How to Plot a Story
The plot is exactly what is going to happen in your story:
- Who the characters are.
- What events happen.
- When events happen, and so on.
You should always plot first. Many writers ruminate on their stories and what they want to portray for considerable time before they write anything at all. They may make notes, but at some point, a cohesive plan is required to decide upon the narrative of the story.
There is no right way to plot a story. Every writer will do this differently, but a good story requires several elements working well together:
- Good characterisation
- Sound structure
- A well-considered plot
A useful way to start is to think about the key points of the story before you begin writing. However, you should be wary of failing to consider the characterisation in sufficient detail.
The plot and the characterisation depend on each other. The characters have to be credible, or your readers will not care why they did something, or they may not believe that they did it.
Think of a story as being like 3 points on a triangle each connected to the other two. One is the climax, another, resolution and the other rising action.
- The Introduction is where the writer sets the scene - introduces the characters and setting.
- Then the rising action follows. The characters try to overcome some conflict or difficulty. Until finally the story reaches the climax – the main event. This might be where the difficulty is overcome (or not) or the conflict is resolved (or not).
- Then the story reaches it resolution – this may be where any consequences are doled out.
If you were to consider 'American Psycho' using this technique:
- Introduction – tells us about Bateman. He lives a wealthy upper class lifestyle.
- Rising Action – we see that he is harming others.
- Climax – he tries to tell another person that he is doing harm to others, but he is not believed.
- Resolution – there is no resolution for him. He feels like the confession was a waste of time and we assume he will continue to behave the way he was before.
Clearly, many stories do not always fit with this triangular plotting notion. A plot may be modified to fit the story’s needs. In the novel 'Water for Elephants' by Sara Gruen, the story begins with a cantankerous 90 year-old man in a nursing home, but most of the action takes place 70 years earlier when he worked as a veterinarian for a travelling circus. The story is the contrast between the desires of the man when he was 20 and his desires as a 90 year-old. Gruen runs two parallel stories and uses flashbacks to contrast their desires.
Some stories may take places over years even centuries, whilst others may take place in just a few days or hours. If the story takes place over a very short time period, then a chronological order may be the obvious choice, but not necessarily. Again, it must fit the needs of the story.
When plotting a story, try different ideas. When will it start:
- Just before the climax
- Some time before the climax
- After the climax?
Find a way that seems logical to you and use that.
How do you write a dramatical plot? Study Dramatic Writing with ACS Distance Education!