I get a lot of questions about plotting, so I figured I’d write up some tips on getting started. Learning how to plot your novel can be difficult, but it’s really all about knowing what your characters want and how they’re going to get it or attempt to get it. A character with motivations and goals will help focus your plot and get you to figure out where it needs to go. Here are a few essentials when it comes to plotting your novel:
Create a plot skeleton
It helps to first jot down the key elements of the story you want to tell. Creating a plot skeleton means getting down to the bare bones of your story. What’s most important? What scenes are essential to your story? Once you figure out those key scenes and have some semblance of a beginning, middle, and an end, you’ll see your story start to come together.
Work on a timeline
If you’re having trouble figuring out when you want things to happen, try working on a timeline. What event needs to happen first in order to lead into the next big event? Your story is going to have some ups and downs, so you need to make sure your story is paced well. You don’t want action, action, action without any rest for your readers. Learning to pace your novel well is an important skill to have as a writer. I suggest reading up on story arcs.
Focus on characters
Your characters will tell the story if you let them. Focusing on the wants and needs of all your characters will help build the plot for you. It’s sometimes as easy as that. Think about what your character wants and go from there. What journey will your character be in for? What does the antagonist want? How do they stand in the way of your protagonist? Think about how one action leads to the next.
Make sure your scenes connect
When telling a story you don’t want to keep saying “and then this happens”. Then you’re just stringing together events without thinking about how they build on each either. You need to think about the “but” in your story. Something like this helps; “Amy wanted to go the school dance, but her mother doesn’t want her to go.” This explains that Amy really wants to do something, but another person is standing in her way. You can begin to think about conflict and why Amy’s mother doesn’t want her to go. You can begin to piece together a story and connect the dots.
Flesh out your story
Once you have all the big scenes figured out, you can begin to add extra detail and flesh out your novel. Spend more time thinking about your world and the specific details of your characters. Work on scenes that will help reveal the setting and all those character details. Figure out what interactions are necessary to give your readers important information. Each scene should work to push the story to its resolution.
Let your characters resolve their problems
It’s very important that you let your characters resolve their problems on their own. If you’re developing your characters along the way, the resolution should be a result of them finally gaining the power, knowledge, strength, etc., to fix things. I know not every story will be “resolved”, but if you want your protagonist to grow in some way they need to figure out their own problems instead of relying on other factors to get them through. A good plot shows how your characters learned to overcome their obstacles on their own.