The Five Milestones
Now you have an idea of these elements, then think about how they might fit into the story. Remember: this is only a one-pager. You don’t need to go into great detail. Five paragraphs will do, and it might help to use the following structure:
- Ordinary World
- Inciting incident
- Tests and Challenges
Let’s explore what these mean:
Ordinary WorldYour protagonist will be in stasis. They will yearn for some kind of change. Think of Luke Skywalker wanting to get off Tatooine, Katniss Everdeen stuck in District 12 and hunting to feed her family, and every classic Disney animation where the hero/heroine sings their “I Want” song (e.g.: I Just Can’t Wait To Be King from The Lion King)
Inciting IncidentSomething will trigger the adventure and start the change in your protagonist’s life. A desperate message from a captured princess, Katniss volunteers at the Reaping, Mufasa dies and Simba blames himself.
Tests and ChallengesWhat will your protagonist have to overcome to achieve their goal? These will have to knock them back again and again and — crucially — the stakes will need to be raised each time. They will fail and learn and grow. You don’t need too much detail, but think thematically about those challenges. This is where the antithesis of your thematic argument is at its most powerful.
ClimaxAs the challenges become more and more difficult, the stakes will be raised. Think about how your protagonist might be broken emotionally or physically by these tests, and what they can do to overcome them. This is the hardest part of storytelling and don’t feel bad if you can’t figure this out quite yet. It’s okay to leave yourself a question: “Just how do they escape the dungeon without any weapons or magic?” -- You can figure out the details later. What’s important is to clarify what the question is in the first place.
ResolutionThis can be a triumph or a tragedy, but it does need to resolve and your protagonist does need to change. Often they will be the opposite of what they were when they began the story. Many writers start from here, like a comedian who starts with the punchline and works back.
Open your One Pager Workbook and complete the third exercise “The Bestseller Academy One-Pager Worksheet”.
Don’t worry if you can't answer all the questions posed by these story beats. Writing is a journey of discovery and we all struggle with this part. You reserve the right to make as many changes as you like as the characters and story reveal themselves as you write.
Change or divert the outline whenever you want. Don’t feel bound to it if things change (and they almost certainly will).
You may have a clear idea of the theme now, but remember it’s not usual to have a “so that’s what it’s really about!” revelation at any point in writing, including at the very end.