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