Plot a Story

Have a basic idea for a story, but don't know what to do now? There are a lot of articles telling you how to write once you have a plot, or how to expand your plot once you have the skeleton. But what do you do if you have nothing but the idea? This article will help you plot out a story from beginning to end, whether it be a children's picture book or a seven-part epic series.


  1. Get an idea. If you have one lurking somewhere, great! If not, brainstorm, or mind map, or do one of the numerous other thought-generating exercises that can be found on the web. You don't need to make it a story just yet—but you do need a vague idea. It can start with anything: a phrase, a face, a character, or a situation, just so long as it's exciting and inspiring to you.
  2. Turn your idea into a story. Remember to add a little twist, as this is the high-level arc of the story. If you're familiar with the Snowflake Method, or other top-down methods of idea production, then you'll be familiar with this step. So, how do you turn a vague notion of a girl with dark eyes into a story idea? First, understand that stories are about two things: characters and conflict. Sure, there are other things in there, like theme and setting and POV and whatnot, but at the heart of every story, there are characters with a conflict. So let's take our dark-eyed girl. Now we start asking ourselves questions, with the goal of creating a character with a conflict. Who is she? What does she want? What is standing in the way of her getting it? Once you have a character with some sort of conflict, you have a story idea. Write that idea down.
  3. Turn your idea into a story plot. Now, here comes the hard part. You have a high-level idea for a story, but how do you turn that into a plot? You could, of course, just start writing and see where it takes you, but if you felt any inclination to do that, it is doubtful that you'd be reading this article in the first place. You want your plot. So here's what you do: you come up with the ending first.
  4. Yes, that's right, the end. Does our dark-eyed girl get her man? Or does she lose to the rich chick? Come up with your ending first, and if that doesn't spark a few plot points in and of itself, then continue reading on.
  5. Think about your characters. Now, you have a conflict, you have characters, you have a beginning situation and an ending situation. If you still need help finding a plot, then what you need to do now is think about your characters. Flesh them out. Give them friends, families, jobs, histories, life-changing experiences, needs, and desires.
  6. Build plot points. Now that you have your characters and the ending of your story, put your characters in their world, and watch them interact. Be sure to take notes. Maybe one of them gets that big promotion. Maybe our dark-eyed girl competes in a swimming competition with the rich brat. Maybe her best friend finds out that she's never given up on that crush. Just come up with ideas for what they could do to affect their world, and what their world could do to affect them.
  7. Fit your plot points into a story arc. Here comes the fun part. Now, some knowledge of story structure comes in useful here. For our purposes, Freytag's analysis is probably most useful. Stories have five parts:
    • Exposition - the character's normal life, up to the point of the "inciting incident" that pushes them into conflict.
    • Rising Action - the conflicts, struggles, and pitfalls that the character faces while trying to achieve their goals. In three act structure, the second act, and usually the meatiest portion of the story.
    • Climax - the most important part! The point at which all seems possible or impossible, and the character must decide whether to go for the win or take a graceful failure. The turning point of the story where the conflict comes to a head.
    • Falling Action - how things unfold after the climax, the hero wins or loses, all loose ends are tied up, leading to...
    • Denouement - a new balance, normal life once again, but different (or perhaps not so different) from the "normal life" of the character's exposition.
  8. Place those potential plot points you came up with somewhere on the arc, working either backward or forward. Your ending probably falls into the Falling Action or Denouement stage, though if you're good (or lucky) you may have come up with the Climax instead. If you don't have the Climax itself, think of the resolution you want, and think of the event that would be necessary to create it. All things leading up to that event from the beginning are Rising Action. All things resulting from that event are Falling Action. And all things that don't fit into either one of those two categories shouldn't be used in your story, unless it's in a side plot.
  9. Change around or redevelop your plot, as necessary. Now you should have a workable plot. It may not be intricate, it may not be pretty, but you have enough to start working with. Once you decide which scenes best illustrate the chain of events leading up to the Climax, you may decide that you want to change them around, or even change the Climax. This is okay. Writing is a creative process, and such things are never neatly cut and dried!

Sample Brainstorms

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Sample Excerpts

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  • Put yourself into the character's shoes, what would they say? What would they do or how would they react? Instead of answering like it's you (because that doesn't translate into a very convincing character) answer in character. Also, when plotting, make sure you pace yourself because if you just have dramatic event after dramatic event it becomes boring and repetitive, you want the reader to be surprised. When adding emotion, you need to show a range of emotions because as human beings our emotions are like roller coasters and we don't feel the same things for years and years, do we? We feel happy sometimes and upset other times, so you have to consider your character's humanity too.
  • Get a balance with the emotions in the story. If you're writing a tragedy, include some humour in it. If you're writing a story with a perfect happy ending include a bit of tragedy somewhere.
  • Keep a list of interesting ideas that you come up with. Some may work to fit into your plot. If not, keep them for a later story. A story needs many different ideas, and it's much easier to start out with many than to pick one and wonder what to do next.
  • Remember, a plot is formed from your character's motivations. Put a lot of emphasis on the creation of your character before you plan on putting in any major event in your story. If you haven’t developed your character’s personality, how are you supposed to know how they will react to certain events in your story?
  • If you're writing the kind of story that needs a villain, give them a motivation. When you have thought of this, it will be easier to come up with a plot.
  • Once you have a character's motivations, stick with them. Trying to force a character into a plot point makes them seem fake and flakey. Believe in your character, and use their background to solve your conflict — the story will flow better that way!
  • You could base the story off of your friends and family, it would be much easier to get in the character's shoes.
  • Start with a very vague outline for the story (what happens in the beginning, middle, and end) and fill in the details until the plot is complete. Try not to plot the story from start to finish, as it is very difficult and will take a long time.
  • Do not try to rush it. It may take a while to finish but, the more time it takes, and the more work that's put into it, the better it will turn out to be.

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