How to PUT IT ALL TOGETHER

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It was requested to make a chapter putting EVERYTHING together in an example of how I plot my novels. I obviously can't hit every point from the guide because that would take years, but I'll hit the major ones. If I left something out, let me know and I'll add it!

My pride and joy in terms of plotting is Guardian Redemption, however, that has 5 different pov characters and is a little too layered and nuanced for our purposes here. So for simplicity's sake, I'm going to choose a more straightforward plot with my novel VENGEANCE. Unfortunately, world building was nearly non-existent in the first draft, so that's a crucial piece that'll be missing from this chapter. Keep that in mind and don't forget about your world building! I'll do another chapter tailored to that at a later date.

Obviously, spoilers ahead for VENGEANCE. This is just how I personally plotted this specific story. It absolutely isn't the only way to plot a story. I actually plot all my stories a little differently. Sometimes I have the plot first then fill it with characters. Sometimes characters first then make a plot around them (that's the case with VEN). And sometimes I'm just pantsing and making up everything without plotting in advance (not recommended.)

So first, start with a broad concept: giant humanoid battle mech piloted by a young woman.

Then come up with a conflict. VEN has a couple different conflicts going on at once:
1. The MC is having trouble piloting her mech and is in danger of getting fired.
2. There's the threat of genocide as treaty negotiations with another nation are going sour.

So you can actually string these two conflicts together: There's threat of a genocide, but the MC is about to get fired, so she can't participate in the war. That leads us into a possible motivation/goal for the MC: don't get fired. But why does she so badly want to fight in this war? Because she used to be a professional cage-fighter and always had big dreams of fame and fortune and glory. When the military recruited her for her fighting skill, she decided it'd be more glorious to take her fight from the ring and into a full-blown war zone.

So there's our MC! (Her name's Takara). She has a goal: Don't get fired and stop the genocide. She has ample motivation and stakes: She longs for glory, and if she gets fired she'll be a washed-up nobody. It'll be a direct insult on her bloated ego. She's a busybody and thinks her worth as a human being entirely depends on how much she's helping others (and she measures that by how much praise she gets). So lots of redeeming traits and flaws. Redeeming: has agency, works hard, strong-willed, passionate. Flaws: huge ego, conceited to some extent, narrow-minded, impulsive, abrasive, lacks empathy, naive. Her biggest fear is being worthless and being unable to do anything (as you can probably guess, I'll exploit this later!)

Let's keep developing the political situation. Long ago, there was some war where the country Takara lives in, Deilan, and a northern nation, Majjite, fought together against a common enemy. A lot of Deilans got displaced and took refuge in Majji. Fast-forward to the present, a new family has taken power in Majji, and they're deeply prejudiced toward Deilans. They offer an ultimatum: the Deilans living in Majji GET THE EFF OUT RIGHT NOW or they're gonna slaughter them all.

There's one antagonist: the Majjite ruling family. (Keep in mind I didn't develop them at all, and that's a huge shortcoming of this story.)

There's another issue going on: Takara's inability to pilot her mech, which is named VENGEANCE (Ven for short). The mechs are a really new invention, only three in existence, and they're operated by the pilot's thoughts. Takara isn't Ven's original pilot (it was her uncle, who died in a freak accident), so she's not 100% compatible, as it was built specifically for her uncle. Her ability to control Ven is spiraling a lot lately, which puts her at risk for getting fired. Then some enemy spy sneaks in and ruins the key sync test between Takara and Ven, and she DOES get fired.

A third conflict: the mechs contain cloned biological parts, which is against the main religion practiced in Deilan. The new ruler is heavily religious and wants the mechs destroyed. But there are a lot of people against that movement and for the mechs, especially with the tense political situation with Majji. The mech creators kind of created their own faction threaten to use the mechs against the government if they try to take apart the mechs. And since the mechs are the greatest weapons in the world, that's a big threat. So the government just cut their funding and ignoring the mechs. Until they decide to nuke them. The mech creators are still vying for a peaceful negotiation with the government to keep the mechs and use them in the war. Takara's standing there pulling out her hair with frustration and like DUDE THEY'RE GONNA NUKE US. WE GOTTA GET THE MECHS OUTTA HERE RIGHT NOW YOU MORONS.

