Planning a story is one of the best ways to ensure you finish your story. I know some writers don’t plan at all, they just follow their muse, or their creative genius wherever it goes.
I don’t have a muse and I have never found out where to get one, so I have to work out my stories in advance. To me, the idea of not planning a story is equivalent to a slow descent into hell!
A writer who has lost themselves in the creative writing process can produce a confusing and confused story.
I have read a lot of pieces where I know there is a good story in there somewhere but the story is lost among a confusion of disjointed scenes that go nowhere, characters who are disconnected and tangents that beat a confusing path towards a whole different story.
At the very least, planning a story will stop you getting stuck, and at the very best, it will enable you to structure your story coherently and let your narrative flow.
PLANNING A STORY MEANS ACTION AND CONFLICT
Whether you begin with a story idea, or a character idea, it is up to you. You can turn either into a story as long as you provide some action and conflict.
Your character can be very interesting but unless you reveal that through story nobody will ever know.
An interesting character is one who embarks on a journey where they are tested, change and grow. Characters who are passive, or who don’t change, seldom make us want to know more about them.
MORE THAN A FACE
A list of physical features is not a characterization, just a description. Despite what advertisers and beauty magazines tell us, we are a hell of a lot more than just how we look – all of us, and so are the characters we create.
To begin to develop a character, we must decide how best to change them. Human beings change when circumstances do.
We have to change and adapt, in order to survive. This is probably why we enjoy stories. Stories are a way for us to project our fears and ideas on to a fictional character and see how they survive. If they can – maybe we can?
SHAKE YOUR CHARACTER
So take your character and do whatever it takes to shake them up. Find out their deepest fears and subject them to it. Do this as much as you need to in order to tell your story.
A STORY IS SOMETHING THAT HAPPENS TO SOMEONE
In its simplest form a story is something that happens to someone. Yet it is amazing how many writers forget this and produce reams of descriptive scenes or big chunks of dialogue with nothing much actually happening to anyone at all!
A SIMPLE STORY
Planning a story can be as simple or as complicated as it takes to get your writing flowing.
You can write a chapter plan of a novel with each chapter represented by a single line, or a full-page.
You can even use one of the more complicated templates available to buy in book form. If it works use it! If it doesn’t – try something else!
You can plan your screenplay according to any one of many screenplay structures currently in vogue, or simply use a basic three-act structure, beginning, middle and end.
KEEP TRACK OF THE CHARACTERS IN YOUR STORY
You can and should keep character notes. It is very easy to mention a minor character’s luscious red hair in one scene ,and yet later on in the story there they are – leaning against a bus stop patting their bald head!
There are lots of people who spend their days trawling through books and films, looking for mistakes like that so that they can post them on discussion boards all over the internet – so keep track, or start to enjoy blushing.
Don’t worry though, as long as you have some form of plan you won’t go too far wrong. But, without a plan you could go so very, very wrong.
It is very disheartening to find you have somehow written a large quantity of pages that add nothing to your work – except confusion. Believe me I’ve been there.
A WHOLE LOT OF MIDDLE AND A WHOLE LOT OF MUDDLE
Without a plan you might find yourself with a whole lot of middle, a whole lot of muddle and no ending.
What’s so heartbreaking about this is that sometimes writers get to this point after a couple of hundred pages and then find themselves unable to end their story. For more about this see ‘tired of your own story.‘
If writers planned their story to start with they would have worked out a viable ending or maybe they would have realized that no viable ending exists. Maybe they would have decided to work out another story instead and so save themselves a whole lot of time and heartache!