What’s the Right Way to Plot a Story?

When writing, it can be argued that plotting the story is the most important part. A plot can help keep you on track, avoid plot holes, and add depth such as foreshadowing to the story. However, with so many resources and methods going around, what’s the best way to plot a story? The methods range from detailed notes that are almost as long as the actual story, to no plotting at all. Sadly, there’s no one size fits all in the writing world, and no clear answer as to the best way to plot a story… However, there are ways to figure out which method works best for you. 

First and foremost:

Figure out which of the two main categories fits you best – Plotters and non-plotters.  Think back to how your last story went, or if you’ve never written, what your plans look like. Did you have a plan before you started writing, or did you get an idea and start writing it, making things up as you went? Whichever method you chose, did it work for you? That can tell you a lot about your writing style.

If you fall into the non-plotting category…

There’s not too much you need to know. It can be harder to hold motivation and you can get stopped by not knowing what comes next at times, but this method is still fully plausible and works for a lot of people. The most important thing here is knowing your character; what motivates them, troubles them, everything. If you have a clear motivation, it’s easier to keep the story in a logical direction and avoid getting sidetracked. Good ways to get to know your characters are taking personality quizzes posing as your character, creating playlists inspired by them, or creating their backstory. 

On the other hand, plotters:

If you fall into the plotting category, then you want to experiment with different things. Some plotters find it better to have the main plot points and fill in what’s in between as they go, while others prefer to have detailed plans of every scene in the story. Whichever way sounds more appealing, try it out. Make changes to the methods as you go. Some writers use sticky notes and put all the scenes they’d like on one, and then mess with the order to see what works and where gaps are. Others use a map and label their character’s journey. Get creative, plan as much or as little as you want, and don’t be afraid to try new things. 

Common Problems

Some common plotting problems that writers come across are getting caught in the planning phase, not knowing what to do next, and only planning the main plot. It’s important to remember that all the planning in the world means nothing if you don’t follow through on it; without the story being written, the plot is fairly meaningless. At a point, you need to decide to just write. Setting a time or space limit is a good way to do that; give yourself however long you think is fair to plot the story, or a limited space to make the plot (such as two or three pages of a notebook.) This gives you the opportunity to have something going, but not get caught up in the details too much. A similar problem is not knowing what comes next, or how to bridge two parts of the story. A good way to overcome this is to work backwards from the latest point; how would the characters get to that point? Do they need to physically travel somewhere, get in an argument, or meet someone new? Continue that process of questioning how the characters would get that point until you’ve filled in the gaps between two scenes.

Additionally, you don’t need to describe everything, and not every moment of the story needs to be packed with meaning. It’s okay to hint that they’re travelling by having them board a plane, and not describe the ride. Lastly, and another good way to fill in gaps, is to remember that most stories don’t have just one conflict. Often, there’s the main conflict such as taking down an evil person, but there are smaller conflicts such as romance, overcoming mental blocks, or other “smaller” problems. Remember to factor these into the story to add depth and interest. 

Parting Words

Don’t confine yourself. If you think you don’t plot and then feel the need to create an outline, do that. Or vice versa. People change, and their processes change with them. As long as you’re writing, things are good. Try new things, do what feels natural, and don’t stress about it.