But somewhere between points A and Z, your story meanders and rambles. It's a mooshy, middlin' mess.
Instead of abandoning your manuscript to oblivion, hang it on the sturdy three-act structure and see what shakes out.
I've learned about the importance of the three-act structure from several writing professionals. But Randy Ingermanson, the Snowflake Guy, sums it up the best:
Three disasters and an ending!
- At the end of Act One, about one-fourth through the story, the protagonist commits to the story goal.
- In the middle of Act Two, about half-way through the story, the story direction changes.
- At the end of Act Two, about three-quarters through the story, the final confrontation occurs.
- Act Three, the final one-fourth of the book, is the ending.
But when I got to the one-fourth point in the novel, it was too soon to unleash my first planned disaster, the death of a major character. He and the protagonist had barely met.
I revised my outline.
But when I got to the halfway point -- you guessed it -- the time still wasn't right for this character to die.
Back to the outline.
The final disaster is the death of this major character (added to another heartbreak for the protagonist).
Other disasters now occur at the earlier designated points in the story.
Even though my "three disasters and an ending" didn't go as I originally planned, I continued moving forward with my story by making revisions to the structure.
- After the first disaster, my protagonist commits to the story goal.
- After the second disaster, the story direction (and location) changes.
- After the third disasters, the protagonist confronts her fate.
(Note: Mr. Ingermanson explains the three-act structure more fully in his book, Writing Fiction for Dummies, co-authored with Peter Economy. It's one of the books I recommend in the Books on Writing/Amazon button in the far right column.)