Plots and Characters: How to Create a "Step Guide" of Your Story
by Samantha Stone

Plots and CharactersAt its core, your novel is either about a character or event. Regardless of whether your story is plot-driven or character-driven, you need a plan or guide. This guide has priorities that must come before other events can happen in your plot, but all novels have these same necessities. This is what is needed to guide your story. Deciding these basics will make it easier to define your plotline and write the story.

While the list below of 10 top steps in guiding your story are all needed, the order of importance will depend on your driving force (character or event) and your personal style of writing.

The first seven may fall in a very different order for you.

1. Inciting Incident

This is the launching point of your story that presents the major conflict for your characters. This should come early and be well-defined to you as a writer. The magnitude of this problem need not necessarily be known to the character or reader until later in the plot, depending on the genre.

2. Main Characters and Point-of-View

Decide who your characters are, including appearance, background, views, and importance to the story. Decide on the strongest point-of-view or viewpoints to tell the story. Remember that a first-person point-of-view will limit how much the reader, as the character, is able to know.

3. Research

If you're not an expert in the fields or topics needed for the story, research those subjects. Use the research in the story as you need it, but don't let it read like an instructional manual.

4. Define Character Goals

Write down what each of your character wants and how badly they want that goal. This can add conflict and allies, create divisions and alienation.

5. Schedule Obstacles

Throw in enough obstacles to keep your story's pace moving and characters reacting or interacting. Schedule in these obstacles where they have the most impact. More obstacles can be added as you need them, but get an idea of the main problems early.

6. Time and Setting

Decide when the story happens, whether in known history or the future, or even an alternate time. Choose a location or make one up, and sketch in an idea of the main scene locales, such as a castle, ranch, or ski resort.

7. Tone and Style

The tone of your story will depend on your style of writing and the impact you want to have on the reader. Decide how you want the reader to feel at the end of the story, whether uplifted, curious, or relieved. Your writing style can add to this tone with sentence structure and rhythm.

8. Checkpoints

Make a timeline or checkpoint for your characters to keep them in line for your intended tone. Decide what Character A is doing while Character B is doing another task. This will help you keep your timeline correct and make editing easier later.

9. Actually Write the Book

This sounds obvious, but it's easy to get caught up in outlining, researching, and tweaking character nuances and never getting around to actually writing the book. Write the novel and save any major editing for later. Get the words on the page.

10. Editing

Take time away from the novel, and then jump back into editing it. You need some time or 'distance' to get a fresh look at what you've just written. This might be a few days for some writers, a few weeks or more for others. When you edit, keep the reader in mind. Edit out anything that screams of 'great writing' and simply let the story unfold in the most readable manner.

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