In the last week I have talked with two different writers who are having trouble plotting their stories. One, who said she was stuck, and the other, my friend Jodi, who is trying to see her book and how she should proceed with the story. In other words, what steps should happen.
When Jodi and I started talking, I realized she needed to plot out her chapters. That way she can see the book and how it should progress, and if my other friend would start plotting and not write by the seat of her pants, she wouldn't run into being stuck.
I know there are writers who think it's okay to be a pantser, but as my other friend soon found out, you can get stopped. Sometimes, you can write yourself into a corner. That's why I will be talking about plotting the next two posts.
I will split it up so I can cover more information for those of you needing help with this particular subject.
There is, of course, the beginning, middle, and end to your story, but I will touch on hints that hopefully will set you on the right path.
When you first decide on your basic story it needs to begin at the correct spot. I talked about this a few post back. Sometimes you just have to write the rough draft and then when your ready to do revisions you can look at the place where the book should begin.
1. As I said before, your first chapter needs to hook the reader. There are two basic principles in doing that. 1, a compelling character, and 2, a promise of a gripping story. If you can simply create a character that the reader will care about, they will continue to read. The character needs to be likable and not perfect, especially since none of us are. Again, this goes back to character outlines.
2. Don't introduce to many characters in the beginning. The reader will get confused as to who is who. Keep it simple and build from the first chapter about what will happen next.
3. Make sure you are keeping to the first chapter true to what is to come. If it is action, then give them some. If it is a troubled person, then give them a taste of the issues facing that character.
4. Devote extra time to your first chapter. It will help you outline what is to come and hopefully will hook the reader into wanting more. As I said before, we rewrote chapter one at least 10 times before we felt it was compelling enough to grab the reader and hold on.
On to plotting:
1. You've set up the beginning and know how the story will end. Now to figure out what needs to happen to get you from point A to point Z. Of course, the first step is going from A to B. At first things are basically normal. Your character is doing their normal routine, paying the bills, going to work, whatever. But soon you need to have something happen to them that gets the story rolling.
2. A phone call that changes everything, a stranger watching them, a car trying to run them off the road. You get the picture. Now they are going from the mundane to excitement, even if it's not excitement they wish to face.
3. This is where you begin to plot how the character(s) deal with the situation and how they manage to get themselves out of the issue facing them.
4. Write out a simple step by step outline as to what the character will do in each scene, starting with the initial incident. Maybe you figure out each scene and each chapter for the first 5 chapters, and then you need a sub-plot to keep the action coming. That is usually saved for the middle of your story.
5. Once you have written your basic outline you can see what will happen next to advance the story and keep the reader turning the page.
6. As with anything, things can change, so if you find that what you thought would happen next changes, that's okay, at least you know how the outcome will be since you created a starting and ending plot. As long as it rings true, such as how the police would react in a situation, or how the best friend would help, you will know what direction your story needs to go and what new problems will arise.
7. As I said before, you need to know the ending of the book before you can plot out the story. And your plotting needs to bring you to that end. It helps to see your entire book in front of you so you can find where the problems lie or where you need to add action since your story is sagging.
8. If your story is sagging, it needs sub-plots, in other words, more problems the characters need to face. But it should all come back to the original goal or quest and accomplishing it.
I will go into the middle and end next Friday. If you have any questions about how to plot out your beginning scenes, leave me a comment. I would be glad to help. It is basically brainstorming each scene and each chapter and writing the steps down.
In the mean time, have a great weekend all and I will meet you back here in one week!