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Plotting your story - A writer's process explained

So, you want to start writing the story that's been bouncing around your head for years but aren't sure where to start. Well, I've got you covered, and don't worry, starting is the hard part. I wanted to write this blog to talk about my own process to hopefully help you get started. As a caveat up front, this is just what works for me. It may not work exactly for you, or you may need to tweak it for it to be successful. Before you start this process, I recommend you go read some of my other blog posts like "This fickle thing called motivation" first.

 

For me, every story needs to start with a central idea, or a story nugget as I think of them. This is the very simple, one line thing that will anchor your story. For my Bloodblade stories, for example, it was "who was carrying the torch while the hero fought the monsters in the dark?" This then becomes what I build the story around. If you are reading this, it is likely you have already found your story nugget, but if not, stop now and go find it.

 

The next two steps you can do in either order, so have a read and decide what best suits you. These steps are the broad plot and the main characters. You will often see authors argue about which you need first, but honestly, there are pros and cons for both and will come down to personal preference. I personally start with the plot, so that's what this blog will cover first.

 

When it comes to broad plots, you don't need to get overly specific. What you're aiming to achieve at this early point is the big picture things that are going to happen at key moments to provide the overarching storyline. These are often described as plot points and pinch points if you are using the three-act structure (which is the base of my own plotting - with personal tweaks of course). I'm not going to give you a full run down on what each point is - other people have done that far more effectively than I could and indeed written entire books about it - but you need an inciting incident, a first plot point, first pinch point, midpoint, second plot point, second pinch point and a conclusion at this point in the process. Again, think big picture events within your story, not specific details, or blow-for-blow renditions of what happens. Once you have this broad road map you need to ask yourself a question: is there a problem and can it be resolved for good or ill? If there is no problem, there are no stakes, and your story will go nowhere. Stories are about conflict, either individually or larger world problems, and if your broad outline doesn't have one at this point, you need to go back and discover it before pressing ahead. Problems and consequences are key here.

Plotting your story - A writer's process explained
Plotting your story - A writer's process explained

After I have the broad road map, I start looking at the cast of characters. There are many rules and copious amounts of advice you can find about how many characters you should have, character archetypes etc and while I recommend you do research, also don't restrict yourself. My advice with writing is always, use what seems appropriate for your story and not someone elses. During this part of the process, you want to build out character boards for each of the main characters which should detail backstory, character traits, motivations, fears and even looks. Basically, everything that makes a person a person. One bit of advice I would proffer at this point though, is don't expect to use everything you create for a character explicitly in your story. You need to understand your character to make them come alive on the page, but your readers don't need to read everything you write about them. This is an important point, and one that may not make sense until you are further down your literary journey. This part of the process is often one of the funnest as you craft unique personalities for your characters. Also look at things like different speech patterns or idiosyncrasies to make them really pop. Don't get too lost in this step though. Some of the characters, which may only appear in one or two scenes, do not need intricate backstories. Some characters will and can be more two-dimensional when compared to your main cast.

 

Once you have completed the above two steps, you will likely already be crafting detailed scenes, at least in your own mind. Don't let excitement get the better of you, you aren't necessarily ready to write just yet. There are a number of other things you will want to put into place before commencing. While not a critical component, the lack of these will make your story crumble, they will enhance your focus and ultimately the story you tell. The first is world rules. Every world has rules, even a world with magic. Your world will need some as well, even if it is based in the real world. The simplest way to describe world rules is with an example - the roadrunner cartoons. One of the rules in this cartoon is the coyote's injuries are self-inflicted. Another is the road runner only runs on roads. Hopefully that's enough to illustrate what I mean by world rules, and if not, I recommend you check out the book Character and Structure: The Foundations of Fiction by Chris Andrews. Another thing you definitely want to spell out at this step is character evolution. This is done by combining your broad road map and character boards. Will the events in your road map force your character/s to change and evolve? Is it clear why they need to change? Why do your characters care about the stakes and consequences from the problem in your story? Make sure you answer these questions, otherwise your characters will appear out of place with your story.

 

The final step in my process before I start writing is a more detailed, chapter by chapter outline of the story. Essentially at this point, I am shading in the details from the above steps, creating a step-by-step plan for what I am going to write. Sometimes I will do this for an entire story at the start, while other times I will do it in story chunks. The advantage of the latter is it allows more flexibility for when your characters go off script, something that happens fairly regularly to me and is reliant on strong character boards. By doing this step, when I do get to writing, it almost feels like I am just filling in the blanks to craft my story. This takes a lot of pressure off and helps avoid writers block as I have a clear understanding of both the story and characters, I'm simply finding the words to describe what I already know is happening.

 

As with most artistic adventures, iteration is key and you will need to revise, revise, and revise. The revision and editing that comes after completing a story is often the longest and most painful step, one that I will not speak about in this post. There are many variations on the above advice, and many different ways to depict it. I personally use a whiteboard app to create digital story boards with all the key details on a single page, encapsulating all my thinking I do during this process. While this process may be useful to some, others may hate it. Find what works for you and get started. Ultimately, it doesn't matter how you get there, you just have to write the story at the end of the day.

 

Please let me know if this has helped and if there are any other things you wish me to write about. You can get in touch through either my website or social media accounts.

 




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