How to Quick Plot Story Structure
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How to Quickly Plot Story Structure

How to plot story structure? It plagues us all. Plotting a story can be as complicated as you want to make it. If you want to build in a lot of mystery, twists, misdirection, messaging, and — above all — worthy character development, then the more planning it takes. However, most of us don’t have 7 years to plan out and write our first novel.

So, here’s one way in which you can quickly plot out a story. For example’s sake, I’m using a standard novel, but the method is flexible. 

Skip to Step 2 if you don’t care about making a series/serial.

Step 1 – Plot the Story Structure for a Series/Serial

Pick how many books you want to write, at least for now. The series or serial can be extended later, but pick a number to start with. 

  • 3 is a very good starting point. Anything more is very ambitious and better for writers with a lot of experience. 3 also easily fits the 3 Act structure or Rise-Fall-Rise style patterns. (Many new writers make a huge mistake thinking they’ll start out with an epic plot and don’t have the skills for it. Start small and practice.)
  • 4 and 5 fit the 4 and 5 Act structures.
  • 6 makes for a dual trilogy of ups and downs. This is easy to separate into two 3-Act plots with a big twist in the middle at the end of B3.

To start with, plot the story structure with the biggest picture possible. Start with the beginning and the end.

Book 1 – Protagonist enters new world.

Book 2

Book 3

Book 4

Book 5

Book 6 – Protagonist defeats last boss, the Demon King, and becomes Hero King. 

Once you know those two points of the story, divide the rest of the stages into what needs to happen to get from beginning to end. 

Decide whether a stage will be an overall Up, Down or Neutral/Mixed beat. You can give them multipliers to indicate the scope of risk and action. 

The series/serial must have these ups and downs like a rollercoaster. This is where drama comes from. The scale of those ups and downs should increase over time as more is at stake and we face bigger enemies, earn bigger rewards, or closer friends die.

You may also want to make pacing notes. Pacing must vary within books and over the series to keep things exciting. 

Below is just one example. Any combination of ups and downs can work. Though there are common types in the links below.

Book 1 – Protagonist enters new world. (Up) (Fast)

Book 2 – Fun & Games (Up) 

Book 3 – Minor Setback/Defeat (Down) (Slow)

Book 4 – Recovery and Rising (Up x2) (Slow > Medium)

Book 5 – Major Defeat (Down x3) (Slow > Fast > Slow)

Book 6 – Protagonist defeats last boss, the Demon King, and becomes Hero King. (Up x4) (Medium > Fast)

You can find some common plot types here, and they are expanded here. by Christopher Booker

Universal plot types here. Or just make up your own using Rise or Fall for each section. Be warned, ending a story on a Fall (tragedy) isn’t very popular, commercially. But it can make for a good cliffhanger.

After you’ve got the rollercoaster outline you want, fill in major events (the action) and major character development (emotional arc).

Book 1 – Protagonist enters new world. (Up) (Fast)

  • Arrive in fantasy world; physically and emotionally struggles with accepting the new world
  • Protagonist is a regular person > becomes Bronze rank adventurer

Book 2 – Fun & Games (Up) 

  • Excited. Dives into exploring and dealing with the new world, and having initial success; but remains the same person as before
  • Becomes silver rank adventurer

Book 3 – Minor Setback/Defeat (Down) (Slow)

  • Big conflict hits. Falling back into old patterns, protagonist fails and gets hurt. Loses something.
  • Big twist in the overall plot, a revelation that changes everything
  • Protagonist’s ally dies; and/or they lose their magic weapons

Book 4 – Recovery and Rising (Up x2) (Slow > Medium)

  • Protagonist rises up by accepting changes needed to become a better person and do what’s needed to overcome the conflict.
  • Protagonist becomes Gold rank adventurer and rich

Book 5 – Major Defeat (Down x3) (Slow > Fast > Slow)

  • Not fully committed, protagonist fails. Or, villains are stronger than we thought. Major fail. Doubt. Lose everything. 
  • Friends lost, major battle lost, protagonist loses their rank and is cast out of society 

Book 6 – Protagonist defeats last boss, the Demon King, and becomes Hero King. (Up x4) (Medium > Fast)

  • Try one more time, giving it their all, the protagonist commits to personal change and overcomes the villain
  • Protagonist defeats the demon lord and becomes King

For now, you can stop here and move to Step 2. Or continue to refine this series/serial plot as much as you like. But, try to keep things simple and manageable. Writing a simple plot well is far better than attempting a complex plot and doing it poorly. 

