To write a story, you first need an idea for the plot. One source is the stories you’ve read or heard about but with a “what if” twist that suits your characters and setting. Of course, that’s just the beginning of a plot idea. I keep a journal of them. Most reach a dead end, but some come alive as I develop the idea into a seven-step plot outline. To become familiar with this framework, try using these steps to analyze your favorite stories. The outline looks like this:

1. Introduction: The major characters and their setting are introduced in a state of equilibrium.

2. Inciting Incident: A troubling incident forces the protagonist into action toward a goal.

3. Rising Action: Ever more complex obstacles impede the protagonist as she reaches for her goal.

4. Turning Point: At about the midpoint, events start to go sour for the protagonist.

5. Falling Action: Events continue to worsen for the protagonist. The author gives the reader a hint of the tragedy to follow, but the reader still has hope for her success.

6. Climax: No new characters or information are introduced here, just an all-out dramatic struggle as the protagonist wrestles valiantly to achieve her goal.

7. Denouement: An equilibrium returns. The protagonist may have reached her goal but has suffered a loss.

It might take several scenes to get through a step. List and order them under each step. Then use these scenes to flesh out your chapters. Of course, fleshing out the scenes as chapters gives you only the first draft. But you can’t know, really know your story until you have that first draft. Then the editing begins.

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