Two Simple Steps (& Two Simple Tools) for Plotting a Great Story
I’m a big believer in the value of having a strong grasp on the ins and outs of character and story structure before you sit down and begin writing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying everyone should sit down and meticulously plan out their stories before they begin writing. Not at all. Yes, it’s true that some more complex stories may demand such an approach, and some writers prefer to begin their writing via a lot of early project development. That is fine. Whatever works! The fact of the matter is though, anyone who dives into writing a story without a good understanding of character and story structure is undoubtedly going to find themselves coming face to face with a myriad of challenges. So, here are two simple steps, and two tools, for plotting a great story:
1. The best plotting is driven by character
Ask yourself as many questions as you possibly can about your character. I like to ask a mixture of big and small questions. Some of these may seem a little superfluous, but in my experience it’s the combination of understanding both the inner and outer workings of a character that lead to the most interesting stories.
Here are the questions I like to start with, starting with the least important first. No need to over-think your answers:
- What is this character’s name?
- How old are they?
- What is their occupation? (This doesn’t necessarily have to be a job, just what occupies most of this character’s time)
- Where was this character born?
- Where do they live now?
- What do they like? (These can just be everyday things)
- What do they dislike? (Again, just everyday things will do)
- What do they fear?
- What are their strengths?
- What are their weaknesses?
- What is their top skill? (Separate from a strength, a skill is something a character has worked to get good at, like snowboarding, violin, or archery)
- What is their wound/ghost? What baggage do they carry?
- What do they want?
- What do they need?
2. Visualise Your Story
Now that you know a bit about your character, you’ll be able to develop a sense of their character arc. In short, the beginning, middle and end of their story. I often find it can be useful to write this down in a very simple form. Here’s one way I like to do it:
(What is happening at the beginning of this part of the story)
(What is motivating the character?)
(What do they do about it?)
(What is the main big problem that gets in their way?)
(How do they respond, what new trajectory does their story take?)
Start by getting to know your character/characters, and by asking yourself a few foundational questions. Of course, you’ll get to know your characters as you write, and many of these questions may be answered organically throughout the writing process. Chances are you’ll face challenges with your story regardless, but perhaps by taking a moment to focus on character and to visualise your story, you’ll find yourself with one or two less hurdles as you write.