According to Kipling “There are nine and sixty ways to constructing tribal lays, And every single one of them is right!” The same may be said of plotting a novel. The trick is to determine what methods will work for you. First, you need to know the plot structure for your genre. I suggest you pick up a copy of Plot and Structure, by James Scott Bell.
Story tellers come in two varieties Plotters and “Pantsers” (meaning those who write by seat of their pants) and, true, they probably have the most fun until they have to produce on deadline.
I use both methods and it works like this. You wouldn’t start out to drive across country without a road map, but you wouldn’t want to miss exploring something interesting like Yellow Stone Park either. With your map you have the option of getting back on tract and making that deadline.
Whole books have been written on the subject of plotting. In the space granted here, I can only tell you what I’ve found to work for me and to provide you with further resources to investigate that may be the answer for you. So here we go.
Hot Dang! You’ve seen a piece in a newspaper, TV, or overheard a snip of gossip that’s given you a good idea for a story. Your brain goes into overdrive and you’re off to story land. First, you’ve got to have characters, so work up character sketches. Know their desires, fears, secrets, faults, and needs. In short, as much as you can think up. You probably won’t use all this information, but it makes your characters come to life. Build characters that you can like and admire. If you want to spend time with them, so will your reader. In the case of your villain, make him smart. A real toe to toe match for your protagonist, otherwise, there’s no real victory in defeating him or her.
Now, BRAINSTORM. What does your character want? Why does he want it? Why can’t he have it? Here’s where Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict can help. If you haven’t read it, throw this down and do it.
Once my GMC is worked out, I reach for Mary Buckham’s Break Into Fiction: 11 Steps To Building A Story That Sells. This is a template method in which Mary’s questions prompt you into pinpointing what your story is about from beginning to end, as well as, ensuring those “Turning Points” are where they belong. Yes, it fries your brain, but if you do it step by step , when finished, you know your plot works and you have something in your hand for your effort. This is your road map.
By now, you have a pretty good idea of your story line and scene pictures have been popping into your head. Time to begin your scene (3×5”) cards. On each card, write a very brief description of what happens, what’s learned, who is your point of view character, and maybe even, a good hook that will propel your reader to the next scene or chapter. How many? Go to one of your favorite genre books and count the scenes for a “ballpark” number. Arrange the cards in the order they will appear in your story. When satisfied with the arrangement, number them. Now you’re ready to begin writing.
Suggested research and readings:
Plot and Structure, by James Scott Bell
Goal, Motivation and Conflict, by Debra Dixon
Break Into Fiction: 11 Steps To Building A Story That Sells by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love