The process of planning a story, be it short or long, is fairly irregular. Every author does it slightly differently. We learn in school that stories tend to have a particular arc and this is often referred to as a ‘story mountain’. Even so, not everybody uses that strategy. Some people don’t plan what they write at all and fly by the seat of their pants. This blog post is going to suggest ways that you can get into planning a story without having to sketch out every plot point.
- Have a hook
Just like any chart-breaking pop song, a story always needs a good, strong hook. If a reader has nothing to hook onto then the writing process is going to be problematic and the overall narrative will fall apart. A hook is something which will thread through the entire story, providing a motivation to get to the end. It will also usually provide the main characters with a mission.
- Decide upon the viewpoint
Who is really telling this story?
Do you want to write as if you are watching the story from above, gliding from scene to scene, describing the atmosphere and taking a helicopter view? The third person can be a useful tool but often writers choose to get much closer to their characters and write in the ‘close third person’ mode. This enables them to still describe everything, but with a particular character’s thoughts and feelings in mind. This may alternate in each chapter and is a device often used by Liane Moriarty in books like ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’.
Do you want the main characters telling the story?
If so, then try and write in the first person. Some writers tell a whole story through one person’s eyes and others write each chapter from the viewpoint of a different character. They then return to the characters in future chapters, as the story unfolds. I used this approach in my debut book, ‘The Fathers, The Sons and The Anxious Ghost’. See blog post: https://jamieadstories.wpcomstaging.com/2021/06/12/writing-my-first-book/
- Maintain The Pace
Even if you don’t exactly know the ending of your story, it can be quite important to have an idea of when that point will come. Otherwise you may find yourself going off on all sorts of tangents and never knowing when the middle is passed and if you are anywhere near the story ending or otherwise. Pace yourself and make sure you know how long you are going to set the scene before you introduce the problem, challenge or mission.
- Remove any obstacles
When you begin to write, no matter whether you have planned or not, you will always come across elements that just get in the way of the main storyline. This can happen when you get sidetracked or if a secondary character becomes too involved in a plot point. Editing as you go along or changing your original story plan can be vital further down the path. Overhanging branches of clutter can detract from you focussing the reader on that brilliant ‘hook’.
- Keep Notes
The one thing I have learned which has really helped me, as someone who doesn’t like to plan a story in its entirety, is to keep a track of all of the characters and make sure you have their basic profiles jotted down. I often find that after a few chapters I forget a character’s relationship with a secondary character or a small detail about them. This oversight can distract a reader if not maintained. Like a continuity director for a movie, you need to keep a sharp eye on your details. This way characters do not become unrecognisable later on in the narrative.
Make sure that when you have finished editing a text you reflect upon the planning techniques that you used. If something felt good for you then use it again. If you find that you really do prefer to write out a story map then that’s fine also. Get rid of the methods that caused you grief.
I hope that this article was useful in providing some prompts for story writing. If you liked this post then perhaps consider following my blog.