All right, that would be a plot—under loose guidelines, of course. But, the point is, I didn’t plot extensively and the vague idea I had could miraculously make an entire story but that didn’t mean it was a good one. A good one being, one that a) agents/editors would be interested in and b) readers would be interested in.
So I started plotting my stories. I’m talking about a 9-step process that includes everything from a character sketch to chapter by chapter outlines. I still plan my stories this way, but writing both by the seat-of-my-pants and as a plotter has revealed to me that neither is right or wrong. In fact, it’s shown me that whether or not you’re a plotter, there’s a simple formula you can use to get your story off on the right track.
There are four questions you need to ask yourself—sort of like determining GMC before you begin writing.
1) What does your hero/heroine want or not want? (i.e. a new career, love, to never see their mother again, etc)
2) Why does your hero/heroine want or not want this? (i.e. because they never got it as a child, because they never want to end up like their father, etc.)
3) What will he/she do to get this?
4) What’s going to stop your MC from accomplishing this? (i.e. a competitor, a villain, lack of courage, etc.)
Even if you only have a vague idea what your story is about, you can still ask yourself these questions. And even better, if you can, try to put them into this formula below:
(MC name) wants/doesn’t want _________ because __________ but when _________ he/she _________.
Veronica wants to find the family treasure because no one believes that it ever existed, but when Archie shows up to hunt for the treasure, too, she must decide if he’s the enemy or she can trust him and they can work together before someone else finds it.
Or another, with a little variation:
Archie grew up with an abusive father who always told him he did everything wrong, and he never wants to see the man again. But when he discovers a family secret, he must return to his childhood home to find out what his father knows.
Okay, so these are a bit vague and definitely won’t work as hooks but they answer the four questions above. They give your characters goals, why they have those goals, and what’s going to make it hard to achieve them.
It’s a good formula to keep in mind as you begin writing, to make sure you always know why your character is the way he is and what he’s striving for. It will help propel the plot—whether or not you’re a plotter.
So when you think of your novel, can you answer the four questions? If you’d like, put your formula, with the blanks filled in, in the comments below. And feel free to use different verbs or descriptive words. Here’s mine:
Adventure novelist Andrew Grey would rather live in his imagination than in the real world because caring about people is another reminder of how quickly he can lose what he loves, just like he lost his family in a car accident. So when Drew returns to his childhood town to focus on his writing and makes friends with a 9-year-old, the last thing he wants is the boy to set him up with his mother—and the last thing he plans on is falling in love.