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How to Plan Your Story Plot from Start to Finish
by Samantha Stone

Plots and CharactersA well-plotted story is engaging, a page-turner, a book your readers can't put down. Creating this word-devouring fervor doesn't usually happen with one brilliant character or event in a book. It takes careful planning on your part.

If you're writing a novel series, planning is especially important. Schedule events and character appearances at the best moments to carry your storyline without giving too much away too soon, and without losing your reader in ‘word padding' to create a sense of time or distance between plot points.

Overwhelmed? Don't be. Use these 10 tips to keep momentum in your overall storyline.

1. Inciting Incident

Your story should start with something important that changes the character's life, creates excitement or presents a problem. This is your inciting incident or launching point that will propel the rest of the story. In a murder mystery, it could be a dead body on the floor.

2. What MUST Happen

Your story is a connection of events. Your main plot is the events that must happen to carry your story. These should follow a logical order, whether told chronologically or with flashbacks and parallel lines. Your must-happen scenes are the hit-points of your story.

3. Set Character Goals

Define your character's goal clearly to yourself. This can also be your story's theme, such as triumphing over evil. For the goal, this must be something the character feels strongly about, important enough for him or her to overcome everything you throw in their way within the plot.

4. Point-of-View

Decide your story's points-of-view or viewpoints early on. These should be from those characters who can have the strongest POV access or who have the vantage point of seeing the story. A secondary character can do this in most genres. The longer the story, as in many fantasy storylines, the more viewpoints you can use.

5. Consequences for Failure

What if the character's goal isn't reached? Who suffers? Who wins? What impact does failure have on the character? This doesn't have to be life or death, but it should have impact. Fear of those consequences should increase as your plot unfolds.

6. Time Your Foreshadowing

Don't foreshadow minutes before the event. Use this to tie-in points in a story when you plot, but write them sparingly so that the "Ah-ha!" moments are not diluted by the reader already weary of the hinting.

7. Schedule Setups

Don't make your hints, clues, or "bad feeling about things" too obvious. Let the reader be surprised, but be sure to put those needed moments in at the proper stages of plotting.

8. Schedule Payoffs

These are the rewards and end-caps to your earlier setups. Not every setup needs a payoff, but your story should have enough justified payoffs to leave the reader satisfied. Good plotting will show your writing logic or game theory, especially in suspense, military/historical, and fantasy genres.

9. End Naturally, Not Contrived

Don't jilt the reader by tossing in an easy exit at the last moment. The story should have a logical outcome that you've built along the way with good plotting. The murderer in a murder mystery needn't be blatantly apparent, but having a sudden appearance by an unmentioned character at the last moment will leave readers unsatisfied and perhaps not reading your next book.

10. Tie-Ups and Closure

The best plotting of a story shows when the writer knows when to end the story. Yes, there is an end; recognize when the story is over and let it happen. Don't offer the story that overstays its storyline or you'll lose your momentum and readers. Tie-ups should do just that.

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