So we've got threat of genocide, Takara's fired, and there are nukes pointed at the country's only hope at WINNING the oncoming war. These are the stakes. Now Takara has to get Ven out of the line of fire and stop the Majjites before they slaughter her people, all while on the run from her government. And when she steals Ven, its creators will be all HEY THAT'S OURS GIVE IT BACK. So she'll be on the run from them too.

*phew* I might have overdone it with the stakes, but whatever.

SO that's the setup for the story. Takara steals Ven and makes a run for it. Ven's on a limited battery supply, and it shuts down while she's escaping in the mountains. There's an obstacle! Remember to throw as much shit in your protagonist's way as you can! Don't make their escape easy. Give them a time limit. A big suspenseful scene in this story was when she was fighting the clock to get Ven away before the battery ran out. Of course the mech creators sent out the other two mechs to bring her and Ven back, so there was a big mech battle, too. So there's an obstacle to an obstacle: she has to fight the other mechs AND do it in a timely fashion AND escape. Big stakes here. Don't forget her sync with Ven is failing, so she can't even control it properly while she's fighting. I just kept layering the obstacles to make the situation tenser.

So she escapes the mechs and heads to the city's powerplant to see if she can siphon some power to charge the dying battery (her father, who heads the military operations in the mech unit) hinted at her to go there after she jacks Ven, and she's all: -.- that's kinda suspicious okay whatever let's roll with it.

At the powerplant, she discovers a secret mech unit her parents were secretly working with. They knew the government was going to destroy the mechs eventually, so they're building another mech in secret. This is the reward (recall the how to plot chapter with throwing in rewards every so often to give your readers a breather from the doom and gloom). This new mech is even more advanced than Ven, and they want Takara to pilot it. Since it'll be tailored to her, she'll have a full sync ability with it.

So the point of this long lecture is layer on the obstacles, and when your character overcomes them, give them a reward! She has to steal a multi-million-dollar military bioweapon, while she has limited ability to move the thing, while two other mechs who are functioning properly are trying to catch her, while her mech's battery is dying. The more your MC has to overcome, the harder they have to work to reach their goals, the more likely it is we'll root for them. And then show how their hard work paid off so your readers can cheer along with them!

Now time for actual helpful stuff with tailoring your plot to your characters. Every mech pilot needs some friends, so lets add some: Remember that spy who got her fired? Shit happens and he ends up joining her group along with his BFF. The spy was in the air force but recently had a falling out so he's kind of gone rogue. His name is Khai. his BFF is Ianni, a world champion fighter, and he's been Takara's idol for years. So she's really star struck when she meets him.

But let's pick apart these characters. First Takara:

Her entire self-worth is based on how much praise she gets, and she gets praise when she's helping people and does amazing things. So to exploit that, we have to put her in a situation where she either can't help someone or she's the cause of someone's strife. Get people to hate her.

We got that from her failing her sync test with Ven, so she gets fired. But later we exploit it again when she tries to save some hostages but is too slow. A few of them are shot and killed right in front of her. Think of how helpless and worthless she'll feel right then. Later in the story Ven gets taken away from her, and she's left aimlessly wandering around with no goal, no plan, no worth (in her eyes).

Figure out what your character fears the most and then make it happen. To see what's really inside your characters, you have to break them open. Figure out what will break them.

Next, let's look at Khai:

He's introverted, a thinker and strategist. Unlike Takara, he hates acting on the fly, and making on-the-spot decisions gets him really stressed out. He loves to fly because he's up in open air where there's so much space and freedom. So we have to exploit the fears: have a mob attack the group on the ground, where everything's chaos and frenzied and congested. And put that man on a deadline! Murderous mob people are banging on the door, shooting at it, trying to get in the room where Khai and co. are hiding. Khai has NO time to think, and his mind is going blank. He sees his best friends all looking to him, counting on him to come up with a plan, but he just CAN'T THINK.

