Planning your story

A major reason for writer’s block is: not knowing how to move your story forward. Careful planning can help get rid of this entirely.

Consider an architect; they start off with the end image of a building in mind. Then they make plans, measuring out the area, and the height of the building, all the while considering what the building will be used for. Is it a house? A hospital? A skyscraper in New York City? The architect decides what building materials are to be used, balancing cost and effectiveness, before finally starting to actually build their vision.

You are the architect of your story. Just like an architect careful planning is extremely important. Could you imagine someone just deciding to build something without any plans whatsoever? You’d have to question the safety of the building – and that’s if it the creator didn’t abandon it halfway through because they didn’t know what to do next!

In the course of composing their works, many writers choose different approaches to creating their stories. Some don’t use outlines at all and just write their masterpiece, major props to them if they can do that. The rest of us need to have a plan or a method to help us along in the writing process.

Some use a simple outline with key events listed as bullet points. Others may have other techniques. There are pros and cons to each of the different ways to write a story, but it’s really up to you to find which you like best and fits to the story you want to tell (a house or a skyscraper.) I’ll be sharing two different ways that may benefit you most.

The first is what I use most often and that’s a detailed synopsis. (Typically running 10-20 pages depending on the length of my story. More on this later.)

Usually I start with the end goal in mind before asking some questions. Why is this event important? Is there a lesson to be learned? What experiences do the characters need to have before reaching this point? How do I want them to grow along the way? What do I want the reader to take away from this?

From there I think about any other critical events that I already have planned. Where do they fit into the story?

What it comes down to is building everything line upon line and experience on experience. Think of your story as a puzzle. You start with the edges first (end goals: like the climax, who your characters are at the end, themes or motifs that need to come full circle, etc.), then you begin to fill in one corner of the puzzle at a time (key event and how it affects characters, if it’s a side story then how does it relate to the overall picture/plot) and so on until you have your mostly completed puzzle. Any missing pieces will take care of themselves as you write.

I choose a detailed synopsis over a shorter one because, for me, I’m able to see all of the major and subtle plot points and how one event directly leads into the next, or how a past event may have small ramifications at first, but drastically alter the lives of the characters or the story later on. This lets me rework sections of the story before I’ve sat down to actually write it. Like the architect, it saves renovation costs later down the road.

The majority of my synopsis actually reads like a short story, but when it comes time to write the “extended version” (dialogue and more details) each paragraph or so in the synopsis can essentially be blown up to one full-page in the novel.

Another method is similar to a detailed synopsis, but a bit more visual.

Using poster paper, write out major events you want to happen, either for the plot or for your characters. Once you put everything on the paper, see which ones would naturally come before the others and then string them all together. (It may be necessary to rewrite them in the order you want on another poster paper to make it easier for you to make sense of.)

Once you have the major events in order then just start writing! Don’t worry about knowing every little detail of your story in the first draft. Just like the architect you’ll expound on your design each time you go to work on it. Just make sure you’re overall plot is as consistent as you can make it for the first draft and work on it later. Remember, architects have to pass safety inspections which mean no inconsistencies!

Basic tips:

Have the end in mind. How can you work toward a goal if you don’t know what it is?

Ask questions! Is this scene relevant to the story in any way and does it progress the plot? What do I want for it? What needs to happen to move from here to the next point?

Take everything a little bit at a time. It can be easy to get overwhelmed with a large task, such as the great American novel, but be like the architect and ensure you have a sturdy foundation first.

If you get stuck at a part, just vomit something onto the page and come back to it later. Some writer’s block comes from stressing over a certain part for too long. Nothing has to be perfect the first time through!

When I started using an outline, planning out critical events, and asking questions, is when I experienced far less writer’s block and much better stories.

How do you go about writing a story? Tips for getting over writer’s block?

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