How to Turn a Story Premise into a Plan
In my last video I talked about how difficult it is to start a story from just an idea and that it’s best to develop that idea into a premise before you start writing or you’ll have an increased chance of getting stuck. But while a premise might tell us what our story is about, it doesn’t tell us much about what’s going to happen. Many writers can take the premise and run with it, but not everyone works the same. If your premise hasn’t got the plot cogs turning yet, how do you start? And when you do start, where do you go?
The answer? You need to figure out what your story needs. This might sound difficult when you’ve got nothing more to go on than a sentence, but you actually know more about your story than you think you do. Most stories, regardless of how they’re ultimately structured, have the same 5 key ingredients: a protagonist, a problem that they encounter, a course of action for them to take to overcome this problem, things that stand in the way of their success, and reasons for all of this to matter to them and to the reader.
We also know that, even if the story isn’t written chronologically, every story has a beginning, middle and end, which contains the climax, where it’s determined whether or not the protagonist will succeed in overcoming the central conflict.
With all of this in mind, you can start to list the key scenes your story is going to need, and determine what things you should consider developing before you start.
To set the story up for the climax, those 5 key ingredients need to be established in the beginning, even if not quite fleshed out. If the climax is going to be the conclusion to the problem, then the problem needs to enter the story at the beginning. If the reader is to recognise the problem for what it is, they need to know what the character’s normal life is like.
When the character encounters the problem, they’re going to react to it and there’s probably going to be external consequences resulting from this problem too, which they’re going to need to deal with. When it’s clear this problem’s not going away on its own, the character’s going to make a decision about how to resolve the problem.
To engage the reader, you need to make them care about whether or not the protagonist will succeed in overcoming the central conflict, which involves giving them a compelling reason to do what they do. You must consider what they have to lose or gain from overcoming the central conflict and give a reason as to why this is so important to them. You need to tell the reader why the protagonist can’t simply turn their back on what’s at stake.
All these things together give you some key moments you can already explore, even if you don’t know how the rest of the story is going to play out.
To kick off the middle of the story, the character is going to start taking action based on the decision they made at the end of the beginning and the way stories work is that it’s never easy. Obstacles are going to litter the path between the realisation and conclusion of the problem and the middle is going to be full of the character making short-term goals to overcome these obstacles and bring them closer to the climax.
To keep the reader invested, the story needs be remain interesting. Reinforcing and raising the stakes and ensuring each obstacle is more difficult than the last is going to increase the tension by keeping the reader wondering how on earth the protagonist is going to succeed in overcoming the central conflict, until protagonist is driven toward the climax to battle it out with the antagonistic force.
So there are your key scenes. Working through these scenes is going to inform even more scenes, fleshing out the story until you have a plot that will drive your character from start to finish.
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