Corner your characters with their biggest fears, their regrets. Get them SCARED SHITLESS.

And finally Ianni:

He's similiar to Takara in that he has to be helping other people. While Takara does it for the praise, Ianni does it because he hates conflict. It makes him really uncomfortable. Because of that, he's a doormat and always does what he's told.

Remember the chapter where I criticized Brandon Sanderson's characters for being too perfect foils. Opposites in every aspect to the point where it felt fake and contrived. Takara and Ianni is how you create foils while still making them similar: Takara is rough and proactive and hates taking orders. Ianni always does what he's told. Both need to help other people to fuel their self worth. They're similar in goals, but differ in motive.

We can exploit Ianni's fears in a similar way to Takara's: kill someone in front of him. Make him feel helpless.
Another way to exploit him is to give him conflicting goals: He's offered the chance to pilot the new mech, but mechs go against his religion. Because he's one of the best fighters in the world, he is literally the best choice to pilot a mech. If he doesn't, his friends might die, and then he'll blame himself: "If I had just piloted, I could've saved them." But he also doesn't want to go against his religion. So there's a big decision he needs to make.

And adding to the conflict, there's conflict between the friends, too. Khai sabotaged Takara, so she's bitter toward him. He hates her because he also follows the religion that condemns the mechs. (so they're not really friends yet I guess... haha.) And Ianni's stuck in the middle because he hates conflict and never knows who to side with during an argument. That gets both of them frustrated with him, and they're all just yelling at each other at one point and feelings are getting majorly hurt.

That's how you add drama between friends: figure out what values differ between them and put them in a situation where they'd be on opposite sides and have incompatible opinions. Arguments are a great way to develop your characters. Seeing how they reconcile their beliefs is a great motivation for character growth (or decline!). Have them find the common ground or common enemy. To get over arguments, focus on what's the same, rather than what's different. (not in every case, obviously, but that's one way to get over arguments.)

Now let's look at one of the main antagonists in the story, Takara's cousin Wendle. He was another candidate to pilot Ven, but Takara beat him out, so he's really bitter. To make an antagonist, look at the origin of their antagonistic behavior. Wendle wasn't always a douche to Takara, but it started when she exploited HIS fear: getting beat out by a younger fighter, who is also a girl. It's safe to say he got made fun of a lot because of this, and that's why his ego is so shattered.

Why is he such a major antagonist? Becuase by him bullying Takara, he hits her right where it hurts: her ego. Takara thrives on praise, and here's her cousin, her own blood, calling her names in front of other people, getting them to laugh at her, and beating her up (while her leg was severely injured so she couldn't fight back). He's that little devil's voice on her shoulder telling her she's worthless, she's a failure, she sucks.

I didn't go into detail of every plot point, but with these concepts, the bulk of the story is already plotted: We have the characters, their goals, antagonists and their motivations, their values and views on morality. We have external conflict and tension in the background. We have obstacles for the protagonists, either self-generated or some external force throwing hurdles at them. Some hurdles you can overcome like fighting and winning against the other mechs. Some the characters have to learn to deal with like Takara's incompatibility with Ven and the limits of its battery pack. There are conflicting morals toward the mechs due to religious beliefs or lack of. There's tension between the characters because their inherent personalities are the exact thing that catalyze fear and tension with the others.

Now we have to bring the story to a climax and resolution. It has to be satisfying without tying up the ends too nicely. That's hard to do, and every source I've looked at doesn't give specific tips or advice beyond that^. The ending depends on the story. I had a story where everyone, including the MC, died at the end. It was the best ending I ever wrote (unfortunately the rest of the story was dismal and caused me to scrap it *cries*) Another story ends with fluffy cuteness and everything all happy and well.

