On Writing: The Basics–Plotting: Baby Steps

Wednesday, October 12

Okay, so let’s say you’ve figured out—kind of—what your characters motivations and desires. You even have a pretty good idea as to what is standing in their way—a bad guy, a raging storm, a stalking fae, a lovesick werewolf, whatever. Now how do you take what you know and shape it into a plot?

What I do at this point is I sit down and look at both the internal and external GMCs. Then I try to brainstorm four to six baby steps the character will need to take to achieve both the internal goal and the external goal. In real life, change may happen over night, but in fiction, we readers want to see the process of change, make that journey to a new, improved self along with the character, so it helps to be sure and break down the change into manageable bites.

Now is probably a good time for me to explain that I don’t do all of this at the very beginning. I usually spend some time writing what I do know, either snippets of scenes or dialogue, details about the world, setting, or characters. Sometimes, I’m pleasantly surprised by how very much I instinctively know about the story. Then I use these exercises to fill in the blanks.

Other times I’ll have a pretty clear idea of the external plot, but then need to be sure the action precipitates growth in the character. In that instance, I’ll look at the baby steps for my internal GMC, and make sure that the scenes I have for the external plot change the character’s internal landscape, using those baby steps as my guidelines.

Other times, I’ll have a solid idea of an internal journey, but no clue as to what has to happen physically in the story. In that case I’m pretty wide open for brainstorming the most effective (and dramatic) external events that will bring about those changes.

It’s also not a bad idea to write an entire discovery draft, learning about your characters and their internal landscape, friends and relationships, before applying any plotting or structure to the manuscript.

The point I’m trying to make here is that whatever you way you approach the story is the right way. It’s just a matter of finding a process that allows you to plug up the holes you don’t know yet.

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