A Story Idea Is Not A Plot

Loose leaf paper
Image via Wikipedia

Story ideas come from many sources:  a what-if question, a specific character, a twist of fate, etc.  Once you have the idea in mind you need to do some work to construct your plot.

A plot is the series of events that move the characters and story forward.  Plot makes things happen.  Plot is built on a series of conflicts.  Without conflict…no story.  You may create interesting characters, perhaps, or a fully detailed setting, or the world’s most evil antagonist but until these elements are set in conflict that moves the story forward there is no plot.  Don‘t get me wrong, these are good elements; they’re just not a plot.

So, how do you get started creating your plot?  Remember plot does things.

  1. Write a brief paragraph about your main character.  No backstory here, write about your character’s current situation, main traits, any special talents, most importantly the current problem.  Keep the paragraph short and focus on the most important things—what she does, what he needs, what she wants, what he fears.
  2. Decide on your central idea for the story.  Select and list the points you want to pursue.  These are the ideas that you personally find fascination or compelling.  Choose three or four.
  3. Write your opening sequence.  Worry about what comes later…later.  Here you will introduce your main character, give him a motive for moving from the current problem into a bigger problem, and bring in one other character to challenge your main character.
  4. Sketch out the main points of your ending.   From the beginning to the end your plot is going to put your main character in conflict with other characters and the world around her.  Does your protagonist succeed or fail?  Is the conclusion emotionally satisfying? Know where your story is going.
  5. Play with the middle.  Whether you use large sheets of paper, 3’x5”cards, pages in a notebook, a loose-leaf binder does not matter.  Your aim is to come up with around 60-70 scene incidents of about one line.  More is better because you will eventually toss some.  You don’t need to work these out in detail, just the basics.
  6. Embellish your notes for the big scenes—the love scene, the place where all seems lost, the big battle, etc.

If you have been following The Story Bodyguard Newsletter we have been working through all the elements of the story.  You may want to start thinking about scenes that fulfill these various elements.

You have now taken your story idea and moved into constructing your plot.  Now you can continue with character background, setting, and any research you need to fill in gaps.

Best of all, with a plot in mind, you can start writing the story.

And…if you follow these steps you should be able to construct the first 10 pages of a script and enter The First 10 Pages Contest.  Grand prize is $500!

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