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Do You Know What A Plot Is?
by: Nick Vernon

What a plot is and what a story is can be sometimes confusing. If you think they are the same¡K They are not. A plot is the outline of your story. The story is everything included.

I will illustrate the difference by asking you to visualize two pictures¡K

1. Visualize a skeleton.


2. Visualize a body.

The skeleton is your plot. It¡¦s the outline of your story. It won¡¦t be visible when we flesh it out but it will still be there, holding your story together.

The body is your story. It¡¦s everything, which our story will contain, including the plot. The story is the plot fleshed out.

What does it mean to ¡¥flesh it out?¡¦

Let me show you.

I¡¦ll take a brief plot¡K

A man meets a woman and they fall in love. They encounter great difficulties because their family are against the relationship.

This is the outline of the story.

Now we are going to flesh it out and make it into a story. Fleshing it out means adding things to make this basic plot into a story. To do this we will add the rest of the ingredients such as¡K

„« Setting ¡V Where will our story take place

„« Dialogue ¡V What will be said and by whom

„« Characters ¡V How many characters will our story contain? Who are they? What is their role?

„« Problems ¡V What and how many problems will the couple encounter

„« Goal ¡V What is the couple¡¦s goal?

„« Conflict ¡V What is the conflict?

„« Climax ¡V How is the conflict going to come to its peak?

„« Ending ¡V Will their love win in the end?

„« And anything else I¡¦ll need in my story

Once we have written up all these ingredients, this will be our plot fleshed out into a story.

Have You Plotted Your Story Before Writing It?

The writer, who doesn¡¦t have the time to plot, always finds the time to rewrite.

Sound familiar?

I¡¦ve been guilty of this too, back in the early days of my writing apprenticeship. I was so eager to get stuck into writing my story that I wouldn¡¦t bother with plotting.

Plotting gives you a sense of direction. It¡¦s your map, which will lead you to write your story. Leaping into the unknown rarely works. Without a plot several things can happen¡K.

„« Our stories aren¡¦t focused

„« We lose our way

„« Our characters don¡¦t come to life because we don¡¦t take the time to develop them

„« We get stuck

„« The story strays from us

And all this happens when we haven¡¦t figured everything out first.

Your plot is the foundation of your story. It¡¦s the skeleton, which will hold your story together. Your plot is there to work everything out first ¡V to see if it can be worked out, and then flesh out that skeleton with other elements that make a story.

Plotting is the difference between writing a story for yourself and writing one for an audience. Writing for ourselves doesn¡¦t require too much strain because we only have ourselves to please. It¡¦s when we have to please our readers that the hard work begins.

If you are aiming to sell your stories, plotting is a must.

Have you plotted your story before writing it?


Do You Plot With Your Character In Mind?

You are plotting the story. You write down what will happen, what problems will arise, what obstacles you will place so the character won¡¦t reach his goals immediately, what he¡¦s going to do to overcome these problems etc¡K

So all these things will be happening to your character since it¡¦s his story we are telling.

Does it make sense then to have your character in mind as you plot these things?

It does. Because it will depend, based on the type of person he is, how he will face these problems, what he will feel, what he will think, what he will do.

Different types of personalities make up our world. Some people worry too much, so whatever problems come along, they will worry with the same intensity. Other people view the lighter side of life. Minor problems do not affect them as largely as major problems. To some challengers are welcome - they thrive on them. To others, challengers are viewed with fear and uncertainty.

As you¡¦re plotting the events of your story they have to correspond with the type of personality your character possesses.

What happens when you plot without thinking of your character?

He will act ¡¥out of character.¡¦ He will do, say, think, feel things that don¡¦t suit his personality.

For instance¡K

If your character is a worrier and you place him in a situation where he doesn¡¦t worry, then that¡¦s making him act according to how you want him to act in your plot.

You¡¦re manipulating him to suit your plot - You¡¦re not writing with his personality in mind.

As you plot the events in the story, simultaneously build your character.

Cross-reference what you have written about your character and the situation he is in. Do they correspond?

What Can Go Into A Plot?

