Six Steps to Develop the Plot of a Story and 15 Fresh Writing Prompts Ideas— Whether you’re writing a short story or a full-length novel, every successful story begins and ends with an engaging plot.
The plot of a story is the true meat—it’s what happens between the pages and what keeps readers hanging on for more. If you don’t have a plot, you don’t have a story. It’s as simple as that.
Of course, understanding what a plot is and what it does isn’t enough to help you create a good one…you’ll need to do a little more work to achieve that.
With that goal in mind, we’ve created a simple six-step plan to help you develop a great plot for your story. Best of all, this approach works well for writers of all ages and experience levels!
Six Easy Steps to Develop the Plot of Your Story
1. Start with a Thorough Outline
Before you even begin writing, we recommend starting with a plot outline for your story. At this stage, the outline can be as simple or complex as you wish—however, the more detail you include, the easier the writing process will be!
As you outline, think about what kinds of events will take place in the main plot of the story. Then, consider any subplots or small story lines that may be important to include for factors like character development, foreshadowing, or context.
2. Plan Your Conflict (and Pinpoint When It Will Happen)
In addition to sketching out the general structure of your outline, you also need to make sure to specifically plan the story’s conflict.
Conflict adds tension to stories, and it’s an essential piece of any good plot. In fact, the story outline should generally be built around the conflict—including details like when it will occur and what events will lead up to it and immediately follow it.
Keep in mind—once the central conflict is resolved, the story should wrap up shortly after! Be sure the main resolution is very near the end of the story, and that other, smaller plot lines are also ready to be concluded at the same time.
3. Build a Comprehensive Timeline to Keep Things Straight
Next, add an overall timeline for the story to your outline. Maintaining a consistent timeline is crucial to making sure your plot makes sense, as it will keep things organized—and make things much easier for the reader to follow along with.
As you sketch out the timeline, remember that you’re generally trying to make sure things happen in a logical order and that you’re planning out the necessary steps for characters to get from Point A to Point B in the plot. You can worry about things like the amount of time that passes between each event later. Right now, you just need to include all the essential story points.
4. Sketch Out Points of Character Development
Though you’ve likely already added some key events for the various characters in your story to your plot outline, you should now take some time to think specifically about their development.
Just as in life, character development occurs when a character learns something or grows in some way by undergoing a life experience. You’ve probably already considered your main character’s journey, but you should be applying the same rules to side characters as well if you want to have a cast of well-rounded individuals in your story.
Think carefully about what opportunities for growth each character has at the beginning of the story. Then, include situations that will give those characters the chance to learn something or evolve into something more.
===> See these 32 Character Development Writing Prompts
5. Integrate Change and Evolution into the Story Itself
In addition to character growth, you should also strive to integrate change and evolution into the story itself.
Will your characters end up in a new setting by the end of the story—or perhaps a significant amount of time will pass? How will the world you’re creating evolve alongside the characters?
Generally speaking, it can be useful to move some of these elements along as your characters also progress. This adds a sense of movement and evolution to your plot. By the end of the story, it will be clearer that things have changed and readers will feel like they too have undergone a journey.
6. Connect Your Story’s Plot to Your Story’s Theme
Finally, it’s important to consider the plot of your story through the lens of any thematic elements or motifs you wish to incorporate into your work.
A few questions to consider:
- What are you trying to say with this story?
- What will the characters learn? How will they grow?
- Are there any factors about the world of the story that support the idea of your theme?
- Which details and plot points are relevant to character development?
Many writers will find that their theme is somewhat apparent after their first draft, but that there are still plenty of ways they can make it stronger or more prominent.
To do so, it’s helpful to make sure that the plot and the theme both support one another. You can’t simply talk about ideas that relate to the theme; rather, there should be major plot points that strengthen the meaning of the theme or that do something to bring the theme into close contact with the characters.
Review your story outline and look for opportunities to further illustrate your central idea through the plot.
15 Fresh Ideas to Help You Develop the Plot of a Story
Are you ready to try your hand at crafting the plot of a story? Use these 15 writing prompts to brainstorm fresh story ideas for your next work!
- A character learns that something they were told as a child was actually a lie.
- A character sets an audacious goal—and succeeds in ways no one thought was possible.
- A character struggles in a new job with hilarious results.
- A character finds out their sibling has been keeping a major secret from them.
- A character must decide whether to stay in the town they grew up in—or take a new job across the country.
- A character learns their privacy has been invaded by someone they trusted.
- A character has an adventure while shirking their usual responsibilities.
- A character finds an old wallet and sets out to return it to its original owner.
- A character meets a new friend—who turns out to be more than the character bargained for.
- A character discovers that magic exists—but no one believes them.
- A character decides to start over and reinvent the way they present themselves to the world.
- A character wins a major award that has an unexpected consequence.
- A character finally takes a stand after years of never speaking up.
- A character learns a new skill—and quickly becomes a professional.
- A character does a small thing that ends up having a major effect on the lives of several other people.
Simple Story Structure
The following story writing advice is from Jerry Jenkins. He says the following structure changed his life. Whoa… that’s a powerful endorsement. Hopefully, you find this information useful. I sure did.
“Here’s Dean Koontz’s Classic Story Structure:
1. Plunge your main character into terrible trouble as soon as possible.
The definition of “terrible trouble” differs depending on your genre. For a thriller it may mean your hero is hanging from his fingernails from a railroad trestle. For a cozy romance, it may mean your heroine must choose between two seemingly perfect suitors, each of whom harbors a dark secret.
2. Everything your character does to get out of the trouble makes it only worse.
The complications must be logical and grow increasingly bad until…
3. The lead character’s predicament appears hopeless.
4. Finally, because of what all that conflict has taught your character, he or she rises to the occasion, meets the challenge, battles out of the trouble, accomplishes the quest, or completes the journey.
That’s it, in its simplest form, Jill. I hope it gives you a place from which to launch.
If you’re struggling to decide where to go with your novel, try it.
If you’re trying to figure out how to structure your memoir, try it.
For fiction, nonfiction, short story, article, biography, even humor, it works. If you’re telling a story in an article, a biography, or anything else, it works. Try it!
If it works for you the way it did for me, your reader will be captivated.”
~ Jerry Jenkins
Need even more writing ideas? Explore over 1 million ideas with this plot generator tool.
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