Plotting a story can terrify even the most gifted writer. But it sounds scarier than it actually is, and it can even be fun once you embrace the challenge. Let’s simplify the process to get a better understanding of how things work.
Think about your plot as driving from your departure location (the beginning of the story, which we’ll call Point A) to your destination (the end of the story, which we’ll refer to as Point B) with a few scenic stops along the way.
Using the familiar ‘boy meets girl’ scenario, let’s look at the basic story plot. ‘Boy meets girl’ is our Point A.
One such story that comes to mind is Grease where Danny meets Sandy on a summer vacation. Of course, the first meeting could be a bumpy ride where the boy doesn’t impress the girl. Just Like Heaven is an example of this when architect David leaves a bad impression for Elizabeth who doesn’t like his carelessness when it comes to her furniture. Or another example is Elizabeth Bennett’s distaste of Mr Darcy’s behaviour in Pride and Prejudice.
No matter how the initial encounter goes, the boy has met the girl. Along the way the boy manages to peak the girl’s interest and then that’s usually when he does something to cause her to become angry, hurt or disillusioned. Other characters in the story may have initiated the problem, but the boy has allowed it to escalate. Or it can even be a series of misunderstandings that has caused the rift. That’s the ‘boy loses girl’ part of the story.
Following the pattern, it’s now up to the boy to win the girl back. This usually means he must prove his worth to her. Perhaps he makes a difficult decision or performs a heroic act to show her how much he really does care. Depending on the circumstances, the girl may make it easy for him, meet him half way, or make him work hard to win her back.
In Grease, Danny decides to lose his ‘coolness’ and jeopardise his relationship with his friends in the attempt to win Sandy back. Sandy in turn meets him half way with a symbolic gesture when she turns up in that well-known skin-tight black outfit. A song or two later, and all is well and everyone is happy.
That’s the basic idea of where we start and where we want to end up, but how do we get from Point A to Point B?
To keep the explanation simple, every story is based on a series of events (or focal points) that drive a story from Point A to Point B. These events may be things that happen to a character, or it could reveal something about a character, or a character’s actions or reactions to a situation. It’s the author’s job to know the sequence of events that establishes the story’s plot. There are a number of ways to map out your story.
You can write each focal point onto a piece of paper or card so you can move them around as you map out the entire story. Something that you thought should go early in the sequence of focal points might actually be better at a later stage, so the movability of the cards is extremely helpful.
Some people prefer to use software that has the capability to plot a story and the ability to move the focal points around until the story has been completely mapped. Pick whichever way works best for you.
Remember though, each focal point should move the story forward. While focal points are the basis of the story, it’s the author’s prose, description and uniqueness in telling the story that makes it shine. However, the plot must be sound or it won’t matter how brilliant the writing is – the story will struggle.
Happy writing (and plotting)!