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It can be totally cathartic to set pen to paper  (or finger to keyboard) and let your mind wander to find your story. But sometimes it can be just as therapeutic and, let’s be honest, less stressful to have a destination in mind when you’re crafting your world.

But where do you start? Well, just like in cooking, preparation is key.

Story planning is an important skill for any writer to possess. All stories, from fact to fiction, have a beginning, middle and an end. By mapping out your plot points and story arcs, you have a destination in mind and plan how you are going to get there.

Here are some tips we’ve picked up to help a writer map out their story:

One-Sentence Summary

When inspiration hits you and you need to get a story from your head and onto a page, it can be help to start by describing your story in one sentence. Don’t get bogged down by character names—they will come in time—but get the basic plot and story of your book on a page. This helps you to focus on the story you are trying to tell.

Paragraph your Plot

Once you have your summary, you can expand the story you are trying to tell. A lot of authors work in a three-acts to tell a story. The first paragraph is a beginning: you introduce your characters, set up conflicts and make your reader want to find out more. The second paragraph develops themes and raises the stakes. This will tie together nicely by your third paragraph, where your story ends. This helps you to focus your plot and, God forbid, if you get writer’s block, you know where you want the story to go.

Get to know your Character

Characters are one of the most important parts of your story, so take time to discover who your characters are and  their motivations. You should have page dedicated to each character which details the following:

  • Name
  • Their part in the story
  • What is their ultimate goal?
  • Why do they want it?
  • What is stopping them from getting it
  • What do they learn and/or how do they change?

You should also have  a one-paragraph summary of the character on each page. Remember: these are just guidelines. They are not set in stone. You can change your characters motivations if it serves the story. After all, that’s what a backspace button is for.

Setting your Scene

Some writer’s like to list of all their major plot points in chronological order, so once they start they know their next destination. You can also use this as an opportunity to set your scenes.

  • Where does this story take place?
  • Why is it important?
  • From what viewpoint is the story told?
  • How does the conflict or tension created bring the reader to the next chapter.

Do your Research

Regardless of what kind of book you are writing, research is an essential part of story telling. If you are writing about a specific location, make sure you know the street names and layout. If you are writing about an event, double check your facts. It can take time, but in the end it is totally worth it because it helps your story feel more authentic and helps the reader get hooked.

Write and Re-Write

After all your hard work and planning is in place, it’s time to start writing. Easier said than done, right? Every writer knows that writing means often re-writing, and then re-writing again. It’s all part of the process and don’t lose heart, it’s also part of the fun. By mapping out your story,  you can focus on the story you are trying to tell and know exactly how you want to tell it.

You can think of writing like driving a car. It can be beneficial to know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there, otherwise you might end up getting a little bit lost.