There are different methods of doing it others have discussed at great length; from the 3-Act, to character-driven, or events-driven. If you want more info on the nuances of each, I’d suggest listening to the Writing Excuses Podcast.
My plots don’t really confine themselves to definitive and easy labels. The most I can say about my plots are that they’re character-driven for the most part? I have elements where horrible things happen and they aren’t any one person’s fault, but all everyone else can do is just watch the dumpster fire roll down a steep hill and into a petting zoo.
Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) splits people into Plotters or Pantsers. I’ve discovered I’m more of a Pantser. As in, writing by the seat of them. If my plots fit into any kind of structure, it’s mostly a happy accident at the end.
When I begin a new project, I start by asking “What If?” This is Phase 1, as mentioned in my Phases of Writing Post.
I have another post where I talked about Creativity, so I won’t go into that at length here. I usually pick several and smash them together. For example:
- What if there was a world where wishes came true?
- What if a girl ended up switched into a guy’s body?
- What if no one can tell the difference?
As it is now, the above example doesn’t have a clear ending other than maybe she gets her body back, but what then? Is that worthy of being the end of the book?
- What if the guy whose body she is in Wished to end the world?
There we go. Now she has to remain engaged in the story past getting her body back. This addition will usually get me another 80,000 words, at which point, I’ll have to begin doing my rereading process to remove anything that no longer fits from when I first began the story.
I also look for places where I skipped scenes and begin writing those. By this point, I’ve got an ending in mind, which I will begin bending the plot towards. As I said before, I’m a Pantser, so I let my characters have some free reign to avoid the plot if they want, although doing so doesn’t always end well for them. Interesting diversions will stay in the book, whereas things that don’t serve any real purpose except for being neat will eventually be cut. (Refer to Cutting Darlings, which I’ll probably write about later.)
Once I’ve got 3/4ths of a story together is when I begin savagely destroying scenes that don’t fit the direction I want to go. This also ties into the Separating Scenes topic… which I’ll also write eventually.
In the end, I aim for Murphy’s Law. If things can go poorly, I’ll make sure that they do. You can have a plot without conflict. Coffee Shop AU’s are still popular. However, they’re hardly satisfying if there was no original trauma for the character to escape from.
And traumatizing my characters gives me life.
Recently, I bashed out the chapter by chapter plot for Shaxia. I did that by beginning with the ending. I know where I want the ending. Then decided that I needed more tension at the beginning.
I then focused on the pieces in the middle that I knew I wanted to happen and asked myself if they were Darlings that needed killing. Some of them got killed, others got promoted and fleshed out.
I connected the dots with some broad strokes and BOOM. Outline done.
Now its a matter of writing the scenes, but they’re loose enough that I can still find surprises for my Pantsing self.