‘Take off your pants!’ Outline

This plan is based on the method described by Libbie Hawker in ‘Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing’. It starts with a character flaw, and leads to 5 points that make up your ‘Story Core.’

The plan created here can be used to guide your novel, but Libbie’s book also describes pacing and constructing scenes. We recommend reading the book to make full use of this method.

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Main character (Give their name and important features.)
Character Flaw

A story is a journey to overcome a flaw. If you know your character’s flaw you know the lesson that must be learned at the end of the book. The end of your story might be the opposite of the flaw, or the flaw mastered.

End of story

The external goal is about plot, it’s the outer motivation to push your character to the end of the story where their flaw is mastered. This goal should provide an opportunity for the character to recognise their weakness and change.

External goal

The antagonist is traditionally a ‘bad guy’ or villain. Considering your central character’s external goal should reveal the antagonist to you. The antagonist should always be invested in achieving the same external goal as your hero. The antagonist will prove the biggest obstacle to your character if they struggle for that goal as much as your character does.


An Ally is more than a friend; they are a character who has the power to force your main character to take the correct path. Your character will resist change and put off confronting his flaw as he reaches for his external goal. An Ally will back your character into a corner and force him to confront his flaw.


Theme is a way of boiling down the point of your book into one sentence. It’s a unifying force that keeps a story feeling coherent. It might be an outlook on the world or a behaviour you’re trying to explore.


Step 7 Think about your Plot

Your plot is the external incident of the story, and you should expect this to change as your story develops. Libbie says the ‘Story Core’ involving character arc and theme will not change, but the plot incidents that represents your character’s journey will evolve as new ideas come to you.

In this section of the plan you will define the plot in your book. This is the bulk of your story, and is based on the classic hero’s journey structure.

Make sure every element relates to the Story Core you have already described. If these plot points do not involve your character flaw, your character’s change, or the theme you should consider finding a new plot element. At this stage of outlining your novel you should be flexible and explore ideas. You can come back to this section and improve the plan over time.

What sets the stage? Ideally address either your character’s flaw or the theme

What boots your character out of everyday reality?

What makes your character seek his goal?

If your character hasn’t yet displayed his flaw to the reader, how will you make it known?

What will your character do on his first attempt to reach his external goal?

What scene will show your antagonist’s opposition to your character?

What happens to thwart your character when he tries to reach his goal?

What can you do to show your character’s flaw again? Your character will not yet be aware that the flaw is the real issue, but as the story progresses he will become aware.

Describe a new plan your character hatches to reach his goal.

What does the Antagonist do to surprise your character and make things worse?

Your character should fail here. What is the result of the Antagonist’s attack?

The goal seems out of reach. Your character must find a new goal or focus on a different aspect of the external goal.

What does your character’s Ally do to make your character see his flaw and know it needs fixing?

Your character now realises what he must do in a final drive to win. How can you show your character’s awakening or changed mental state?

What happens when your character faces the antagonist in the final showdown?

What ‘dies’ here is the character’s flaw. Your character ‘kills off’ his old self. What happens here to show your character is different?

What happens in the final scenes to show whether your character won or lost his external goal, or to reveal the theme of your story.

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