Have you ever longed to write a book but feel unable to think of a suitable story, and you’re unsure how to start finding ideas? Well, let me help you plot your story in 10 easy steps.
You may already have an idea bouncing around inside your head, but again you’re not sure how to begin expanding that idea into a plot outline and enough words to write a book.
Below is how to plot your story in 10 steps, you’ll find easy to follow steps and quite a few questions. Each question and the answers you give will help you devise a plot outline you can use to begin writing that first book.
YOUR IDEA IN ONE SENTENCE
The action of reducing an idea into one sentence will help to pinpoint what the story is about. The core conflict identified will drive your novel and help you plot your story. This is one thing that needs to be resolved or something bad will happen. If you can’t do this in one sentence, then try using no more than two sentences. If you can’t do it in two, that’s probably your plotting problem. Take some time to figure out what the story is about, and then come back to this and find your plot
IDENTIFY A PROBLEM
Check your idea and ask yourself what big thing is about to go terribly wrong? Has something about this situation gone wrong in some way? Is someone behaving badly, or in trouble, and what great threat is looming on the horizon?
Everything is going to relate to your one sentence from step one since that’s the core conflict. This is going to be what your plot is trying to resolve. Every scene in your novel is going to connect to that in some way. Write down the problem and start expanding on the idea if you want.
PLOT YOUR STORY AND FIND THE STAKES
Here you need to plan what is going to happen if this big thing isn’t resolved? Something is going to go wrong for someone, and it’ll need to be bad enough to capture a reader’s attention for at least 80K words. This is the point where many plots start to crumble because the stakes aren’t fleshed out enough yet. The story doesn’t have the reader wondering why they should care what happens to the protagonist. You don’t know why it all matters yet so, it’s harder to know what comes next. Jot down the reason why it’s important the big thing not happening (or happen if the antagonist’s goal is to stop it). Ask yourself the following question if you’re still not sure…
- Who will this hurt?
- Who will it help?
- What will happen if this big thing occurs?
- What will happen if this big thing doesn’t occur?
- Why is this big thing a bad thing?
- Why must it be resolved?
WHO IS THE PROTAGONIST?
Identifying your protagonist is a must to plot your story and to make it work. Since most stories are about interesting people solving interesting problems in interesting ways, they’re going to have the most at stake and be the one most personally invested in the problem. You want to put this as step two or three, as a story problem may often come up before you figure out who the right person is to put into that problem. You might know the problem is with a sinister character and a naive community member, but not know exactly who they are when you first think up the idea. Write down who the protagonist is and as much info about them as you’d like.
Some questions to ask is WHO:
- Has the most to lose in the problem? (this will connect back to your stakes)
- Could resolve that problem?
- Is central to the conflict?
- Has a perspective that no other person has that gives them insight into the problem?
IDENTIFY YOUR ANTAGONIST
The resolution of this big thing/problem is being thwarted by someone or something. There need to be obstacles to overcome or the story will be boring. These obstacles will matter, and not simply be stuff in the way, it must cause tension. Some stories won’t have a person as the antagonist, it might be a natural disaster or a character’s personal problem. For those stories, think about the specific thing/s in the way of your protagonist getting what they want. Make a note of want they want and whomever, whatever and how many there may be.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
- Who or what could stop the protagonist?
- Why are they trying to stop them?
- Who or what can make the big thing happen?
- Why do they want to?
FIND THE PROTAGONIST’S GOAL?
You should have a goal now, and based on your stakes, you should have an idea of why this is important to your protagonist and your antagonist. These are the things that are going to drive your story forward. These goals are where your plot is going to come from. Your protagonist (and antagonist) acting on these goals. Look back at step one. See that one sentence? If you don’t have it already (some will) rewrite it using the info you just came up with. [Protagonist] is trying to solve [problem] or [stakes] will happen, and [antagonist] is trying to stop them for [these reasons].
This is the central/core conflict, the story problem, the key to how you plot your story. If you get lost or not sure what to do next, check your story sentence to help remind you what the point is.
WHAT ARE THE MOTIVATING FACTORS?
Check back at your protagonist, antagonist, and remind yourself of the stakes, and their goals. Now think about why these matters to your protagonist and antagonist. Something is driving them to act – but what?
Write the answers down. Add in the reasons, the back story, whatever information helps understand why the protagonist and antagonist are acting this way. Make sure you do this for the antagonist, too, because the more you flesh him/her out the better villain they’ll make. They’ll have reasons for what he/she does, and that’ll make it easier for you to plot your story how they’ll act, which in turns makes the protagonist act, which results in the plot.
MORE QUESTIONS TO ASK
- Why is this important to the protagonist/antagonist?
- What do they personally have to lose if the big thing isn’t resolved?
- Why don’t they want that to happen?
- What are they willing to risk or do to resolve it?
- What are they not willing to do? (is there a line they won’t cross?)
- Who do they have supporting them in this goal?
- Who is against them?
- Do they have weaknesses that will hurt them in this?
- What strengths do they have that will help them?
- Are they afraid of certain things happening?
Some of this may look like character building, and it partially is, but what you want to focus on here are things that will directly affect the plot. A fear of snakes probably won’t matter one whit unless the story happens to revolve around being trapped on a plane with snakes.
FINDING YOUR GENERAL IDEA
As you plot your story, you need to have a general idea of how the story will evolve, or at least what matters within that story. Now, look for a few main turning points or events as you plot your story so that you can wrap your plot around. Think of them as story anchors. Write down those moments.
IDENTIFY THE KEY MOMENTS WITH MORE QUESTIONS:
- The first moment in which your protagonist realizes they have a problem. (this will relate to the core problem)
- A moment where the protagonist discovers who or what is in his way?
- The moment where they try to act and fail for the first time?
- Identify the moment where they feel it’s pointless to even go on or they want to give up?
- What is the moment where they decide they’re going to risk something to fix this problem?
- Define the moment when they resolve this problem?
You might not be able to answer all of them, and that’s okay. Just think about them and how they relate to your story. You might even try to answer them even if it’s vague.
BRAINSTORMING TO PLOT YOUR STORY
Next, look for any other moments or ideas floating around in your head. Chances are you have some ideas of things you want to have happened or cool scenes in mind. Look to see how those moments can connect to the big problem or any of the things in steps one through eight. Maybe some would make good scenes, other good stakes, maybe a good trigger to launch a problem. Write them down with as much detail as you have.
PLOT YOUR STORY SUMMARY
Now tell your story. It doesn’t need to be good at this stage. Just start at the beginning and tell it as if you were telling it to a friend. Add necessary back story and flashbacks.
- Do all the stuff you’re not supposed to if you want because this is all about getting an idea of the story and plot down on paper. Don’t worry if you can’t figure out exactly where things fit or how.
- It’s not too important at this stage to be vague and say, “hero defeats the bad guy and saves the female” and have no clue how that’s going to happen.
- You can even say “hero makes a tough choice here and is haunted by that choice” and have no clue what details will go there.
- It’s even good to say, “hero fails and the stakes go up.” You might not know how yet, but you know that at that point in the story, something needs to happen to escalate the stakes.
The goal is to get a general feel as you plot your story and how the plot unfolds. This will help what key moments go where so you have a guide to write to. For pantsers, (writing by the seat of your pants, without a clear outline) this might be enough (or too much) and you jump right into the book. For plotters, (writing from plan and outline) you’ll take this and start breaking it down further. You might have one page or thirty pages. Either way, you should have enough information here to identify the goals, stakes, and potential problems facing your characters.
Remember this YOUR story and YOUR book. Write it any way you want, but make sure you WRITE it!!
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