01/28/2014 02:12 pm ET Updated Mar 30, 2014

How to Create a Long-Term Legacy -- As the Protagonist of Your Own Story

When writing a play or book, there's always a least one character who qualifies as the story's protagonist. Some like to think of the protagonist as the hero of the story. For others, the protagonist is the chief, the principal or the title role. At some point very near to the beginning of the play, this main character should clearly state or imply what it is that they want and how they intend to get it. To amplify the drama and to make for a compelling tale for the audience or reader, it is our job as the writer to beat up on the protagonist and put obstacles in their way of getting what they want.

When writing scenes and dialogue, it is imperative to think about how each component furthers the storyline along. Does each written moment move the protagonist closer or further away from their goal or initial want? (There are no right answers here, just as long as you know where you're going.) But just because you can write snappy dialogue between four characters at once, or you're great at writing comedic foils, it doesn't necessarily mean it belongs in the piece you're writing. If you can make it flow, great, but shoving a square peg into a round hole doesn't do anyone any good.

The same goes with life and your legacy. The work you take on, the people you spend time with, the relationships that you enter -- do any or all of these further your personal story along, or are they a hinderance? If you answered yes to "hinderance" then it's time to get the pen and pad out and start working on rewrites to your personal play. Just because you can attract that hot, young pop-tart or start that new business doesn't mean you necessarily should. To be able to adequately gauge these life questions you'll need to create for yourself one of the most important tools a playwright can create for themselves: an outline.

An outline at its best is a fluid piece of strategy. At its very core, an outline should be a sparsely drawn up map for your story with certain signposts every so often that tell you how your story is developing. J.K. Rowling, author of the best selling Harry Potter series, says, "I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided when I write." The crux of the point here also reminds me of one of favorite childhood pastimes: coloring in a coloring book (I may still have a few Crayolas laying around my office). Let's say my younger brother and I are each given the same coloring book full of blank pictures of different cartoon elephants. I end up coloring all of my elephants a different shade of green, while brother smatters blue, red and yellow colors across each of his elephants. The lines that make up our respective elephants are the same but it's up to each of us to decide what colors we want to use to fill them.

When in doubt about a decision, go back to your outline and write in signposts like "spouse," "job," "home," "charitable activity," etc. It's now much easier to piece together the story you've already told with your life. Even better, you now have a tool to help you tell the story you want with the next several chapters of your life. How do the next several activities you're thinking of taking on fit into the story you're trying to tell?