There is no one way to plan a story, but I’ll give you a brief template in the hope that parts of it may inspire you to start planning yourself.
Why do I plan my stories?
For me, planning is about getting those creative juices flowing and thinking about your story not as a story, but as ideas. A story is a long and complex creation, and thinking about it can be overwhelming. This is another reason why planning is so important, to get down on paper or screen those basic ideas.
Are plans that important?
Some of the strengths of plans are that they can give you guidelines for your stories, setting limits on what is and is not possible. Then, when you are writing, you will not deviate from these limits. If you do, then it is time to decide whether you want to change those limits in the plan or change your writing to conform to the plan. We’ll get onto the writing from a plan part in another section.
Plans are excellent tools for some writers who prefer to outline their stories first and then draft them later. For other writers, plans can stifle their imagination or prevent them from getting that first draft. You’ve got to do what works for you.
Ideas can be interconnected, or even a single idea with a theme that resonates with you or that you find interesting. It could be simple … you want to write about the birth of an alien, a war in a fantasy world between clans, the culmination of conflict on an island, or what happens when a new robot lands on a planet with existing robots. It doesn’t have to be based on fantasy or science fiction; often ideas are new ways of doing existing things. When you think of the idea, there may be an image in your mind of what it looks like, or in which setting it is based. It may be wise to remember this idea and nurture it over time; doing so will help your thoughts to expand on this idea and then you can start writing down specifics.
Much of writing down notes has been about categorising ideas. If you have labelled headings and the ideas you are writing about are connected it gives you better scope for developing them and building a more detailed or accurate picture of just what the idea represents. For example, categories could be character appearance, character traits, setting 1, setting 2, setting 3. This represents a basic start to your planning, but you’ll likely need to expand on your planning quite far until you feel ready to write a story.
As much as a story isn’t a plan, a plan isn’t a story either, and what I mean by that is your planning will have to be highly developed and considered before you are ready to write a story, if you want to write this way. In some ways, the more detailed and developed it is, the better, because then you have more limitations and understanding of your story before you start. After you’ve written the categories down and you have developed some ideas you may find yourself at a loss what to do next. There are, in other words, gaps in your planning, perhaps. These gaps may be present because of unanswered questions. Identify the gaps and write down the questions they represent. Then, open your imagination and try to answer the questions. Even try different possible answers to see which ones are more appealing.
It may take weeks or months of planning before you feel ready to start; longer if you decide research is necessary. The point is that you are growing your ideas and stretching that imagination of yours, making sure you have something profound to work with before you embark on the first draft.
Where has your character been, or what has he/she done before the story starts?
What makes your character’s appearance unique?
Character’s star qualities
What makes your character unique?
What does your character want in life, and why do they want it?
1. Is anything of significance happening in the main setting?
2. Has anything of significance happened in the main setting?
3. Are there any specific locations of interest within the main setting?
1. How do you want the story to end?
2. Who are the main characters involved in the story throughout, and who should be there at the end?
3. Write down a short summary of the main sections of your story.
(Add as many sections as you think necessary.)
4. Write down alternative scenes, possibilities, and endings and decide which ones you like best.
5. What are the main themes you want your story to cover?
Keep a few blank pieces of paper, a document, or perhaps an empty ring-binder to store your specific reference notes. These can help you refer to your notes later when you are writing your first draft. Remember when we talked about how a plan can give you an idea of limitations? Well, these reference notes will help you remember your limitations and re-decide on what they should be as you are writing.
You may not have any story-specific reference notes yet, but it’s likely you will have if your planning grows, and it can be a handy place to put them when you do have them. It’s wise to keep this section well organised, so even if your first draft writing is disorganised, the planning isn’t.