Getting Your Story in Order (aka-How to Plot)

I am currently in bed, sleeping off getting my wisdom teeth out. Regular blogs will continue when I’m well.

The first thing you need to write a good plot is an idea where you are going. Now I understand that there are some writers out there that don’t really need to know where they are going when they start a story and the words just flow naturally out of them onto the page and the story just magically creates itself. This is NOT the way most people write, and frankly I both envy and am wary of the people who have no idea where they are going when they start a story. Their way of writing very rarely produces the kind of novel that people actually want to read. For the rest of us, you have to start at the beginning, and end at the end.

The actual first thing you want to do with any story is know how it ends. The ending, or the goal you are aiming to reach with your story, needs to be clear even before you try to figure out where you are going to start. If you don’t have this core, you don’t really have a story. The climax does not have to be the end of the story, but it is a necessary part, and what you are building your plot around.

Now that you know where you are going, it’s time to go back to the beginning. What does starting at the beginning really mean, though? How do you know where to begin your story? There are many ways to begin. You could begin at the end, or at the very beginning. I myself prefer to begin my story where the relevant information starts. The first episode in my stories is the one that gets the ball rolling. By starting there, I don’t bore the readers with a slow start that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, but I also don’t leave out too many relevant details that will make it hard for them to follow what is going on in the story.

Now, this is the point where you have to ask yourself, what is the end? Well, I can tell you the end is NOT. It is not the point where the reader throws up their hands and says “enough already”. It is also not at a point where the reader goes “wait, what?!” and hurriedly glances back through the pages they just read, sure that they’ve missed some important detail to clue them in that the ending was coming up. For me, the end is a natural pause in the lives of the characters. It’s a moment in time when most (if not all) of the conflicts have been resolved. It is not the end of all things (characters have lives too, you know). One of my own personal rules is that the end of a book should make you want to know more about what happens to the characters, even if the part they play is over. With very few exceptions, the end of the story if not the end of their lives (my latest short story does break this rule).

After you have a beginning and an end, it’s time to start filling in the details. Some of us go about this in a more haphazard manner than others. I’m sure other people have a nice orderly way of inserting details. Unfortunately I’m not one of those people. I insert the details as I think of them (and by thinking of them, I mean day dream them up). After thinking of a new idea, my first job is to figure out what story it belongs to. Seeing as I have a LARGE number of stories to chose from, this isn’t too difficult a task. After chosing the story, I then insert it where it belongs. The other meathod I use for plotting is to go straight through a story and map out what events should logically take place when (though this leaves a lot fewer opening for day dream insertions).

Once you have a general story outline, it’s time to go back and make a much more detailed outline. I tend to go chapter by chapter for this more detailed look. Sometimes it’s harder to do this, though. In those cases, I’d suggest just doing it scene by scene. Only you can decide how long a chapter should be (just like only you can decide how long the book is going to be).

With all of this plotting, though, don’t forget to let your characters have their own voice and say so in your story. When you let your characters “flow”, they have a much more natural sounding voice than when you dictate what they are to say and when. Don’t worry too much if your story does something a little different than what you had originally planned, it probably will be better for it. Just be sure to keep it generally on track with your outline and everything should come out fine in the end.

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