Last week we talked about how to begin developing an idea into a story in part 1. We covered brainstorming techniques, how to develop characters, worldbuilding, and setting. Today we're picking up where we left off and discussing how to structure your plotline, how to map out your timeline, getting your seasonal facts straight, deciding who your narrator is, and using it all together.
Let's dive right into developing your Plotline!
Plotline is the essence of a story. It's made up of the events that take place within your story and the reaction that your characters have to said events. No matter what type of writer you are, it's always beneficial to know what happens in your story before you start writing. Not to say that you can't initially free write your way into your novel, but at some point you're going to want a roadmap to help guide you through and help keep your head on straight. While there are many ways to keep track of your plot, there are universal elements that every plot has:
Starting Point: What is the state of your story's world at the beginning of the story? Regardless of where your story takes place, your readers need to know what that world looks like before you proceed into events that occur. This is because those events will alter your protagonist's reality and consequentially change or alter this world in some way by the end. Example: Katniss Everdeen living under the restrictive thumb of the capitol in District 12.
Inciting Incident: It goes without saying that something big has to happen to force your character to change. This is your inciting incident, the moment where your character has to actively decide to take action. For Katniss, this is the moment her sister Primrose is chosen to participate in The Hunger Games. She volunteers to take her place.
Obstacles/Plot Twists: A great story doesn't go well for the protagonist. Seriously. If everything is happy-go-lucky and perfect, you're not writing a compelling story. The most memorable and exciting tales happen when there are plenty of obstacles standing in between your characters and their ultimate goal. Take Katniss's journey for example. She has to go through The Hunger Games, outsmart President Snow who is constantly trying to make her miserable/kill her, deal with death and loss, fight to survive, then deal with survivor's guilt and PTSD. That's a LOT for one girl to go through! But it works because by the time the book ends, you understand as a reader what she has to sacrifice to ultimately survive.
Final Battle/Climax: The final and largest obstacle that the protagonist has to overcome, the final showdown between the protagonist and the antagonist is the deciding factor for the outcome of your novel. In book one, this is the scene where Katniss and Peeta agree to commit suicide by berries in order to ensure there is no winner of that year's hunger games, thereby taking control away from President Snow.
New Reality: This refers to the results of the final battle. It's how the world has changed for the better (or worse) based on the events that have occurred. For Katniss, this is that she and Peeta have both survived the hunger games- a first ever in their world.
Now that you know what your story has to have, you can go about the developmental process in a few different ways.
The first way is to do a traditional outline. This is exactly what it sounds like, where you apply the skills you learned back in elementary schools for essay writing and use them to map out your story. It can include numbers, letters, and roman numerals. Here are the resources you'll need to get started: Plotline 101: Tools & Resources for Outlining
The second way is to do a reverse outline. This means you think of the ending of your story and work your way backward until you've reached the beginning. To learn how to build a reverse outline, see our post Plotline 101: The Reverse Outline.
While outlining is a great way to prep for your story, remember, you don't have to know every single detail about how your protagonist goes from point A to point G. You can leave some of it vague, as once you start writing you'll find that those details will evolve naturally and will change and unfold in ways that might surprise even you.
Brainstorming? Check! Characters? Check! Plotline? Good to go! What comes next?
Next it's important to create a timeline. This may have already semi taken place while you were planning out your plotline, but if not it's okay. When we say timeline we literally mean a plan for time. How long does your story take place for? Is it two days or two weeks or longer? What time of day do your scenes occur? If you're writing Sci-Fi or Fantasy, does time interact with the world the same as it does here on Earth, or does it abide by different rules?
It's questions like these that will give your plotline more structure, but will also give you an indicator of the type of setting elements you'll need to use. For instance, if your scene takes place at sunset, you won't write your scene full of bright light, full heat, with your protagonist wearing sunglasses. Likewise if your scene takes place at midday, it won't be dark, hard to see, or require extra light via a flashlight or torch.
Once you get your timeline straight, the next step is to create a seasonal reference. This means that you're going to do the exact same thing that you did with time of day, only with seasons. What season does your story take place in? Do the seasons change during? Is there an unknown or supernatural cause for why they change? Do your season operate like those on earth or do they act differently? What characteristics do your seasons have? What elements are associated with this season- i.e. holidays, etc.
By keeping track of any seasonal changes that occur, you can also ensure that your setting details make sense. You wouldn't want a baby animals to appear in the middle of a harsh winter, or for the harvest to die during the peak of summer (unless there was a legitimate reason, like a famine). You also don't want to finish your story and realize that halfway through your book you jumped from summer to winter or from fall to summer accidentally.
You can keep track of both time and seasons on the same outline you created for your plotline, or by creating a separate list that you keep with your outline. Either way works, so whichever you choose the point is to be able to quick reference these while you write to make sure your story stays consistent.
That takes care of the main parts of developing a story- where do we go from here?
It's officially time to determine what narration style you want to write your story in. We're talking about the narrator perspective you want your story to be told in. Here are the options:
1. Third-person view, omniscient narrator: This is the all-knowing, all-seeing narrator type.
2. Third-person view, subjective narrator: This narrator type conveys the thoughts, feelings, or opinions of one or more characters.
3. Third-person view, objective narrator: This type of narrator gives an unbiased point of view in order to achieve neutrality. It’s typical of journalistic texts.
4. First-person view (witness character): The narrator is a character who isn’t necessarily involved in the story but provides his or her point of view.
5. First-person view (protagonist): The main character is also the narrator and tells the story from his or her point of view.
6. Second-person view: This narrator refers to the reader as “you” as if he or she was a character within the story. It’s the rarest mode of narration in literature.
Once you know what narrator you'll be using the rest becomes simple- it's time to write!
The best way to start your novel is to not overthink it.
You heard correctly. It's time to put your planning mind away and simply start writing. You don't have to be perfect or have a complete plan to start. Use what you've gathered in your brainstorming and development to help guide you, but ultimately see where your imagination takes you.
If you've got a case of writer's fright, meaning that you look at the blank page and your mind goes equally blank, here are some ideas to help you get started.
Pick a small scene that occurs in your story that you know for sure happens. It doesn't matter where in the story this scene takes place. The purpose of writing this snapshot is to jump-start your creativity so that you can then work your way through the rest.
Know the ending? Great! Start there. Write your way through that scene and then think back to how your character ended up there. Even if you write and get through your book to find the original ending doesn't work, you can still tweak or rewrite it later.
Don't overthink. Sometimes what keeps us from writing is our ego. Our insecurities in our ability to write, what other people will think when they read it, or doubt in our ideas can keep us from ever putting a word down on the page. If you're a writer who suffers from this, the greatest thing you can do is to take a moment to journal before you start writing. By writing down your feelings or random thoughts before you try writing, you can avoid your concerns getting in your way.
Feeling stuck? Try something new that you've never done before. Whether your inspiration comes from doing yoga, visiting a museum, going for a walk, or even spending time with your loved ones, it's never a bad idea to give yourself a mood boost before sitting down to write. The trick is to be disciplined enough to actually write when the time comes.
Ultimately when it comes down to writing a story, there is no "right" or "wrong" way to go about it. You can plan, fly by the seat of your pants, or operate somewhere in between. Each writer has their own methods and ideologies that they've curated and developed over the years that ensures they achieve their writing goals. Hopefully if you're new to writing or stuck, this guide will help you/give you some new ideas to help you get back to writing.
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