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How to Plot Your Story

Updated on June 25, 2021
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Rosa Marchisella is the author of the gripping "Touch of Insanity" series and the bone-chilling novella "The Greatest of Books."

Building a Foundation

No matter what techniques or style of story plotting you use, there are some basics that need to be covered to ensure your writing experience flows smoothly from start to finish. You need to establish the theme and tone, your setting, characters and story arc.

Besides the obvious task of setting a solid foundation before you tackle writing, story plotting will provide you with a clear reference during the writing process to keep you on track.

Theme and Tone

First, take a few minutes to establish what kind of story you’re going to tell and, more importantly, how you’re going to tell it. To do this, you need to figure out your theme (the story’s main idea) and tone (the feeling or atmosphere you’re trying to create). One or two sentences for each is sufficient.

Do Your Homework

Remember to do your research before you start writing. Otherwise, you might discover information that will derail your story and require a major re-write.


Defining your setting will help make it more real to you, which in turn will help you make it more real to your readers.

For stories set in our world, things like era and location will help determine the history, culture, politics and general religious views of the inhabitants.

For fantasy and science-fiction, it is vital to clarify these things, plus clothing style, magic, technology, races, weapons and armour, local customs, flora, fauna, and anything else unique to the story's reality.

A story bible comes in very handy. I even include drawings, doodles, and pictures cut out of magazines to give me visual examples and inspiration.


Your characters drive your story. The more you know about your characters, the better.

Besides their name, age, gender, and basic description, character details for your protagonist(s) and antagonist(s) should include:

  • Physical Aspects like movement style, speech patterns, and mannerisms.
  • Internal Aspects such as mental state, ethics, morals, and values.
  • Background Details that includes familial relationships, important events, and hobbies.
  • Motivational Considerations which encompass strengths and weaknesses, goals, fears, wants, and motivations.
  • Story Oriented Details in the form of conflicts (internal and external), and the changes they will undergo throughout the story.

Less detailed character write-ups should also be done for anyone who has a role in moving the story forward.

Some actors create a detailed character analysis for their roles. This process can be valuable to writers, as well. I have created an in-depth Character Sheet you can download for free. Use as much or as little as you need to help you flesh out your important characters.

Character Analysis Sheet

My Character Sheet is available as a free download to help you flesh out your important characters.
My Character Sheet is available as a free download to help you flesh out your important characters.

Story Arc

Every successful story follows a the same simple formula:

  • Set up: The introduction of situation, protagonist(s), antagonist(s), conflicts (internal and external), and the event or decision that initiates action.
  • Action: Attempted solution, failure to overcome, and actual solution.
  • Conclusion: The resolution of conflicts and wrap up.

Remember how much you plot and how you do it depend on what works best for you.

I put together a Plot Line Checklist which is available to download for free. It includes each section of story plotting as outlined in this article, as well as detailed lists of what is important for basic character development and story arc formula.

Plot Line Checklist

Download my free Plot Line Checklist to help keep yourself on track.
Download my free Plot Line Checklist to help keep yourself on track. | Source

Free Software to Help Authors Organize

Programs like Scrivener or the free alternatives like yWriter are excellent word processor and project management tools to help you stay organized and on track.

Scrivener Screen Shot

Screen shot of Scrivener's cork board setting
Screen shot of Scrivener's cork board setting | Source

© 2014 Rosa Marchisella


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