We all tackle plotting differently. How you plot will be individual to you, as it is with every writer.

Below is an outline of what can go into a plot. How much you choose to develop each point is entirely up to you.

So some basic questions to ask are¡K

1. Briefly what your story is about

2. The theme?

3. Main Characters

a. For main characters it¡¦s best to write a full biography of them.

4. Secondary Characters

a. Who are they?

b. What will their role be?

c. What is their relationship with main character?

5. Beginning of the story

a. Viewpoint ¡V who will be telling the story?

b. Setting ¡V where will the story take place?

c. How will you introduce main character?

d. How will you introduce other characters?

e. How will the story begin?

f. What will happen in the beginning?

g. What is the conflict?

h. What is the character¡¦s goal?

i. How will the conflict prevent the character from reaching his goal?

j. What¡¦s motivating the character?

6. Middle of the story

a. What will happen in the beginning section, of the middle of your story?

b. How will this be tied to the beginning of your story?

c. What will happen in the middle section, of the middle of your story?

d. What will happen in the end section, of the middle of your story?

e. What events are going to occur?

f. How will you show your character¡¦s personality?

g. What problems are you going to introduce? (List each problem and how the character solves it)

h. How are you going to make things harder for your character?

i. What will happen in the climax?

7. End of the story

a. Will the character achieve his goal?

b. How will he or won¡¦t he achieve it?

c. What¡¦s going to happen in the end?

d. How are you going to end your story?


Or if you prefer you can plot in scenes¡K

First, figure out how many scenes your story will contain. Then plot each scene.

Scene one

a) Setting

b) Introduce characters

c) Introduce conflict

d) Introduce goals

e) What will happen in the first scene?

f) How will your first scene develop the character and the story?

Scene two

a) Introduce first problem

b) What does the character feel about this? What does he think?

c) Have the character solve the problem

d) Begin making things harder for him

e) How will the second scene develop the character and the story?

Scene three

a) Throw another obstacle in your character¡¦s path

b) Have him solve it

c) How will the third scene develop the character and the story?


How you plot doesn¡¦t matter. The most important thing is To plot.

Have You Completed A Character Questionnaire?

Complete a character questionnaire for each of your main characters or even secondary characters that play a vital role in your story. This way you will know your character(s) well before you start writing about them.

Fill in as much information about them as possible. Don¡¦t only answer what you will need in your story. The objective here is to get to know your character till he becomes a ¡¥live¡¦ person in your mind.

So let¡¦s begin¡K

1. In a few sentences write down a summary of the plot

2. Character¡¦s personal details

a) First name
b) Surname
c) Age

3. In a few sentences write down the character¡¦s back story (a bit about his background)

4. The role of the character in your story

a) What are character¡¦s goals?

b) What are character¡¦s motivations?

c) What is the character¡¦s conflict?

d) How will the conflict stop the character from reaching his goal?

e) What is he going to do to overcome the conflict?

f) What problems will crop up during the story?

g) How will those problems get worse?

h) What will the character do to overcome those problems?

i) How will he resolve the conflict?

j) How will your character¡¦s background influence how he behaves in your story?

k) What is the relationship with other characters, if any, in your story?

5. Physical Descriptions

a) Height
b) Eye colour
c) Hair colour
d) Hairstyle
e) Hair length
f) Complexion
g) Shape of face
h) Body type
i) Weight

6. How does his expression change when¡K

a. He¡¦s with a loved one
b. He¡¦s with someone he dislikes
c. He¡¦s with his boss
d. He¡¦s with a colleague

7. Personality

a) Type? (shy, outgoing, insecure, dominant etc)

b) Distinguishable traits?

c) Mental scars? (Complexes etc)

d) Ambitions?

e) Sense of humour?

f) Fears?

g) Anxieties?

h) Phobias?

i) Overall personality?

j) How does his personality change when he¡¦s experiencing different emotions?

k) How does he act when he feels confident?

l) How does he act when he feels inadequate?

m) What gestures does he use when he talks and thinks?

n) How does he walk? With confidence? Does he slouch or stride?

o) What mannerisms does he have? (Does he fold his arms? Does he flick his hair?)

p) How does he speak? (Clearly, mumble, confidently, drawl etc.)

q) His voice? (Rich, loud, soft, etc)

r) His vocabulary? (Casual, formal, illiterate etc)

s) What does he think when he¡¦s alone?

t) Does he have any secrets he hasn¡¦t disclosed to anyone?

u) His prejudices?

v) Dominant motives?

w) Values most?

x) Desires most?

y) How does he treat those around him? (children, superiors, etc)

z) Any vices or virtues?

