Plot Skeleton

Plot creation from seed to story for writers  Robbins Skyward

The Triple O outline provides structure. Every story is about someone who wants something and how they get it. Or not.   Every story plot can easily be broken down into three parts: Objective, Obstacles, Outcome, or what Arlene Chase calls the Triple-O Outline. Don’t worry if your plot is borrowed; there are almost no new ones. The challenge is to make your characters so fresh and their motives so compelling or unique that the reader forgets he has seen the plot before.  This is your story.

Plot happens when something changes

Let us lookout Cinderella. Step mother and step sisters treat Cinderella with rude disdain. She wants to go to the ball, too. Remember, plot always happens when something changes. When the character knows what he or she wants, that is the objective: the beginning of the plot and the beginning of the story.

Now the character has a problem to solve – how to get what she wants. Once there is a problem statement, it’s time to get on with the story.

If there is no problem, nothing is happening, and there is no story. Stories are about overcoming something. If there is no “overcoming” then there is no satisfaction for the reader.  Again, let Cinderella’s tale demonstrate.

Here are The Triple-Os:


Cinderella wants to go to the ball. Her sisters are going and she wants to be there, too.


Whatever stands in the character’s way of getting what she wants are obstacles. For hundreds of years three has been a magic number in our culture. Genies grant three wishes, there are usually three turning points or complications in a story plot, with the last one resulting in the crisis/bleak moment, just before the resolution. And, of course, we have a Triple-O format to follow.

Cinderella’s obstacles:

  1. She wants to go to the ball
  2. She has nothing to wear
  3.  She has no way to get there

Along comes her fairy-godmother, who solves these problems. Now it is her turn: she must be home by midnight or the magic wears off.

In every story there is (or should be) that moment when it looks as if all is lost. For Cinderella, that moment happens when she’s in the Prince’s arms and the clock strikes 12.  She runs, for she knows that when the clock finishes striking, she will in rags at the Royal Palace. 


means how your story ends. The main character or his or her circumstances should change because of it. In our sample story, the Prince finds a glass slipper. Truly smitten, he searches for Cinderella until he finds her. And the Outcome, of course, is they marry and live happily ever after. Not every story has a happy ending. There must be a resolution and the story will be better received if that resolution is satisfactory to the reader. 


don’t work for children.  While young readers expect that the story is here and now, adults put up with flashbacks. Keep them as short as you can. Don’t confuse the ‘back story’ that you consign to a flashback with current plot action. Whatever has happened before the real action begins is ‘back story’.  Cinderella’s mother’s death and her father’s remarriage are  ‘back story’.  The reader needs to know only these facts; they can be implied or woven into the present story.