Your characters may be the heartbeat of a story, but without plot, their life moments can’t be framed meaningfully for readers. Marry plot and character, though, and BOOM! Story magic.
Plot and character naturally work together because your story is actually two stories in one: an outer story (plot) and an inner story (character arc). When we use story structure to bring these two together, each moment is heightened and becomes more meaningful, providing the best possible experience for readers.
Some writers like to plot first. They think of a series of events that will challenge and batter the character as they push forward toward their story goal. They then design a character who is a perfect fit for the story—meaning, they are utterly unsuited to handle the tasks ahead. If they want to win, they’ll have to grow, change, and work hard to adapt.
Others start with a character, specifically the protagonist. They think about who they are, their everyday struggles and hardships, and how plot events can act as catalysts to leave an old life behind and embrace something better and more fulfilling.
There’s no right or wrong method, just what works for you. What is important, though, is knowing that at the end of the day, the story is about the character, not the plot. For it to be satisfying, it needs to be tailored to who that character is.
Plotting can be done in a myriad of ways:
- Note Card Plotting
- Michael Hauge’s 6-Stage Plot Structure
- Situational Writing
- The Snowflake Method
- Save the Cat
- The Hero’s Journey
The point, is, you do you. Just make sure that you understand the basics of plot and structure so you’ll end up with a solid, well-constructed story.
Structure: The Skeleton of Your Story
Why Every Writer Needs a Structural Toolbox
Adapting Story Structure for Any Project
10 Key Scenes You Need in Your Novel
Zig Zag Plot Arc
What Does Your Protagonist Want Before the Story Starts?
Character Arc in a Nutshell
How to Stay Focused on a Story’s Central Conflict
The Role of Failure & Conflict in Character Arc
A Strong Plot Requires a Significant Goal
Powerful Scenes Using the Informal Scene Map
Powerful Scenes using the Formal Scene Map
Using Timelines to Plot Events & Organize Story Details
How to Write a Successful Climax
Now, while Story Structure is the road that gets plot and character from start to finish…there’s a learning curve. Maybe you think about story structure at the beginning and create an outline to help you stay on the road. Or you might apply story structure in revision so your story’s flow works like magic. Either way, tools can make the process easier.
Personally, we prefer Michael Hauge’s method because it explores both the plot and character arc. At One Stop for Writers we built a tool using 6-Stage as the foundation: the Story Map (pictured below). It leads writers through each stage and turning point of their story with helpful instruction and examples. (Find out more here.)
One Stop for Writers Story Map
Additional Tools & Resources:
Scene Maps Tool (two versions – Formal and Informal)
Timeline Tool (drag-and-reorder cards, great for storyboarding ideas)
Jami Gold’s Beat Sheets (using Save the Cat, Story Engineering & other methods)
The Hero’s Two Journeys (Story Experts Hauge and Vogler dig into Plot & Character Arc)
Plot & Structure Book Recommendations
Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story (K.M. Weiland)
Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success (K.M. Weiland)
Save the Cat (Blake Snyder)
Save the Cat Writes a Novel (Jessica Brody)
Writing Screenplays That Sell, New Twentieth Anniversary Edition: The Complete Guide to Turning Story Concepts into Movie and Television Deals (Michael Hauge)
Story Genius: Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Lisa Cron)
The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction: Your Blueprint for Building a Strong Story (C.S. Lakin)
Some genres have specific plots, events, characters, or other elements, meaning we need to understand the type of story we’re writing.
Historical Fiction: The Story Comes First
How does Autobiography and Memoir Differ
Translate Story Beats to Any Genre
Is My Story a Mystery, Thriller, or Horror?
How to Write a Psychological Thriller
Mystery Writing Basics: Characters & Plot
You Wrote a Killer Love Story, But Did You Romance the Reader?
Writing Romance: Layer Your Scenes
Writing Magic in the Real World
The Storyteller’s Roadmap
If you’d like step-by-step plotting help, and to be directed to tools to help you as you navigate the brainstorming, writing, and revising process, you’ll love the Storyteller’s Roadmap we’ve created at our sister site, One Stop for Writers.
A story coach can be expensive, but the advice is invaluable. At One Stop for Writers you get access to powerful storytelling tools, resources, and expert advice for an incredibly low cost. Come check it out if you like. Happy writing!