Gerrold’s Story Outline
What is a story? A story is a message set in words conveyed through artistic imagery. – David Gerrold
As found in the book Worlds Of Wonder And Fantasy, here is the author’s basic story outline. This is what Gerrold applied while writing TV episodes for series such as Star Trek and Babylon 5. I’m using this for my cyberpunk Young Adult novel.
• The stage is set.
• The hero is introduced.
• The situation is introduced and the hero discovers he has a problem. The hero attempts action and fails. He is beaten up by the problem.
• The hero gains an understanding of the nature of the problem.
• The hero takes direct and knowledgeable action.
• The hero discovers everything else that doesn’t work. He exhausts all the possibilities he knows. All that is left is what he doesn’t know.
• Some event occurs or some person says something that triggers the hero’s realization of what he needs to do.
• The hero has a personal and self-generated transformation—a shift in being, a reinvention of self—and confronts the problem directly.
• Out of the confrontation, the problem is resolved. The hero is changed by his journey.
Gerrold’s Character Creation
In the chapter titled, Who Is This Person, Gerrold’s book provides a couple of pages of questions to ask while creating a main character. Basically, I have to sit down and think about these questions, long enough to give me a good, strong grasp of who my main character is going to be. I’ve been doing this kind of thing already, so okay, let’s see what I can come up with on the fly. (Note that some of my answers are slightly repetitive. This was due to the way the questions were asked.)
My protagonist’s name is Sohl (Fish). He is sixteen years old. Sohl’s biological parents are Father Dann and Mother Lencia, but he wasn’t raised only by them. He lives in a commune / arcology where several responsible adults have raised him. Sohl was born in the nearby city, but his parents moved to the arcology while he was still a toddler. He gets along with his parents and a couple of other adults about the same.
Sohl has had a busy childhood. Since he was small, he was shown how to tend to small plants and weed gardens. More responsibilities were added / earned as he grows older. He has one younger sister, Septima, who is fourteen years old. (She was the seventh child to be born in that year.) Sohl gets along well with her.
Sohl knows a lot about hydroponics and building things with discarded materials. He is usually hands on with projects and intuitive on how to fix things. He doesn’t know a lot past simple farming, very little about technology, and nothing about city life.
Sohl doesn’t have enemies, but he does have a couple of rivals, including D Rival, who is one year older (Rory Magdan, named later). They are rivals because the best young man in the commune / tribe will have a better chance of wedding one of the most eligible young women. Sohl doesn’t really have his heart set on any given girl, but D Rival does. D Rival assumes that Sohl will take the hottest girl there, and does not believe when Sohl claims he’s not that interested.
Sohl is also studying for a spot with the priesthood. He has no vices or bad attitudes, but he can be stubborn and reckless at times.
Sohl is 5’8”. He is half Anglo and half Hispanic. His skin is fair, his build lean, and he shows good musculature because he wrestles and does a lot of heavy toil. Sohl is an excellent bow hunter, and a so-so trapper. His hands and forearms show discolored striping from a time when one of the younger children was attacked by a bobcat. The feline scratched up his flesh. Repairs with collagen and protein cultures were successful, but exact pigmentation was not available, resulting in the noticeable marks. Sohl wears a bracelet with several bobcat teeth on it. (The bracelet part was removed. It sounded too primitive, too Tarzan.) He is also good with a shock staff, which he carries when tending to the arcology’s modest amount of livestock.
Sohl believes everything he has been taught. He is still undecided over whether or not he will pursue the expected career as a farmer, but he also wonders about spiritual matters and has trained with the priesthood.
Sohl wears tunics with removable, button-sleeves that can double as vests. His trousers have removable leggings, rendering them as shorts in hotter weather, and are kept secure by pull-cords woven into the waist and ankles. Sohl has five tunics and three pants, colored in browns, tans and softer greens. Cinnamon and Sage are his favorite colors, but he does like forest greens as well, and sky blue. It doesn’t get too cold where he lives, but on the coldest days, he wears a regular tunic and a leather vest on top. Blankets with neck holes are rarely used, or double trousers. Sohl owns a weaved hat, but it isn’t well made. His sister gave him a much better one. Sohl has two pairs of moccasins and one set of sandals. For his belt, he usually ties rope around his waist. He uses an apron if he needs to handle greasy tools or animal feed / manure. He owns three loincloths colored in tan or blue. On the hottest days, males and females in the arcology will only wear their loincloths.
Sohl is very good with a hunting bow. He is good with a six-inch knife and a shock staff. He is more intelligent and intuitive than most of his peers and many adults.
Sohl respects the monotheistic religion of his parents and the arcology. His biggest concerns during the early stages are who he should marry and whether or not he is cut out to be a priest. What bugs him most is that he wants to make a big contribution to the tribe right away, to show everyone that he will be a worthy adult.
Sohl’s biggest fears are that he will be seen as a failure in life, and that he might lose his family or never see them again. He becomes angry when his male peers comment on how pretty his mother and sister are. Sohl becomes upset when he sees people acting lazy, or when others fail at tasks he is good at. The character wants respect, despite that he has done nothing to lower his value to anyone’s eyes. His fears are self-created.
Sohl needs to become the best farmer, repair guy or priest, depending on what road he takes.
Sohl needs to understand that people already like him, and that he is his own worst critic. The chip on his shoulder comes from nowhere, but it is there and it grows bigger every time he comes in second best or fails. No one can help him out of this because he won’t listen. The biggest problem he needs to overcome is to be satisfied with who he is.
All in all, I was satisfied with the results of the exercise. I now have a good grasp of what goes on in the head of my protagonist, and I have an idea of what is taking place around him. The trick here is to ‘show, don’t tell’ the reader all of these things.