A guest post by Jennifer Blanchard
When I first learned about story structure and story planning, I was inspired to no end. I knew I’d found the missing link, the information I was lacking that would now help me write stories worth publishing.
The idea of planning a story before you write it is total genius (ignore this advice at your own risk), and the principles of storytelling are a true guidance system for any serious writer.
The problem is, all these principles and story planning information is very high-level. And despite knowing what I had to do, I still wasn’t able to take the information and apply it to my own stories.
I needed a process. A timeline. Something more action-oriented.
For planners, like me, who want a process or timeframe for doing the story planning, I offer up the following:
The 6-Week Story Planning and Development Process
This is the process I use for developing and planning my stories (and the one I teach to all my clients). I created this process based on the information I’ve learned from StoryFix.com and Larry’s bestselling writing book, Story Engineering.
Week 1: Idea, Concept and Premise
This is the foundational week. Get this wrong and the rest of the weeks will have nothing concrete to stand on.
You need to take the story idea you have and turn it into a Concept and Premise.
If you’re having trouble figuring out your Concept and Premise—or if you’re still not totally clear on what a Concept and Premise are—be sure to listen to this 90-minute recording from the live call I did with Larry recently.
You have to get this right, before you move on to the next week. (And Larry even has a great little Quick Hit Concept Analysis you can sign up for, just to make sure you’ve nailed it.)
Week 2: Characters
Next you’ll want to work on your characters, but most importantly, your Protagonist and Antagonist. (Larry has a great character questionnaire in his book, Story Engineering.)
You’ll need to create the three dimensions of both of these major characters, and design your Protagonist’s character arc.
The reason this is important is because you have to know who your Protagonist is, how he will change from beginning to end, and what he wants in the story. You’ll also need an answer for who or what (the Antagonist) will oppose the Protagonist getting what he wants.
This information will help inform your structure and scene choices.
It’s also during this week that you’ll want to solidify your Premise. Now that you know your Protagonist and Antagonist better, you can weave them into your core story.
Weeks 3 and 4: Story Structure
You’ll want to give yourself at least two weeks for story structure, because the first time you attempt it on your story, you probably won’t hit the mark. So you’ll need the second week to tweak it and make changes.
Your story structure is the core of your novel and is the thread that will guide the reader through from beginning to end.
You can learn more about story structure by reading this series of posts:
- Story Structure: Just Possibly the Holy Grail of Storytelling
- Story Structure, part 1: Introducing the 4 Parts of Story
- Story Structure, part 2: Milestones Along the 4-Part Storytelling Road
- Story Structure, part 3: 5 Missions for the Setup of Your Story
- Story Structure, part 4: The Most Important Moment in Your Story (the First Plot Point)
- Hook vs. First Plot Point—Don’t Get Fooled
- Story Structure, part 5: Part 2 of Your Story—The Response
- Story Structure, part 6: Wrapping Your Head Around the Mid-Point Milestone
- Story Structure, part 7: Part 3—The Attack
- Story Structure, part 8: The Second Plot Point
- Story Structure, part 9: Pinch Points
- Story Structure, part 10: Part 4—The Final Act
- Story Structure, part 11: Epilogue—The Fine Print
Once you know your story’s structure, then, and only then, can you can go deeper.
Weeks 5 and 6: Scene Building and Story Roadmap
The final phase in the process is figuring out your story scenes and then building a scene roadmap. And like all the steps before it, you add layers as you go. That’s why two weeks are, again, dedicated to this part of the process.
During the first of the two weeks (aka: week 5), you’ll want to develop a beat sheet. A beat sheet is simply a list of scenes in your story, starting with one sentence for each scene, and growing from there.
Once you have a beat sheet, then you can turn those single sentences into a story roadmap. A story roadmap is simply an expansion of the beat sheet that goes deeper on each scene to include things like, the mission of the scene, when it takes place, where it takes place and any notes on story exposition or information that needs to be included in the scene. (You can see a sample story roadmap by going here.)
When you’re finished with your story roadmap, I highly recommend taking a break from it for at least a few weeks, so you can come back with fresh eyes and give it a final revision, before you jump into the writing phase.
What does your story planning and development process like?
About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard is the author of the novel, SoundCheck, and a Story Coach who helps serious emerging novelists save time, be more effective storytellers and cut years off their learning curves, so they can write kick-ass books and get published faster. Grab her free eGuide— Find Your Story: the 6-Week Story Planning Process to see an example of the process in action.
Larry is currently away on an anniversary vacation with his wife. Until then Storyfix.com will feature several much appreciated guest posts, and a couple of surprise pre-scheduled visits by Larry, as well.
Larry’s new writing book, “Story Fix: Transform Your Novel From Broken To Brilliant,” has just been released and is available on all online venues, as well as most bookstores. If they don’t have it in stock yet, ask them to reserve a copy for you.