I confess to being a pantser who really wants to be a plotter. There are terrific books around about plotting — mostly written by screen writers — including Screenplay by Syd Field, Story by Robert McKee and Save The Cat by Blake Snyder. I really want to read them, and one day I will get around to it.
In the meantime, I follow a very simple, foolproof 🙂 method for planning my stories. [Just in case you’re somewhere out there reading this, Graeme Simsion, look away now!] It’s pretty much the same thing they’re teaching my daughter in grade Prep-2: you’ve got to have a beginning, a middle and an ending. Act one, act two and act three. Syd Field says: set-up, confrontation and resolution.
Close to the start of your beginning (set-up) you need to have an inciting incident — the event that kicks off the whole story (Cinderella’s invitation to the ball; the three little pigs refuse to give in to the wolf’s demands; a giant shark kills a swimmer on Amity beach). Towards the end of your beginning you need to have a plot point — another incident, which changes the direction of the story and propels it into the middle (confrontation).
Towards the end of your middle (confrontation), you need to have another plot point, which again changes the story direction just before your ending (resolution).
Your ending (resolution) should contain a climax — the highest point of tension, the big moment your story’s been building up to the whole time (Cinderella tries on the glass slipper; the third little pig confronts the wolf; water-phobic Sheriff Brody faces the giant killer shark). The climax should be related to the inciting incident.
Too easy? I wish.
I find Syd Field’s Paradigm Worksheet helpful for planning my beginning, middle and ending.
Once I have my story foundation in place, I like to use Nigel Watts’s eight point story arc as a tool for building up the structure.
Watts’s eight points are:
3. The quest
5. Critical choice
You could read Watts’s book, or take a look at this Daily Writing Tips post, which explains the basics of the eight point story structure.
The Hero’s Journey is another narrative outline worth googling or reading about.
Once I’m pretty sure the story-house I’ve built is not going to fall over (and even if it does, I can always make repairs, additions or renovations), I start writing. From here, I let my characters take the car (mixing metaphors, I know!) and drive the story where it wants to go, and I adjust the plot accordingly. For me, character is as important as — if not more important than — plot.
Some wise words from Graeme Simsion, plot guru: Plotting vs Pantsing — Why I’m a Plotter | Graeme Simsion