Plotting Fiction: 4 Practical Tips To Overcome Plot Challenges

I love plotting fiction now, but I used to hate it.

What changed? My love for short fiction.

When I chatted about this with a student this morning, I realized that writing short stories has a hidden benefit: it teaches you how plots work.

Troubles plotting fiction? Write short material

Here’s a basic plot formula used by Pixar for their movies.

  1. Someone wants something.
  2. They can’t have it. Someone or something seems to stop them from getting what they want.
  3. Nevertheless, they don’t give up.
  4. Finally, they realize that to get what they want, they need to change.

This formula makes for satisfying stories because it focuses your attention on your characters.

My 3-step formula is more practical for short fiction.

Let’s look at some tips to overcome plotting challenges, regardless of what you’re writing.

1. Who wants what? Allow your plot to grow organically

Here’s how. Tell yourself the story first, focusing on your main character.

The easiest way to decide on a story question (even for pantsers) is: who wants what, and why can’t he get it?

Then create a list of scenes. The list is tentative. It will grow and shrink, as your characters act.

My current historical short has nine scenes. The original scenes’ list had 12, but fiction morphs, while you’re writing. You can start with three, five, or 50 scenes if you’re writing a novel. Just start somewhere.

Your first scene sets the plot in motion: your main character is forced to act.

2. Write in scenes: you’ll create drama

From Writing Fiction: 3 Reasons To Write In Scenes:

Your characters act out your scenes, so even if you’re a new fiction author, you’ll automatically write drama. When you do, you avoid the most common pitfall of a new novelist: telling (narrative), rather than showing.

Your scenes take place in real time. Stay in a single viewpoint in each scene, ensuring that something changes by the end of your scene.

3. Create a character ensemble: characters develop your plot

As this article on characters suggests, create a character ensemble:

No one is an island: minor characters reveal major characters

Your antagonist is the character who stands in the way of your main character: they prevent your primary character from getting what they want. In some ways, the antagonist is the most important character.

That said, aim for change in your main character. Readers have loved Pride and Prejudice for over 200 years, because of the characters. Both Elizabeth and Darcy change. Wickham and Lydia are minor characters who force that change.

4. Circle back to your first scenes as your novel grows

I use Obsidian to keep track of my characters and plot in novels and novellas. However, I also keep a book journal for each book; it’s essential because I often write a couple of novels in tandem. Without a journal, it’s easy to lose track.

Avoid editing during your first draft. That said, you’ll frequently need to plant the seeds of later action in your first scenes. (The setup.)

Rather than revising during your first draft, circle back to earlier scenes to make notes of the changes you’ll make in revision.

When you’re plotting fiction, your plot is what your characters do

We suggested that you need TWO plots:

  • The external plot is what happens.
  • The internal plot is what your main character, or characters, think about what happens.

Every character has a point of view. Just as in real life, they misinterpret both events and other characters.

Returning to Pride and Prejudice; Elizabeth and Darcy are wrong about each other. Characters act because of what they think; their actions (the plot) grows from their thoughts.

Have fun with your plotting. Force your characters to act. 🤗

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On the other hand, if you’re established, you’ll love The 3-Step Formula: Easy and Profitable Short Fiction in 60 Minutes because it’s so easy. One author took a few snips from his current Work in Progress to create a story, and used it to promote his pre-order.

Enjoy. 🙂


Angela Booth’s Easy-Write Process: Write The EASY Way, Like a Professional Writer

Angela Booth’s Easy-Write Process: Write The EASY Way, Like a Professional Writer

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The Easy-Write Process changed my life; I developed it over several years of struggling with writing. Try it: it works for all types of writing, whether you're writing books, blogging, or self-publishing.

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