Map and Compass

The Cub Scouts of America earn a belt loop for master the Map and Compass requirements. Its more than just learning how to use these tools; this belt loop signifies that the scout has the skills to know where he’s going and how to get there. The writer undertaking a novel needs the same skills when embarking on his story. Novels follow several very general lines of construction, mixing and matching them more often than not. Strictly outlined stories have all the action and character points laid out before the story even begins. Some stories set goals that the characters need to accomplish in order to progress the plot. Character-driven stories rely on their characters to provide the bulk of the plot development.


Many writers learn how to outline plots and term papers as a basic skill in composition class. That same skill can be applied to your story to make sure that your plot progresses naturally from beginning to end. Using an outline to construct a story ensures that each plot point advances the story so that it forms a logical progression from beginning to end. Outlines ensure that every character develops properly, that every plot point is hit, and that the climax of the story uses all the pieces you’ve carefully laid out beforehand. Outlining your story provides a useful global view of the whole thing, and let’s the writer clearly define both characters and events. A proper outline exemplifies both “where you are going” and “how to get there”.


Sometimes writers know exactly how they want their story to end, and have a clear idea of the events that are supposed to happen on the road to that climax. This kind of goal-setting puts specific plot points and character moments as certain points in the story and work toward achieving them one at a time. Goal-setting serves both the action of the plot by ensuring that key moments happen at regular points in the story, or that characters experience particular changes as they develop. Goal setting provides the writer with a useful tool in keeping the action flowing between plot points and that dramatic moments provide the highlights. Goal-setting exemplifies the “know where you are going” approach to storytelling.


One of the most popular forms of storytelling focuses on the characters and their development throughout the story in order to provide dramatic moments and complete the action of the plot. Characters are important; they provide the emotional attachment for the reader and let him invest in the action so that the payoff is important. Powerfully written characters provide an empathetic anchor for a story and give the plot points meaning. The action must flow between plot points, but characters must also grow and change in order to make the payoff of the climactic action last beyond the final page. Character moments in the plot are a good example of “knowing how to get there” in the story.


Best practices blend all three techniques in story construction; scouts should use all of the tools at their disposal. Character moments may be your compass. Goal-setting may provide you with a map. Outlining may be thought of as putting the compass rose on the map so that you know how the two fit together. Using all three tools correctly ensures that your character moments get you from plot point to plot point, and that the payoff at the end is everything you want it be. Any one of these techniques will get your story from beginning to end, finding the right mix to match your style carries the reader along with you, and leaves him wanting more after the last page has been turned.

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