Ciao, SEers. Today is part five: plot development. Here at Story Empire, we’ve covered different ways to plot a story (I covered Vonnegut, Booker, and Nutshell, and Craig has discussed three-act structure), so I’m not going to teach “plotting” today. Rather, I want to discuss how to develop a plot.
Last time, we discussed dialogue as we expanded our story bible with character development. Now it’s time to start developing our plot. You’ve got an idea that has taken root and is ready to grow. How do you do that? First, it’s time to start thinking about the structure of your story. Where will it start? Where will it go? Where will it end? How will it get there?
Picture one reader—your ideal reader—when you’re answering these questions. It’s much easier to have this “conversation” with someone in mind rather than a nebulous concept of “any and all readers.” Specificity will help you hone your answers, and therefore, your plot. (Remember the adage: you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please everyone, and certainly not all the time. You can, however, please one person. And you can do so frequently. Write for that person, and never lose sight of that audience.)
Begin by condensing your story into a sentence or two. (Think about loglines or elevator pitches. In the box below, I’ll include a formula that will get you started on your logline if you don’t know how to write one.) If you can see causality in this brief description—i.e., B happens because of A—then you have a story. Otherwise, you only have an interesting premise and need to do more development.
In a (SETTING) a (PROTAGONIST) has a (PROBLEM) (caused by an ANTAGONIST) and (faces CONFLICT) as he or she tries to (achieve a GOAL).
Take The Wizard of Oz. The logline, using this formula, could be something like this:
In Oz, Dorothy seeks the Wizard’s help to get home while hiding from the Wicked Witch of the West, who wants revenge for the death of her sister.
Note: the phrase “to get home” didn’t fit well at the end of the sentence, so I relocated it. And this is only the first draft. You will want to revise your statement several times until it shines.
Start thinking about getting from point A to point B. How will you do that? Treat every scene, and especially every chapter, like it’s the first. Start with a strong, compelling sentence, and hook the reader early to keep them reading.
As the scene develops, read and reread it. The parts that don’t interest you won’t interest your readers, either. Cut them. And be ruthless about it. Your readers will be. One boring section could make them put down the book and never pick it up again.
Revisit your first chapter as you progress. This is your touchstone. As you close one mystery box and open another, you will be revealing clues. This process could impact your opening, so you should revisit it often. Besides, the opening is the only chance you have to make a first impression, so it has to be amazing. That will only happen if you give it frequent attention.
The more your story progresses, the more you need to raise the stakes. If you don’t, the sense of urgency will be lost. You also want to continue to add conflict. Without it, your scenes will lack interest. No one wants to read a story where nothing happens.
Consider your ending—consider multiple endings—and don’t go with the easy one. You want to keep your reader guessing to the very end. Just make sure you’ve laid enough clues to support the conclusion you choose, and make sure you’ve answered the biggest questions.
- Think through your plan.
- Plot your story so your IDEAL reader will love it.
- Condense your story to a sentence or two, and make sure you have causality.
- Design every scene like it’s the first one. Begin with a compelling sentence and hook the reader quickly.
- Delete the boring parts.
- Revisit your beginning for consistency and work toward perfection.
- Continually raise the stakes and introduce conflict.
- Consider multiple endings. Choose an unexpected one (but make sure you earned it).
- Close all crucial mystery boxes.
Next time, we’ll discuss chapter construction. Until then, I’d love to know more about your plotting strategies. Please leave a comment below. Grazie!
Links to the Whole Series:
January 7: Idea Generation
February 2: Story Bible
February 28: Character
March 25: Dialogue
April 20: Plot
May 16: Constructing Chapters
June 10: Pacing/Tension/Suspense
July 6: Writing Suspense
August 1: Writing Action
August 26: Macro-Level Self-Editing
September 21: Mid-Level Self-Editing
October 17: Micro-Level Self-Editing
December 7: Planning a Series
Note: Links will only work on and after the date the post goes live.