Writers Start Here: Planning a Plot

Writers Start Here: Planning a Plot

Of all of the core components of creating a story, Plot is my favorite. In my opinion, you can have great characters and a fantastic setting, but if your plot is bland or boring then it doesn't matter. Your story will not entice readers. For others, they may think that Theme is the defining quality of a story. But, to me, we write stories as entertainment and Plot is what defines entertainment within stories.

Where To Begin?

As a new writer, the first thing that might cross your mind is the question: How do I come up with a plot?

You create your plot in the same way that you create your characters and settings. In fact, they all kind of work together. You don’t create these different aspects of your story in a void. Every decision you make about one aspect then influences the others.


For example, if I decide on a setting of Medieval England, then that’s going to influence the kind of characters I would want to exist within that world. That story could include the mysterious Wizard (who we don’t know if they can really do magic at all or if they are some kind of con artist), the headstrong King (who is ruling his nation the only way he knows how: with an iron fist), the rebellious Prince (who makes every decision based on how he wants to grow to be different than his father), and the jealous Spymaster (who sees everyone as inferior to him, but still valuable pieces on a deadly chessboard).

With these characters now populating this world, the plot can inform on how the different story arcs could evolve. How could the setting and characters influence the kind of story that should be told? Will the Spymaster try to recruit the Prince into some nefarious plot? Will the mysterious Wizard see it coming? Will the King catch the Prince in the act of some betrayal and was that part of the Spymaster’s plan the whole time?

This process of creating the story could happen in the opposite direction just as easily. You want to tell a political story of betrayal, scheming, and family drama. One of the many ways to present that story could be through a royal family within the confines of a stark castle.


Your influence for these ideas can come from your daily life experiences, the media you consume, or a random spark of inspiration. There is no sure-fire way to catch an idea like this. But, there is something important to note:

It is okay to be inspired by other media for your own story. It is not stealing.

It kills me when new writers have the wind taken out of their sails because they think that the story they’ve been working on has been done by someone else already.

We’re in 2024, there are no new story ideas.

Bold statement, huh? Any story can be reduced down into parts that resemble another story.

You will not write that story, express that idea, create those characters, and explore those themes in the same way as anyone else. The way you write, think, and create is unique to you.

Just for posterity’s sake, let me show you some examples of my working stories and how they were inspired:

  • Stonepoint Academy - an Academia story that combines the tropes of a school setting with a more traditional fantasy setting. Inspired by Harry Potter, the Dragonlance Chronicles, and classic YA tropes.
  • Starlight Farms’ Kennel for Talking Dogs - a novella that aims to explore real-world dogs in cozy fantasy. Inspired by a random thought of, “why aren’t there more dogs in fantasy? If there were dogs in fantasy novels, what would be a fun way to explore them?” That thought then lead to a Doctor Doolittle style fantasy story. Inspired by my dogs, Legends and Lattes, cozy fantasy feel-good tropes, and my own questions about why my dogs do certain dog behaviors. What if I could just ask them?
  • Hellfire - a zombie western that combines Stephen King horror with B-movie acting and plot decisions. Extremely inspired by the old movie Tremors and the sheer fun of Red Dead Redemption and it’s expansion, Undead Nightmare.
  • Project New World (Placeholder Title) - a retelling of the true “discovery of the new world” in our own history through a lens of grimdark fantasy with a focus on the perspective of the peoples who were invaded by “civilization” from the East. Inspired by reading the non-fiction book 1491 that explores what life was like on the Americas before Columbus and the Europeans took the land as their own.

You can see that influence can come from an incredible number of different sources.


Plot Planning

So, you’ve got an idea for your plot. And, because it’s all linked together, you also have a rough idea of the setting and characters that this story will contain. How do you start putting the pieces together to tell a story?

Fortunately, this part is a little bit easier. At it’s most basic components, we can reference a graph that you might have seen before called Freytag’s Pyramid.

Freytag’s Pyramid

It ain’t pretty.

But, this is the most basic way of presenting a plot of a modern story. And, as simple as it is, this pyramid should inform the requirements of events within your plot.

  • Exposition - Not just information dump, but a beginning of your story that sets reader expectations. Yes, the beginning of your story should prepare the reader for the world and the characters that the story revolves around. That’s true. But, it also is where you introduce the reader to your writing style and the genre expectations that they will encounter through your story. Additionally, this doesn’t have to be a sleepy beginning that tells the reader all they need to know. You can have exciting moments, fast pacing, and engaging reading while providing the exposition of your story to the readers.
  • Inciting Incident - The inciting incident forces your characters to act. It’s the reason that a character can’t just refuse to go on the adventure throughout your story. It’s when Frodo learns that the ring he has is all-powerful and that people are after it. It’s when Two Rivers is invaded by Trollocs and Rand and his company need to run from their old lives into the rest of the Wheel of Time plot. It’s when Ender leaves for Battle School as Earth’s final hope in winning the war against the buggers. A good inciting incident causes the rest of the story to happen and forces characters to have to act.
  • Rising Action - A short name for the majority of your book. It’s everything between the Inciting Incident and the Climax. It’s all of the wins and losses that your characters face. It’s everything that they learn and the relationships they forge along the way. Other frameworks will explore this further.
  • Climax - The big event that your plot has been building to. The climax of your story should relate closely to your theme in some way. In Harry Potter, one of the major themes in the story is about the power of Love. In the first book, this remnant of Love from Harry’s parents comes out in the climax of the story to allow Harry to survive an encounter with Voldemort. Whatever it is, the climax is the big satisfying conclusion to all of the events that have happened so far in the story.
  • Falling Action - While this is represented on Freytag’s Pyramid as equal in length to the Rising Action, that is not the case. In modern storytelling, the climax happens 80%-95% through the story. The Falling Action are the immediate consequences of the happening of the climax. Which is different than the…
  • Resolution - This step shows the change in characters, world, and themes following the conclusion. This is your chance to really impart closure for the reader. The story doesn’t end with Voldemort being killed. The story ends with Harry, Ron, and Hermoine seeing their kids off to their first year of Hogwarts. The resolution is a way to decompress the stress of the story and really let the reader feel satisfied that the characters and setting that they’ve grown to love have really changed.

Wow that’s a lot

I know, that’s a lot information.

What About Other Frameworks?

Freytag’s Pyramid is an interesting concept, but not one with much use beyond initial education of Plot. There is so much more to writing a story that 6 bullet points.

Over the years, more frameworks have become popular including The Hero’s Journey and the 8 Point Story Arc. Both of these frameworks will receive the attention they deserve here on later posts.

Other interesting frameworks include: