Hello again, Mythcreants, I hope you are well!
Recently, I’ve been trying hard to formulate a good plot, and I’ve resorted to multiple writing websites and resources to look for tips from already successful authors.
One tip I’ve encountered is that the best way to make a good story is to start from the ending, which I’ve found extremely difficult.
Is this tip true or helpful? If it’s not, is there anything you recommend to get started with a plot?
Thanks for your time,
Hey Murphie, great to hear from you again!
The short answer is no: you don’t have to plot your story by starting at the end. A slightly longer answer is that such tips fall under what we call “process advice,” anything that tells you how to write your story rather than what needs to be in the story. While process advice can sometimes be useful, it’s also very dependent on an individual and their writing style. Starting from the end works for some people, as it lets them know where their story is going. But from other people, plotting a story in reverse is just off-putting, or they can’t even guess where their story ends because they don’t know how it starts yet.
The main advice I always give when writers are struggling with their plots is to focus on the throughline first. We have entire articles on throughlines, but here’s the short version: the throughline is the conflict that ties your story together. It’s a problem introduced at the beginning, drives the plot through the middle, and is resolved in the climax. Starting with the throughline has a couple advantages.
First, the vast majority of stories need a strong throughline anyway, so starting with one can save you the work of going back to create one later. Second, if you know what kind of throughline you want, it’s much easier to build the rest of the story. Is your throughline about an unlikely heir taking the throne? You know the beginning will be the heir finding out that they’re next in line, the middle will be fighting against rivals, and the end will be them securely taking the throne. If your throughline is solving a murder, then the beginning might be finding the body, the middle will be collecting clues, and the end will be catching the killer.
As for what throughline you want, that’s entirely up to you and what you want to write. We also have a few more articles that might help you with specifics.
Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your story!
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Comments on How Do I Start My Plot?
Something which I find useful for plotting (it might or might not work for you – I’m not saying it’s the perfect tool) are the four quarters. You split your story into four parts – the beginning, the middle before the midpoint, the middle after the midpoint, and the end. Then you try to figure out what is the big thing happening where.
The beginning will introduce characters, setting, and conflict and end when the main character gets working on the conflict (often called ‘call to adventure’). The end will include the climax and bring the tension down through a return to normal (or a new normal). What happens in the two middle quarters depends on what genre you’re writing, yet you probably know what usually happens in the middle of a story of a genre you’re a fan of yourself. Between the two middle quarters is the midpoint – a point at which there’s a twist, things get more serious and pressing, and the tension gets a boost. The second quarter works towards it, the third quarter deals with the consequences of the twist. At the end of the third quarter, you have the ‘dark moment’ which leads towards the climax in the last quarter.
At first, simply ask yourself what which quarter is about and write that down somewhere. If those four basic plot points fit together, you can then expand each quarter (Paul Tomlinson, from whom I got the quarters, also has the eight sequences, which are another way to pre-plot the story in more detail, splitting each quarter into two). Go into more detail, flesh the plot out more, see what additional stuff can and should go where. That early, you can easily move scenes, cut or fuse them if needed.
Keep in mind that not all quarters have to have the same length – the middle ones are often longer than beginning or end. But if one quarter is much longer or much shorter than the rest, there’s usually a problem with the plot there.
Sounds like that would help w/ pacing
It helps immensely, yes. You can use the four quarters for plotting, but also when you go over a story you’ve written and have the feeling something is off. Check the quarters, see if one is too long or too short. Then you can shift stuff or cut it out or add it.
That’s some great advice, thanks for your feedback!
I like to read how-to books and try out various methods, and then incorporate things that stuck, throw away stuff that didn’t work, and change and tinker where needed. So yeah, I agree that if an advice doesn’t work for you, you don’t have to use it.
Right now I like a modified snowflake method mixed with Brandon Sanderson’s lectures and a pile of various ideas I foraged from the internet and books. Also right now I’m reading and following Jennie Nash’s Blueprint for a Book, and I think it works for me.
That’s how I do it, too. I do read books about writing when I think from a first look that they might be helpful and see if I can implement stuff from there.
It becomes easier when you’ve written more, though, because you understand your own way of writing better and can see where this or that might be helpful and why that third thing will never help you.
Most of the stories I’ve read seem to have a structure similar to Kay’s. Many movies seem to go that route, too.
I’m assuming you meant me … sure that was just a typo. :)
The four quarters are just an extension of the classic three-act structure. They take the midpoint into account, which the three-act structure doesn’t talk about. Like that, it’s easier to keep the middle from lagging, since you work your way to another twist in the story and know what you’ll do in the middle of your middle. It’s quite likely that a lot of stories have a similar kind of structure.
Even using Throughlines you need to know what the finish line is, what the goal is.
Starting from the end allows you to put everything else in place to achieve the desired outcome without it being contrieved. That could save you time of going forward and backward changing details to make it fit.
Even in the answer the throughlines are aimed to a goal (taking the throne or catching the killer).
In my personnal case, i always try to write from the character, as everything will be at service of character development in pursue of their goals. Anything that my character won’t interact with is irrelevant. Hence, the goal of the story is the goal of the character, and make the choices easier to take based on what the character is capable of.
Yep, people should plot in whatever way works best for them. Every method is going to have shortcomings that need to be sorted out.
“the vast majority of stories need a strong throughline anyway”
This line piqued my curiosity; what kind of stories wouldn’t need a strong throughline? I can’t think of any examples at the moment.
Every story would profit from a strong throughline, but with something comedic or short (or both), you’d probably get away with a weak one.
Admittedly I mostly phrased it that way to acknowledge there might be some weird newfangled type of story I haven’t heard of yet.
On related note, episodic stories typically want a less urgent throughline connecting the episodes, but I wouldn’t categorize that as a “weak” throughline. Cay is also right that funny and short stories can more easily get away with not having a strong throughline.
Yeah, that’s fair; I do that same thing all the time, too.