How do you go about planning a story? Of course, not everyone does. Some writers just start out with an idea and see where it takes them. But that can be scary – a bit like walking out on a tightrope, not sure if you can get to the other side without falling off.
Which is why most writers do like to have some kind of plan to follow so that their story has a satisfying beginning, middle and end. But let’s face it, we want our stories to be more exciting than just a beginning, a middle and an end, and that’s where plot comes in. Things have to happen to our characters that make sense in the story, while at the same time presenting the main character with even more challenges they have to meet so that the story can come to a satisfactory conclusion.
A very simple way to think of a story is that the main character comes up against a difficulty – a challenge. They have to make a choice about how to meet that challenge, then they have to take action. Of course, the action they take might not deliver the result they wanted. And when that happens we have a plot twist as a new challenge is created.
I like to storyboard when I’m trying to work out a plot. To do this take a big sheet of paper – the biggest you can get your hands on – and use a ruler to make it into a huge grid. Mine usually end up with about 40 blank squares, but you might want to start with 9 or 10. Then number the boxes. Now start to put into each box a couple of sentences to describe what might happen in that part of the story. You don’t need to be able to fill in all the boxes right away. It is a good idea though to try to do the first few.
You might have a great idea for an amazing climax scene in your story. If you have 40 boxes, you might want to put that in round about box number 36 or 37. (You usually need boxes 39 and 40 to tie up loose ends and ease the reader out of the story.) So there you go, you know what happens at 1,2, 3 and at 37, so all you have to do is keep filling in all the other boxes!
I was really pleased to find the following story outline.
JK Rowling has obviously used a lined A4 pad to do her planning – and it looks like the naughty JK couldn’t find her ruler. Although her system is different from mine it looks very similar. And I’m delighted to see it’s as messy as mine too with changes and score-outs.
You can’t be a writer and be neat and tidy. Being creative is a messy business. It’s the final draft that matters, but don’t be fooled into thinking there’s not a lot of planning. Most writers don’t just start writing the story and go straight through, even though that’s what you think must have happened when you read it.
So, if you’re thinking of writing a LONG story that needs planning and plotting, try making a storyboard grid and see if it works for you. You never know, you might write a best-seller. And if you do, remember me in your thank-yous!
Planning with pen and ink is the only way to go – not just for stories but for any writing. Then fill out the content on the word processor.
Interesting post, Maggi! I’m pretty much the stick figure on the tightrope, but different books ask for different tricks. I might try a plan this time …
I like to just write to start with, then once the story and characters begin to grow I do some planning. I need the initial ideas. I do chapter plans and yep use pen and paper. Have note bookseverywhere!
I’m working on a series of radio scripts just now. I should have every episode plotted meticulously from start to finish. But, that approach never works for me. I find it’s a bit like driving a car in the wee small hours and trying to drive, read the map and stop people fighting in the back all at once.
The best way for me, I think, is to let my characters tell me the story. It helps that I know them really well, so it’s a bit easier than it might be for someone starting from scratch. And the fun part is that the ‘surprises’ get revealed to me the way they would to an ordinary listener. It means I can take a break from driving and climb in the back to look at the lovely views.
Interesting post, thanks! To be honest, I love to write too, but I just let my mind take me and see what happens. I usually have ideas of what will happen somewhere in the story, but nothing much else – also, if I have a good idea and think I will forget it, I quickly write it down on a scrap of paper!! But, apart from that, I don’t do much planning. I might try it though, one day…..!!