But lets start with the climax. Everything has to intensify 10-fold. Battling one monster was hard enough, now there's twenty. The characters robbing a bank got caught, but now the bomb they planted exploded at the wrong time and the buildling is collapsing around them. Dig them into the biggest hole you can possibly think up. Don't worry if you don't have a solution just yet. Only focus on: WHAT IS THE ABSOLUTE WORST POSSIBLE THING THAT COULD HAPPEN RIGHT NOW? That includes exploiting your characters' weaknesses and fears as well as throwing huge external obstacles in their way.

In VEN, we have Takara finally fighting back against her bully of a cousin, Wendle, but she accidentally goes too far and caused the mutilation of his face. This drive wendle to join the enemy to get the power to destroy her. He returns stronger than ever, and it looks hopeless for Takara to beat him. She has to use means other than physical violence to stop him.

Ianni also sacrificed himself, earning a terrible injury so he can't fight. There's exploiting his fear: he's immobilized and can't even walk, let alone save people. Just previous to this, he had a mental breakdown because he was so stressed about not being strong enough to stop this war. Everyone's hopes and expectations got pinned on him, and he was kind of their last hope. And then now he's out? His self-worth is crushed.

Keep building to this. While Takara's piloting Ven to fight the enemy Majjite soldiers, something happens that causes it to go haywire. She's getting brain damage because of it, and since Ianni's out, Khai is the only one left who can get her out. Add in the motivation that he REALLY cares about her at this point, the fact that he's forced to think on the fly (which, remember, would be a huge point of anxiety for him), and you have one tense climax. Everyone's been pushed beyond their limits and have been shattered on the inside, and we're now watching them scrambling around, desperately trying to pick up the pieces and hold them together with string and duck tape, just long enough to survive this ordeal.

And when you throw the characters so far out of their comfort zone that they're destroyed inside and out and can STILL pull through by the skin of their teeth and come out victorious, that's when your readers cheer. (Note, they don't have to accomplish their goals. My story where everyone died at the end was absolutely not accomplishing anyone's goals, but the power in their deaths was what brought the story full circle and brought forth a strong message to the readers about hope and humanity, whatever.)

It's hard to come up with the perfect ending. It depends on the tone of your story. For example, in the Three Musketeers, it was so happy and goofy and adventurous all the way through, and the ending was this big ball of sadness and melancholy and I was like WTF NO THAT IS NOT WHAT I WANTED. Try to keep the tone fairly consistent throughout the story, or at least have good segues and transitions from one tone to the other. Don't have one tone througout and then BAM complete 180 right at the end. It usually creates a jarring effect that leaves the readers dissatisfied and confused.

I won't spoil VEN's ending in case anyone wants to read it, but it comes full circle, with the characters a little less than whole physically, but mentally they're stronger and happier. The situation isn't perfect, but the characters are content, and the last scene shows hope for the future, for even more improvements in their situation.

All right! Most of the heavy work is done! *phew* Now you just need to create a physical outline of each chapter/scene. How you do that is entirely up to you. You can make a bulleted outline or an excel spreadsheet of the scenes, write them on index cards, or whatever you want. I personally use OneNote for all my planning and outlining needs. It's so neat and organized, and I can make different tabs for each aspect of the story such as characterization, plot outlines, revisions list, random ideas, etc.

You can be as loose or detailed as you'd like with your outline. Some people like writing in every detail in advance, and then you can speed through the actual writing because most of it is already done. Others like loose outlines so they can do more freewriting and explore other avenues.

Personally, what I tend to do is get an idea and just start writing ~5-7 chapters without outlining or planning first. That's how I get a feel for the story and get to know the characters better. At that point I pause to do all the planning I just talked about with figuring out the characters' fears and motivations and goals. Then I can go back and rewrite to fit my new ideas. It's not the most efficient process, but I rarely have a concrete idea of the characters until I've written a few chapters of them and see how they play out.

So that's my outlining/planning process! Hope that was somewhat helpful and gave you ideas of how to better flesh out your story! :) Remember, I didn't include worldbuilding in this, but that's a critical aspect of storytelling, too.

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