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Forming the Story: How Authors Plan Their Plots

May 24, 2023 (Last Updated May 24, 2023)

Marcy G.

When it comes to forming a story, there’s no right or wrong way for an author to approach the process.  There are, however, common tropes and touch points in any effective story that can serve as landmarks for mapping out a plot.

The birth of a story can manifest in many different ways: through characters, conflicts, settings, you name it! There’s no correct launch point for coming up with a new idea that sparks a whole narrative. We’re going to discuss how you can take that crumb of an idea and build your plot around it, based on common approaches and plot points.


Choose a Structure

The most common plot structure of a story is the three act structure:

“Three act structure divides a story into three distinct sections, each anchored around one or more plot points that drive the overall action. Over the course of the three acts, a complete story structure unfolds. The main character passes through the stations of a character arc, the main plot builds toward the realization of the protagonist’s goal, and by the end, the action is resolved, and key loose ends are tied up.” – masterclass.com

The three act structure, while commonly used, is not the only approach you can take, but having it in the back of your mind is an easy way to structure your story.

Another basic way of determining your book structure is to answer the 5 W’s: Who, what, when, where, and why? Write these down, answer them, and go from there.


Character Development

Most writers will think of who their protagonist is going to be first. Who is driving the story? Once the protagonist is mapped out, it, becomes easier to build the people around them who will be contributing to different story arcs and subplots. A great way to determine the characters in your story is through utilizing character templates, where you can assign roles, determine individual personality traits, and decide how they will be interacting with the main protagonist and antagonists.

From here, it’s important to think about each individual character’s arc and whether they will be a dynamic character or static character in the story. The development of your characters is essential to creating a story with depth.


Story Setting

Many writers and readers argue that the setting of the story is a character within itself. The setting of a story being such the cornerstone factor of a hooking and engaging book, knowing how to get it right with the perfect cocktail of details is what can be the make or breaking point of an accentuating reader experience. It serves more than just indicating a time and place for your plot/characters to unfold; it is what pulls your readers in and sets the entire tone and vibe from start to finish. This is the very reason why setting elements are such an intricate part of the world of book publishing and an even more critical aspect to get right to ensure your book is positioned for success. 

Choosing a setting for your story can come about through a number of aspects. It should be in alignment with your characters’ backgrounds, supports their intended goals, helps build your desired plot, and steers you in the right direction whether it be real-life places or fictional ones. If real-life locations, be diligent about doing extensive area/surroundings research to depict it accurately. The setting is the central component of “world building” when forming your story and plot. How does the setting influence the characters? How does it contribute to the central conflict?


Central Conflict

When writing a story, there has to be a central conflict. Think back to your character templates and how your characters relate to each other. Start building subplots around their dynamics, in relation to the conflict building. This way of thinking will help build subplots in relation to the every-present conflict surrounding the story. 

Your central conflict should be clear, giving your story a narrative focus and serving as an anchor. Look to fantasy books like the Harry Potter series or Lord of the Rings. The plots boil down to a singular conflict throughout the series.

In terms of setting up different plot points in the overall arc, lay out the central conflict in terms of crisis, climax, and conclusion.


Complete the Arc

This is the time to tie up loose ends. You want the ending to have a sense of finality, even if you are choosing to leave things a little open-ended, with room for continuation. Completing your story arc is essential because you don’t want there to be glaring plot holes. This can make your story difficult to follow.

If you find yourself getting hung up on tying a story arc together or you just feel “hung up” and not in control of where the story is going, go back and re-read what you have written so far. This will help you find your way and can trigger thoughts and ideas you may have forgotten or form new ones


We discuss more topics like this every month on the 48 Hour Books Blog, so make sure you subscribe! Once you’re ready to print your story, partner with 48 Hour Books – we have everything you need to print a high-quality book and provide additional resources for authors looking to self-publish. Have questions? Contact us today!

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