8. Likes and dislikes

a) Favourite colour, food, etc

b) Favourite music?

c) Taste in clothing?

d) Does character like something in particular?

e) Does character dislike something in particular?

9. Lifestyle

a) Where does the character live (country, city)?

b) Does character live in a house, apartment etc

c) Does character like where he lives?

d) Does where he lives reflect what kind of person he is?

e) Does he have a favourite room? (Or a piece of furniture or other object etc)

f) Does he have a car? What type? Does the car reflect the person he is?

g) Any hobbies? Personal habits (neat, sloppy etc)

10. Background

a) Parents names

b) Parents occupations

c) Describe relationship with parents

d) Any siblings?

e) Describe relationship with siblings

f) What kind of childhood did the character have?

g) What kind of adolescence did the character have?

h) What kind of schooling did character undergo? (Private or public? Has this shaped who he is?)

i) What was the highest-level achieved in school?

j) Citizenship/Ethnic Origin?

k) In which country does he currently live?

l) If the country he lives in is not where he was born, why does he live there?

11. Character¡¦s current position

a) Any friends?
b) Any enemies?
c) Acquaintances?
d) Has character been married before?
e) Has the character been engaged before?
f) Any children?
g) Most meaningful experience?
h) Any disappointments?
i) What is the character¡¦s goal in life?
j) Attitude towards the opposite sex?
k) Attitude towards life?

12. Employment

a) What kind of job does character currently have?
b) What kind of jobs has the character had previously?
c) Is character content in current employment?
d) If not, what would be their dream job?

13. What do you feel for this character?

a) Admire
b) Love
c) Hate
d) Dislike
e) Like
f) Pity
g) Envy

Whatever you feel for this character, your emotions must be strong. If they are not, either build on this further or begin building another character altogether.


How Are You Plotting?

Writing is a creative process and how every writer chooses to create, is individual to them. Likewise, with plotting, every writer plots at a level they are comfortable with.

Some just plot the bare essentials. They have a firm idea of the story they want to write and have a good memory to be able to memorize everything.

Others go into more detail. These writers prefer to figure everything out before they write the story.

How you plot will also depend on your level of experience. For the beginner, it¡¦s recommended to plot thoroughly.

Before writing, think of every possible situation. Plot events thoroughly, plot scenes to the last detail and generally leave no questions unasked or unanswered. This way you will always know where you¡¦re going.

Are You Using The ¡¥What If¡¦ Technique When Plotting?

Your short story of 500, 2.000, 10.000 words or whatever word length you choose to write, will spring from a single idea - Perhaps a one-sentence idea.

So when you are still in that one sentence stage, using the ¡¥What If,¡¦ technique is a good way of generating ideas to build on that initial story idea.

While you are in the plotting stage, experiment. Your aim should be to write the best story you can. Experiment to see what bits and pieces you can put together to write the best story ever.

So using ¡¥What If,¡¦ ask yourself questions then answer them¡K

„« What if the character was like this?

„« What if this happened to him?

„« What if I placed him in this situation? How would he react?

„« What if I took this away from him?

„« What if his worst fear came true?

„« What if he doesn¡¦t get what he wants? What will he do?

„« What if I placed this obstacle in his path? What will he do?

You¡¦ll be surprised what you come up with, if you take the time to experiment.

Does Your Plot Suit Your Characters And Vice-Versa?

When an idea comes to us for a short story, we either think of a story line first or a character first. Whichever we think of first, and later on build, we have to make sure the plot and the character suit each other.

