Plotting 101


Of the many writing books I've read, or started reading, or looked at and abandoned, a number have advocated index cards. I'm not much of an index card person myself, but I do use scrap paper, and I do much the same thing with that. Here's a basic story recipe I've garnered from various books and workshops.

Before you start the story, you need:

  1. A problem and/or story goal
  2. Setting, including some sensory details
  3. Characters (basic setup would be 1 major, 1 supporting and 1 opposing)
  4. Time - when does the story take place? (The less time needed for the action in a short story, the better.)
  5. Theme - what is the story about?

Once you've got the basics of your story scribbled on your pieces of scrap paper or in your writing notebook or on your index cards, here's a basic plan of organization:

1) Start with the problem situation, some incident which will lead to a major change in the protagonist's life. End with a decision (wrong, otherwise the story would be over before it began). In the first scene, make sure you have a hook, the attention-grabber which will keep the reader reading.

2) Next come the complications, a series of scenes which make life more and more difficult for the protagonist. (I read this described somewhere once as "shoveling more grief on the character" -- which sums it up nicely, I think.) In order to increase tension, the problems should get worse as the story progresses. In each scene, try to figure out what the characters think would be best for them to do and have them do it. This is why it can help to have characters with opposing goals.

3) When things get really bad, you finally get to the crisis or black moment, which is followed by a revelation.

4) This revelation leads to the resolution, which should have something to do with the "theme" (in a very general sense) of your story.

For each of these scenes (including the problem situation and the resolution), I have another piece of scrap paper on which I note where the scene takes place, the time, who is involved, what happens, and the decision the main character makes.

So, there you have Plot in a Nutshell. But remember, nothing is etched in stone. Any advice you read about writing, including mine, consists of suggestions and guidelines, not rules. These just happen to be some guidelines which work for me.


Other pages of mine:

Clarion West 98 | Cutting Edges: Or, A Web of Women | Joe's Heartbeat
in Budapest
| The Aphra Behn Page | ECHO

Home | Publications | Fiction | Nonfiction | Writing | Gallery | Lit-arts.net | Links

Ruth Nestvold, 2001.