Your characters may be the heartbeat of a story, but without plot, their life moments can’t be framed in a meaningful way 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 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 a myriad of ways:
- Note Card Plotting
- Michael Hauge’s 6-Stage Plot Structure <- Becca & Angela’s favorite!
- 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.
To Plot or Not to Plot
Why Every Writers Needs a Structural Toolbox
Adapting Story Structure for Any Project
10 Key Scenes You Need in Your Novel
What Does Your Protagonist Want Before the Story Starts?
Character Arc in a Nutshell
Build a Bridge: From Story Beginning to Main Conflict
Powerful Scenes Using the Informal Scene Map
Powerful Scenes using the Formal Scene Map
Using Timelines to Plot Events & Organize Story Details
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)
Personal Plot & Structure Book Recommendations (Affiliate Links)
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)