I have a confession to make. I have been plotting. City of Sirens, Book One, that is! Heehee! A cheezy bit of writing humour for you!
There are lots of different approaches to plotting a story and every writer has their own way of doing things. One way is not better than the other. What is best, is the way that works best for you. If you have a story idea in your head that wants to come out, you owe it to yourself to do whatever it takes to get your story down on paper and out into the world. Whatever method you use is up to you. If you don't know what method works best for you yet, don't be discouraged. There are lots of different approaches you can try.
Maybe You're a Pansters
Pansters are writers that like to just sit down in front of their computer and write. They discover the characters, plot and ending as they go. They figure out the story by writing it, then they go back and refine it to make it work as a complete piece. The important part is getting it all down. The hardest part is getting your butt in that chair, opening up a vein and letting it all flow. It's the having something to work with approach. Once you get the block of marble in front of you, you can start chipping away at it and unearthing the form. This approach is not for everybody but if that's more your style. Rock it!
Plotters and Planners
Some writers like to write character charts, sheets, descriptions, sketches, do a ton of research, plotting, planning, mapping and outlining in extensively detail before they begin the process of writing the actual story.
Some writers then use the three act story structure of scripts and plays. Some use other story engineering techniques based on the genre they are writing in. Some reverse engineer the story and come up with the grand finale first and figure out what needs to happen to the characters by the end of the story to get that desired resolution or outcome.
Personally, I like to have the idea, concept, characters, themes and character and story arcs nailed down, then I come up with an ending and reverse engineer the plot using story structure and outline the whole story.
What the heck is story structure?
Story Structure, is a controversial topic amongst some writer. It is the concept that all tales, regardless of medium, need certain plot points that occur at certain times to drive the plot forward and towards the character's transformation (character arc) and to the climax (resolution/conclusion) of the story (story arc).
The Hero's Journey, by Joseph Campbell is an example of this. Campbell concluded that every hero in myth, legend and religious tale throughout history has undergone 12 stages that transforms them into a hero. Some of these stages include the call to action/adventure, which is followed by the refusal of the call which is followed by some consequences that ultimately force or incite (which is also why the call to action is sometimes called the inciting incident) the hero into taking a quest or a journey to save the world or defeat the Minotaur or save their love. These 12 stages create the character arc, the story arc and the plot. Some people call it a formula and therein lies the controversy of this topic. A lot of writers don't like the idea of formulaic writing and a lot writers have a difference of opinion on the topic of writing using a formula. Where's the creativity in that, man? But, all good stories, whether we want to admit it or not, follow a structure. Just like all drawings of a person or a character start with a circle and a basic skeleton using proportions, all stories start with an idea and a skeleton structure with certain key plot points that give the story wings.
Story structure is a tool. It can keep your story from getting off track, keep you as the writer from writing yourself into a corner. It keeps the story on point. Plot point! ;)
There are a ton of great books on structure and story engineering, including the Hero's Journey. I have listed a few of my favourites below. Check them out and come to your own conclusions.
I have left the ending out in the above pic. So don't try and zoom in to find out what happens. LOL No spoilers here!!!
So, all that being said about plot and story and structure. Here's my process:
I nail down the idea, concept, characters, setting, themes and character arcs then get the structure of the story down by creating an outline. I like to write the outline out on note cards. Each note card is a chapter, scene or relevant point in the plot. This can, also, be done on the computer, using a writing app such Scrivener, but I like a more tactile approach. I like to be able to see it all outside a screen. I also like to move things around, take scenes out that don't fit and rearrange stuff if need be. I also consolidate cards if they work under one chapter or plot point. Sometimes I go so far as to write out the POV of the scene and what the characters in the chapter or scene are after. In other words, what they are hoping to achieve in that scene that creates the tension or conflict. It can be something as simple as wanting a glass of water and another character being in front of the sink, wanting to talk. Every scene needs tension and conflict. Every scene is it's own mini drama but that's a topic for another blog post: scene writing. Once I have my outline and literal story board I start writing it out scene by scene, chapter by chapter, referring to my outline to keep me on point and on track. Because City of Sirens is a comic or graphic novel, I write the chapters and scenes out as scripts, writing out the dialogue with brief character and setting descriptions.
So how do you plot your story? Do you outline or just write and see what happens? Please comment below: