Find Your Story Plot By Asking These 7 Questions

Yesterday I had a guest post on my blog (from Janice Hardy) which talked about 5 different ways to plot your story—and here’s the best part—starting wherever you are. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you check it out here.
 
And her article inspired me to tell you about the “Who, What, Why, How of Plot,” which is a series of questions I use to come up with a plot for my stories. Now these questions are just a starting point and barely scratch the surface of all that goes into developing a story.
 
But it’s a starting point, and one that helps me actually move in the right direction.
 
First, here’s the basic definition of plot that I use: a Protagonist who wants something, an Antagonist who opposes what the Protagonist wants, and a journey that ensues because of it. 
 
This goes beyond a story just being “conflict,” which is what I often hear from writers. They’ll say, as long as a story has conflict, tension and drama, that’s enough. And it’s just not true.
 
Because here’s the thing—you can have all the conflict, tension and drama you want, and if you don’t have structure—if you don’t have opposition—you don’t have an actual story. You have an episodic narrative.
 
Opposition—not conflict—is what makes it a story. 
 
The following 7 questions will ensure you have opposition, and not just the day-to-day dramas of a Protagonist’s life:

1. Who is my Protagonist? 

Before you can go any further, you need to know who you’re dealing with here. Who is the Protagonist of your story? Who will step up to save the day, solve the problem, defeat the bad guy and earn the “hero” title by the end? 
 
Your turn: My Protagonist is _______________________________

2 What does my Protagonist want?

Every Protagonist must want something. Desire is a driving force for a story. What does your Protagonist want? 
 
Now keep in mind, what the Protagonist wants may change once the Antagonist gets introduced. Or, the introduction of the Antagonist may raise the stakes on the goal already in play.
 
Your turn: My Protagonist wants _________________________________

3. Who is my Antagonist?

Again, you need to know who you’re working with. So, who is your bad guy? And if your Antagonist is a force (like nature or the government), who can you use to personify that force and create actual flesh-and-blood opposition for your Protagonist? 
 
Your turn: My Antagonist is ___________________________________

4. What does my Antagonist want?

Yes, your Protagonist has desires and so does your Antagonist. What does your Antagonist want?
 
But before you answer that question, you also need to add in question #5…

5. How does what my Antagonist wants oppose what my Protagonist wants?

Hint: if it doesn’t, you must change it so it does. 
 
This is the part where I tell you that you should ignore any and all advice you’ve ever heard that told you to listen to your characters. Your characters are just puppets; you are the puppet master. You must bend and shape your characters to fit the story you want to tell.
 
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT allow your characters to have a ‘say’ in the direction of the story. Ever. 
 
Your turn: my Antagonist wants ____________________ and this opposes what my Protagonist wants because ________________________________.

6. Why does my Antagonist want to oppose my Protagonist?

This is very important—you need to have a compelling reason for why your Antagonist is opposing your Protagonist. In life, people can do things randomly or for no reason at all, but in a story that just doesn’t fly.
 

Your Antagonist wants something very badly and your Protagonist wants something that is an obstacle getting in the way of the Antagonist’s goal, therefore the Antagonist must create opposition.

Your Turn: my Antagonist wants to oppose my Protagonist because ___________________.

7. What is the journey that ensues because of this Antagonist and this opposition?

This is where the story really comes to life. Because now you have opposition. And opposition creates opportunity—for your Protagonist to learn, discover, find out what he’s made of, all while squaring off against a bad guy he needs to defeat in order to get what he wants.

Your turn: the journey that ensues because of the Antagonist and the opposition is __________________________________________________________________. 

 
Just to run through it again, here are the 7 questions:
 
1. Who is my Protagonist? 
2. What does my Protagonist want?
3. Who is my Antagonist?
4. What does my Antagonist want?
5. How does what my Antagonist wants oppose what my Protagonist wants?
6. Why does my Antagonist want to oppose my Protagonist?
7. What is the journey that ensues because of this Antagonist and this opposition?
 
Whew—now that’s what I call a recipe for a plot! 

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What questions do you ask when planning your story? 
 
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And another huge part of creating an engaging story is using your plot to create structure—a series of specific story milestones that happen at specific times and specific places in the story. 

Mastering structure is a big part of being able to write a story worth publishing. 

If you want to master structure, be sure to check out my Master Story Structure Kit, which has everything you need to understand what structure is and how it works; see it in action in actual stories; and then practice your understanding of it by implementing it.

Basically it will help you become a MASTER of story structure, and what emerging novelist couldn’t benefit from that? 

The kit contains:
  • Story Structure Overview (video)
  • The Story Structure Cheat Sheet (PDF)
  • A collection of 11 story deconstructions of movies (and one novel), including: What Women Want, Rudy, Beerfest, Eraser, Cruel Intentions, and If I Stay (PDFs)
  • How To Deconstruct A Movie (Instructional PDF)
  • Movie Deconstruction Worksheet (PDF)
  • Practice Plan (PDF)
There’s only a few more days left to grab a copy for $7. 
 
 
Mastering story structure changed my life and gave me the opportunity to step into a career as a published novelist and a story coach. I still to this day study structure like my life depends on it. 
 
I will always be a student of story, and I hope you’ll join me in that one.
4 replies
  1. Suzi
    Suzi says:

    This has been super helpful – I am trying to write my first ever full length novel. As I was answering your questions – I had a question of my own – can it look like there are two protagonists are the start of the novel but then one dies (as a result of pursuing her ‘wants’) and it is this that creates the opposition for the other protagonist?

    Reply

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