Story Development and Execution Part 5: Plot Development

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.

To summarize:

  • 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.

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70 thoughts on “Story Development and Execution Part 5: Plot Development

  1. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 10: Macro-Level Self-Editing | Story Empire

  2. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 9: Writing Action | Story Empire

  3. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 8: Writing Suspense | Story Empire

  4. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 7: Pacing, Tension, and Suspense | Story Empire

  5. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 6: Constructing Chapters | Story Empire

  6. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 3: Character | Story Empire

  7. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 2: The Story Bible | Story Empire

  8. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 1: Ideation | Story Empire

  9. Great advice, as always. I’m a plotter, so I start with something similar to this for the book and then write down an idea for every chapter before I start serious writing. It frees me up to know where I’m going.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you so much for writing this! I am a new writer also with a mind crowded with lots of ideas, but struggling to get it all down on paper! Usually I feel like a squirrel darting about reading, liking, commenting, posting, drafting, editing and of course writing! It is difficult at times to know how to make traction. I for one will be reading more of your archived advice posts! Great stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Traci! Nice to see you here. I agree; trying something new once in a while can reinvigorate you. I tend not to mess with what I know works but continuously tinker with the aspects that feel like they can be more efficient. Plus, I like learning new things, so experimenting is sometimes fun. Thanks!

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  11. Staci, this is so good. I never thought of using the logline as the basis of my plot, but it makes perfect sense. Usually, it’s the last thing I write, but you’ve given me another direction to take. Every point in the post is helpful and informative. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Great post, Staci 🙂
    I always struggle condensing my story into a line or two.
    I always know where the story is going to end up, just never sure how it will get there, so it’s hard to imagine alternate endings. Cutting favorite parts or lines is tough, but I will do it.
    I think I use myself as the reader when writing. I can be a harsh critic so it ends up helping me, with at least the plot 🙂 Fantastic advice.

    Liked by 2 people

    • When I have no idea where to start, I rely on blueprints, formulas, instructions, etc. I don’t always use this format now, but when I was just starting my writing career, I leaned heavily into it. You’re right; it’s not easy. But at least it’s a starting point. Thanks, Yvette.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Another great post, Staci. I hadn’t thought about focusing on one reader, but your suggestion lights up the writing process. I’m going to follow your sage advice. Thank you. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Perfect timing for me with this one, Staci! Exactly what I needed to help me move forward with my newest WIP. I’ve never plotted anything out ahead of time in my writing (which probably shows in one way or another), because I’ve always let my characters lead the way. I know them forwards and backwards before I begin, and like I’ve always said with Rabbit, he tells me what’s going on and I write it down. However, I think you can only get away with that approach so often before it falls apart. Now that I’m focused on novellas, which do NOT let you aimlessly ramble along from Point A to Point B, I think I need a better plan. Namely, exactly what you’ve laid out above. Writing a 300+ page book is a lot different from a 100-page novella. I need to curtail some of the lollygagging around along the storyline. Your sentence condensing the plot is going to be super helpful in that regard, and I’m printing out this post to pin on my bulletin board. I’m pretty sure using this process will help me keep my story on point and make it much more cohesive.

    Thanks so much for another great post! 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  15. You already know I’m more of a panster but I do have an idea of the plot going into the story. I took your sentence example and hammered out one for my next novel. Might I add that an antagonist can sometimes be inner conflict? I think a story also needs external conflict and an antagonistt, but sometimes inner turmoil prevents a character from achieving his/her goals. I love the idea of telling the story to one reader. Great post, Staci.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. This is an excellent post. I love the formula you provided. Admittedly, I’m more of a plantser than a plotter so I rarely know where I’m headed in a story, but even a planster can benefit from much of this advice. Fantastic post today, Staci!

    Liked by 2 people

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