilding involves creating a more complete world for your story to take place in. Beyond what is immediately clear in the settings of your various scenes, worldbuilding will involve creating a richer environment with more backstory and depth. Worldbuilding can involve the following additional elements:

  1. Politics
  2. Languages and Cultures
  3. Currencies and Economies
  4. History
  5. Detailed Maps, Geography and Ecosystems
  6. Factions
  7. Weather
  8. Physics and Magic

You can make your worldbuilding efforts as detailed as you like. Perhaps you will just name languages and assign them to specific areas or groups or perhaps you will create the fictional languages as well. Perhaps you will describe current factions and conflicts or perhaps you will include the history that brought about these factions and conflicts.

Novel Goggles allows you to upload images to use as world maps and to populate those world maps with locations, each with their own image and descriptions.

Would you like to see more specific worldbuilding tools in Novel Goggles? Tools to define and visualise factions, show distances on maps, indicate currencies, active conflicts and historical events? Let us know!

Plot Outline In Summary

During the outlining process you'll be making interconnected scene, character and setting sketches, searching for plot holes, developing character and story arcs, and weaving your theme into scenes through character actions and dialogue. You should be constantly evaluating your scenes, character arcs and story arcs within the context of the broader narrative structure and updating them to remain consistent as you integrate new ideas into your plot outline or manuscript.

For the plotters, you can evolve your outline through multiple passes. You can start out with short summaries for each scene and basic character and setting sketches, then on a second pass, add focus on themes, foreshadowing, character backstory, traits and development, story and character arcs, and dates on a timeline. For the pantsers, I advise that you create and update a basic Plot Outline as you write, to make it easier to revise your manuscript later on.

For both pantsers and plotters, remember that the Plot Outline is not a rigid path to be followed. It is a dynamic guide, helping you to make the most of your story and prompting you when you get stuck. Feel free to update it throughout the plotting, writing and revising process.

Finally, keep evaluating how you Outline and write as you grow as a writer and with each new project. Keep optimising for your own strengths and weaknesses, and depending on the type of story you're working on.

Using Novel Goggles, pantsers can slowly build up the details of an outline while they're writing their manuscript.

Plotters have their plot outline available to them while they write, linked to the scene they're writing in the manuscript.

Novel Goggles makes Plot Outline and Manuscript revision easier by offering the following tools:
  1. Traversal tools allow both pantsers and plotters to quickly navigate both the Plot Outline and the written Manuscript by various parameters:

    1. Scene Structure order.
    2. Chronological order.
    3. Story Arc order.
    4. Character Arc order.
    5. Location order.

  2. Dragging and Dropping Chapters and Scenes in the Detailed Planning View:

    1. This re-orders the Chapters and Scenes in the Plot Outline.
    2. This also re-orders the linked Manuscript Contents in the Manuscript.

  3. Referencing and Editing Plot Outline from the Manuscript Writing Context:

    1. This makes it easy to update the Plot Outline to reflect changes in the Manuscript.
    2. This makes it easy to update the Manuscript to reflect changes in the Plot Outline.

Novel Goggles

We've created Novel Goggles to make writing better stories easier for everybody. Whether you prefer to pants or plot, we believe that Novel Goggles can help you to make more effective use of your creative writing talents.

To help you improve your writing, Novel Goggles encourages you to create a Premise and Narrative Structure for your stories before you start Pantsing or Plotting. Narrative Structure Templates are provided to get going quickly, with helpful hints about what each part of your story structure should cover and how long it should be.

Novel Goggles makes it easy to create and revise scene, setting, character and location sketches and to create and manage character and story arcs. You can do this during a formal Plot Outlining phase or while you're writing your Manuscript.

Novel Goggles has a 7-day Free Trial, where only the days that you log in count towards your trial usage. No payment details required: Sign Up to the Free Trial!

  1. Novel Goggles allows you to create a Plot Outline before you start writing, while you're writing or while you're trying to revise a difficult manuscript:

    1. Define your Narrative Structure:
    2. Create Scene Sketches
    3. Create Character Sketches
      1. Character Progression
    4. Create Location and Setting Sketches
    5. Upload World Maps to show your Locations
    6. Analyse story Pace, Tension and position Climaxes

  2. Novel Goggles allows you to easily traverse your Plot Outline and Manuscript for easier analysis and revision. You can traverse the Outline and Manuscript by the following scene order options:

    1. By Story Structure order
    2. By Story Arc order
    3. By Character Arc order
    4. By Chronological Order
    5. According to Scenes that take place at the same Location

  3. Update and review your Plot Outline while you write:

    1. See and edit scene, setting, character and location details from your Plot Outline while you write.
    2. Easily jump between the writing view and detailed planning contexts of Novel Goggles.

If Novel Goggles sounds interesting to you, you can find out more about it at the links below:


Revisiting the Scenarios laid out at the start of this piece, let's see how their situation might look now, taking into account everything that we've learned along the way:

  • Scenario A: The Smarty Pantser has pantsed within a well-defined structure. Moreover, they've used Novel Goggles to grow and evolve a plotter-like Plot Outline as they've been writing their manuscript. As their panzer sputters to a halt, they look back at their path through the narrative landscape, which has at least followed the general direction of the highways and stopped at the right story elements along the way. Revising doesn't seem an impossible task anymore. They can drag and drop scenes to re-arrange their story and traverse the outline and manuscript to easily update and revise linked scenes, story arcs and character arcs.

  • Scenario B: The Plotter no longer has to rifle through pages looking for events. They've used Novel Goggles and thus they simply click through scenes by whatever order is most useful for updates and revisions. Story arcs, character arcs, chronologically, by structure order. While writing the first draft of their manuscript, any minor updates to the outline are easy to make and re-arranging chapters and scenes is also as simple as dragging and dropping them.

  • Scenario C: Hopefully, the undecided amoung you are no longer lost. Hopefully you have a clear plan forward, whether it is pantsing, plotting or something in-between. And personally, I hope you give Novel Goggles a try.

Thank you for reading! I hope you have found this to be an informative and useful piece. Remember, you can adapt the concepts to suit your own style, strengths and weaknesses as a writer.

While there is nowhere to comment on the Novel Goggles Blog, please feel free to drop us an e-mail if you have any feedback on this or any other piece:


The information contained in this piece is my interpretation of the concepts of storytelling as they relate to writing and how I think they can be used to become a more effective writer. These ideas and opinions have obviously not been arrived at in isolation. The following sources deserve credit:

I would encourage you to please read further about these topics to cross-check what you see here and to see different takes on writing and storytelling.

Terms & Definitions

  • Act
  • Antagonist
  • Chapter
  • Character Arc
  • Character Development
  • Character Progression
  • Climax
  • Conflict
  • Denouement
  • Deuteragonist
  • Exposition
  • Foil
  • Inciting incident
  • Love interest
  • Mentor
  • Narrative Structure
  • Opening
  • Outlining
  • Pace
  • Pantser
  • Pantsing
  • Plot Outline
  • Plot Point
  • Plotter
  • Plotting
  • Point of View
  • Premise
  • Protagonist
  • Resolution
  • Scene
  • Sequence
  • Setting
  • Sidekick
  • Story Arc
  • Tension
  • Theme
  • World Building

Did we forget anything? Let us know if there is a term or definition that you would like us to include: