Hi there! My name is Kristi, also known as kristimcmanus on Wattpad. I am probably best known for my One Direction and Harry Styles fan fictions, including Through the Dark, Afterlife, and Her Royal Highness. I have been writing on Wattpad since 2014, and am so thrilled to be taking part in my fifth Block Party!
For this post, I thought I would give some tips and tricks on how to plot out your story. I know this is an area that many writers have contacted me asking for suggestions and techniques, and tends to be one of the most common problem areas for writers of any experience level. I have tried various ways to plan my stories, and I have also fully 'pantsed' others, and have only recently come up with a technique I find really helps, and have decided to share it here!
So let's get started!
First off, I know everyone comes up with their story ideas in different ways. For me, it can be a single line of dialogue that gets stuck in my head, a single scene, or even a title. From there, I turn the idea over in my mind for a while, pulling out concepts, characters and interactions until I have a more fully formed concept. That is where the real work begins.
As a writer, you can either be a plotter, or a pantser. These basically mean that you either fully plot out your stories, including characters, interactions, dialogue, climax and everything in between; or you're a pantser, in which you just sit down, type, and fly by the seat of your pants. I am somewhere in the middle, plotting out the main aspects and plot points in an outline, and then using them to keep the flow of the story continuous. The chapters themselves are admittedly mostly 'pantsed' and sometimes the characters take me off in directions I hadn't originally planned. You have to be open to change and flexibility in writing, as forcing yourself to stick to a single direction can sometimes be evident in your writing and feel constricted.
So here is what I do:
Once I feel I have the main concept of the story down (this includes main characters, goals, motivations and conflicts) I make my plot outline. This is in a separate document from the story itself, and I refer to it often. Here, I outline each character with their internal and external goals, the motivation for those goals (why do they want this goal? What will it mean for them?) and the conflicts involved (what is keeping them from achieving this goal? What is the stakes?). Also include physical characteristics of the characters, personality traits, and anything you feel may be important to keep the picture of the character clear in your mind.
Next, try and play the story out in your head like a movie. This part does not have to be completely clear, nor does it have to have every little detail plotted out. Like I said, there is room for pantsing even for a plotter! Think about your opener, because this is a big one! Most readers can tell within the first chapter if your story is something they want to keep reading so make sure you start with something gripping that will make them want to know more!
Move through the story, breaking up chapters with a space to indicate where you will separate each one. Make sure every chapter has an incident, and that every interaction moves the plot along. It is okay to have a chapter or two that gives backstory or internal thought of the character and how they perceive their conflicts, but make sure that there is still forward motion in your plot.
Once your outline has its basics, it should look something like this:
Girl likes boy, but boy likes another girl
Other girl is MCs best friend
Give backstory of friendship and why MC likes boy
Interaction between MC and boy
Show how they may be better suited than boy and friend.
Outline friend and boy interaction
Boy and friend fight, break up
Boy tells MC he likes her instead
MC must decide how to choose between friend and guy
Obviously, this is a very vague example, but each chapter shows a goal, the motivation for that goal, and a conflict. Each chapter will feature some sort of progression towards the ultimate climax, which in this case could be the friend becoming mad at the MC for 'stealing' the boy they both like. And always make sure you resolve ALL conflicts by the end of your story. Don't leave your readers with any loose ends or unsolved questions.
Once you have the basics all plotted out by chapter, spend some time going through it a few more times to fill in anything more you may feel is necessary. This can include taking some things out that don't propel the plot forward, or adding new conflicts that you find with brainstorming.
Once you feel your outline is solid and you feel the 'itch' to write, I copy each 'chapter outline' and paste it into what will become the story itself. This allows me to keep on track, remember what I wanted to achieve in each chapter, and significantly reduces writers block! This allows you to catch any plot holes early, and in turn avoid writing yourself into a corner. Writers block is most often caused from finding yourself trapped somewhere in your plot and not knowing how to resolve it. Having a clear and thorough outline helps reduce this.
Now, like I said, even if you outlined your story heavily, that doesn't mean you can't do a little pantsing. In the chapters, the majority of the story can come from your inspiration at the time. Fill in all the interactions, descriptions, and the like with free writing, so long as you hit all the plot points you outlined for each chapter.
Once I have written a chapter, I highlight that completed section in my outline, but I NEVER delete it from the outline document. This way, I can check back easily without having to read through and find specific aspects if I get stuck.
When you finally reach the end, typing those favorite words of every author 'the end', take a few days away from the story before you do edits or revisions. You need to clear your head of the characters and their drama, and come back to it with clear eyes. Read something new, watch some movies, and focus on anything else. You can think of little changes you want to make, but make sure you give yourself that space so you don't get tired or overwhelmed with the story before it is even complete.
I highly recommend finding strong beta readers and critique partners for your story. These can be readers who have followed you and know your voice and style, other writers of the same genre and subject, or something of the like. For those on Twitter, #CPMatch, #amwriting and genre specific tags like #YAlit are great places to find good partnerships within the writing community. They can help find plot holes you may have missed, give feedback on progression and development, and even give you the awesome praise that the Wattpad community is known for!
Every writer has their own process, and the biggest piece of advice I can give is to find what works for you. This is my process, and has been years in development before I finally found my groove. I have fully pantsed some books (Through the Dark) and completely plotted others (Seeing Blind), and have learned that it is all about finding a balance while not stifling your creativity.
If you need any help or any more suggestions, feel free to contact me! My inbox and wall are always open! And a million thanks to @KellyAnneBlount for having me in the block party yet again!
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