Plotting is Easy. . .
Or at least it’s not as difficult and daunting as I used to think it was once I figured out that working out a plot is simply answering four basic questions.
Once upon a time, I sat down and just wrote. Pantsters I’ve heard them called. Since I’m a skirt girl, I found this a bit difficult to relate to. I didn’t want to write and hope the story went somewhere because, for a long time, it never did. It was like packing the car for a journey, heading out of the driveway, and getting stopped at the entrance ramp to the expressway—uh, duh, where am I going? Right? Left? Or do I want a winding country road instead?
But other people‘s plotting techniques didn’t work for me. I’ll leave those anonymous so I don’t offend anyone if they think I’m dissing their program. I’m not; it just didn’t suit my need to have structure, yet have the freedom to expand or diverge a bit, too if necessary.
“Know the story—as much of the story as you can possibly know, if not the whole story—before you commit yourself to the first paragraph….If you don’t know the story before you begin the story, what kind of a storyteller are you?”
It comes down to four basic questions to ask yourself about your story. I call these WWW&H.
W1: Who are you?
This is all about getting to know your character, what your character’s reason for existing is. In other words, what makes her—them—tick and why?
Example: In Lady in the Mist, my heroine, Tabitha, has her identity tied up in being a midwife because it’s what she was taught and what she knows. She loves it, yet she knows it’s not who she is; it’s what she does. Yet this is how others see her—the midwife, respected, feared, not necessarily loved.
W2: What does she want?
This is the crux of plot. If the characters don’t know what they want, no story can happen. Mind you, you can have a story where the character is trying to work out what they want.
Example: Tabitha wants to be like other women—loved, respected, a wife and mother. She wants security after a life of loss.
W3: What is your character willing to sacrifice?
Here is where scenes and the pushback that makes tension and conflict occur. If the character just goes with the flow—no story. You can go as far as necessary in working out what you do to your characters to make story happen. The black moment is the climax of this point.
Example: Tabitha is willing to give up a future that looks secure on the surface in exchange for discovering the truth of bad things happening in her village. She is willing to stick to her moral principles, too, and help the man she falls in love with even though she is certain him leaving her is inevitable.
H: How does the character change?
This is the epiphany moment, the lesson learned, the post black moment wrap-up. How is your character different at the end than she was in the beginning?
Giving an example of this one is difficult without giving away endings.
This is the foundation of the private and group lessons I teach unpublished and published authors alike—helping them take their ideas and turn them into story. Once I learned how to plot before I started writing, I started selling books.