Step 2 – Plot the Story Structure for a Book

A traditional novel is 100,000 words. The recommended length for an online chapter is 2500 words. That means we have 40 chapters for an online novel. 

Make a 40 point list, or 40 blank pages in Scrivener.

Book 1

1

2

39

40

Plot the story structure with the biggest overview possible to start. Fill in the title for each with the main idea for each chapter. Start with the major points: beginning, end, inciting incident, midpoint twist, minor/major fall. (You don’t have to use them all.) Then fill the remaining chapters in with the steps needed to get there.

It’s easiest to start with the beginning and the end. This focuses later efforts. 

Book 1

1 – Arrives in new fantasy world

2

39

40 – Becomes Bronze Rank adventurer

Plot a rollercoaster. Plan for up or down or neutral chapters. This creates drama. Same for pace. You can make a note on each chapter for Up/Down, Slow/Fast, etc..

If you have multiple points of view (POV) make a note for each chapter so you can see who is on stage and how often.

Don’t just plot action. People don’t fall in love with cool dungeon crawls and magical weapons. That’s just the fun stuff on the surface. They fall in love with characters. And they remember life lessons and wisdom and character growth. So plot chapters that have more than just action. What is your character going through and why? And how to they overcome it?

Again, just focus on the major ideas for each chapter, what step it takes. You can refine later or as you write. 

Book 1

1 – Arrives in new fantasy world

2 – (inciting incident) Attacked by goblins

3 – Protagonist is confused and upset and rejects being in the new world

20 – (twist) Goblin lord appears)

21 – Protagonist’s love interest rejects him out of fear, leaving hero distraught

25 – Protagonist learns humility and admits to being wrong

35 – (major fall) Hero was too cocky. Goblin lord destroys the village, best friend dies

36 – Protagonist lashes out in anger, hurting allies and love interest

38 – Protagonist repairs relationship with love interest and regains confidence

39 – Battles the goblin lord

40 – Becomes Bronze Rank adventurer

These chapters can change as you start writing. Maybe you change what happens or delete a chapter, or add one. It’s ok if the total length of the novel changes later. You just want that 40 chapter starting point to help you make a tight initial plot. 

By having a fixed length and actionable steps, you know what you have to do for each chapter. You can still let the story go in a new direction later if you want, or you can stick to the tight plot you have. But you start with a clear structure that you can see, which makes writing much easier because you have a road map.

After you have the list above plotted with major points, then you can either start writing, or refine the list by detailing steps within each chapter. Plotting is like nested eggs. Start with the outer one, then work inwards. Series > Book > Chapter

Step 3 – Write

Start writing. It doesn’t have to be with the first chapter. You can write the most fun ones first, or the most important, like the ending and the midpoint twist (if you have one). By doing the important ones first, the other chapters are largely forced to go in the direction you want to get to those key ones you’ve already finished. That keeps you on track.

Have a single character’s POV (unless omniscient) for each chapter. Don’t head hop, and only break into sections if you’re sure it’s the right thing to do. 

First person and third person intimate are perhaps the most common POV types. You generally want to keep the same style throughout the whole story.  

It’s best to have a single tense for the whole book: past or present are the most common. Don’t change between or inside of chapters. 

Consider posting online as you write (if in order). By telling people you’re posting Mon, Wed and Fri each week, and committing to that, you know you have to be productive or you’re going to let people down. And if you let readers down, they’ll leave. This should keep you writing. The power of fear and responsibility. 

2500 words per chapter. That gives you a fixed length to get done what you need. Of course the length is ultimately flexible, but by consciously aiming for 2500 words, you can keep the writing and plotting tight. You don’t end up with sprawling chapters with boring content. And you’ll know when to stretch things out, adding more to make it fit better. 

Be humble. All writers have room to improve. None of us are as good as we think we are. 

Hope this helps. Good luck!

If you’d like to book me as an editor, I’d be happy to give you feedback on your manuscript critique. Visit www.wwediting.ca

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