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How to plan a story

Every story, be it a 500-word short-short story of a 200,000 word epic, has -

Simple, isn’t it? Yet I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard or read about people saying things like ‘I’m great at beginning a story but I run out of steam’, or ‘I’ve got a great ending in mind - it’s the middle that stumps me’.  I’ve done it myself - before I realised that the old business saw ‘fail to plan, plan to fail’ applies just as much to writing a story as it does to running a company. It’s great when an idea for a story hits you - but if you fail to plan your story, chances are it’ll fizzle out through lack of planning. So plan it! Here’s how:-

Think of where your story takes place. How well do you know this place?

Think of what your main characters will be like - can you visualise them talking, walking, reacting to other people in a believable way?

Think of how long you want your story to be - will the idea carry it to that length? An idea for a story for a woman’s magazine probably won’t have enough depth to flesh out a 100,000 word novel.

Think of the ‘message’ your story will put across. That’s not to say it has to preach, or have a deep philosophical message, but it should leave your reader thinking about what you’ve written  and caring about the characters you’ve created. If this is the outcome, you’ve just written a darned good story!

By this time you should have a good idea of what’s going to happen in the beginning, middle and end of your story. You may well have names for your characters and have come to a decision on where and when your story takes place. But do your characters have a life yet? By this, I mean not just a name and a vague sketch of who they are - if that’s all you’ve got, believe me when I say that your characters will appear just like that to your reader - vague, fuzzy people who they can’t relate to. And if your readers can’t relate to your characters as real people, rather than just constructions to put across a storyline, your story will suffer - maybe it won’t work at all.

So how do I make my characters live?  We’ll have a look at that in a short while but first some more ideas about planning.

An element of planning a story that’s not often talked about is the work rate. This may not matter to much for a 1,000-word short story but, if you plan anything much longer you need to plan also how long this project will take, make sure you have your writing space arranged and your writing time - remember?

Now let’s have a look at those people that bring your story to life - your characters.

If you think you'd like to write for children, click here to find out how it's done!