Example one ¡V We think of a story line first.

Your story is set in a rural area. A company opens a factory and employs workers from that small town. The residents welcome this, as there aren¡¦t many jobs going around. The management takes advantage of that fact and exploit the workers.

Using a technicality in the system, perhaps listing them under different job titles in their books, they pay them less than they are entitled. Your main character sees this injustice and leads the workers to rebel against the management.

Now in a plot like this you will need your main character to posses certain qualities. Like¡K

To be able to lead the people to rebel.

The workers are from a rural area. Some might be uneducated and not aware of their rights. The main character has to convince them that what the management is doing, is wrong.

Living in a rural area, jobs are hard to find. Most of the workers will view the company as their saviour. Their thinking will be that receiving little money is better than none at all. The main character has to persuade them that being in a rural area the company needs them as much as the workers need the company.

Strong Personality & Confident
We need a strong character that will see things through to the end. We don¡¦t want someone giving up when things get tough. He will also need to be confident that he is doing the right thing (not to make things worse for the workers) and believes in himself (knowing what he¡¦s doing is right).

Strong people skills
To be able to speak and relate to people on all levels.

To negotiate a solution with management and workers.

Public speaker skills
To be able to address this mass group of workers, in a voice that is confident, persuading, authoritative etc.


So these are the qualities we will need our character to have.

Now let¡¦s see if we can make him believable. Remember he lives in the same rural area, so what makes him different from the rest of the workers who are willing to settle for less?

I could say he recently move to that rural area from the city. He used to work as a union leader and wanted to get out of the rat race. But having fought for workers rights his entire career, he can¡¦t stand now to see injustices and comes to the decision to fight for them and himself.

So this character would suit our plot because we need someone like him for our story.


Example two ¡V Thinking of a character first

We notice a man on the street. Something about him triggers our interest so we decide to write about him in a short story. So at this point we will build the character first and then work a story around him.

Let¡¦s go back to where we saw him¡K

He¡¦s walking briskly along a busy street. He¡¦s in a hurry. He¡¦s dressed in a three-piece suit, which indicates he might be a businessman. He¡¦s got a stack of documents under his arm; a briefcase in his left hand and his right hand is occupied by holding the phone to his ear, which he¡¦s shouting into.

Let¡¦s observe him closer¡K

He¡¦s in his mid thirties. He looks authoritative. Perhaps he has his own business. Why is he shouting into the phone? Perhaps one of his employees made a mistake, which has cost the character a lot of money.

What if this employee made the mistake on purpose? What if he¡¦s secretly working for the opposition, planted to destroy the main character¡¦s company? What if the owner of that opposing company is the main character¡¦s own brother? Etc¡K

So as we analyze this character and ask questions about him, our plot begins to unfold.


Plots and characters have to suit each other.

When we have finished plotting and are ready to write the story, they shouldn¡¦t be ill-fitting pieces of a puzzle ¡V They should be a perfect match.

Does your plot suit your characters and vice-versa?

Have You Tested Your Plot?

Our plotting stage is our testing area.

Everything in the plot should be tested for its effectiveness before we put in into our stories. If you believe something in your plot could be better, make it better.

Figuring everything out in your plot will save you time rewriting later.

So how do you test your plot?

Start with everything that has gone into it.

For example...

„Ï Are the events interesting?

„Ï Does your plot contain problems for the character to solve?

„Ï Have you given your character a goal?

„Ï Is the conflict strong?

„Ï Is the resolution of the conflict interesting?

„Ï Is the character interesting?

„Ï Is the setting of the story interesting?

„Ï Will the incident or situation be interesting to your readers?

„Ï Etc

Make a list of what your plot contains. Comb through it carefully and tick off each item. If you find that some things need to be worked on some more, work on them.

I know this might be tedious work, but¡K

¡§Every one-minute you spend in planning
will save you at least three minutes in execution.¡¨

Crawford Greenwald

About the author:
Besides his passion for writing, Nick Vernon runs an online gift site where you will find gift information, articles and readers funny stories. Visit

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