How to Create a Plot

How to Create a Plot

Which are you, a plotter or a pantser?

In other words, do you plot, or fly by the seat of your pants*?

Even if you don’t love to plot, writing into a deep fog with no idea where you’re headed is never fun. In this mini-lesson, we’ll explore how to use the Hero’s Journey framework as a strategy to map a general plan for where our characters are headed.

*Curious where this odd phrase comes from?

Fly by the seat of your pants is a term from early aviation. Pilots had very little by way of navigation tools. Making it to a final destination relied on a pilot's wits and intuition. The term emerged in the 1930's, and was first widely used in reports of Douglas Corrigan's flight from the USA to Ireland in 1938.

As you plan your plot, one thing to consider is building suspense in your scenes. Here is an excellent example:

She looked up when I joined her. “Something is going to happen,” she whispered, looking up at me with large, frightened eyes. “Something big. I know it.”

I nodded but did not speak. I could feel it too, around me and inside me.

As if on cue, the earth rumbled slightly.

“It’s all right, Ellen,” I murmured to her, running my fingers through her hair.

She clung to me still, unwilling to let go. The house door opened and slammed shut behind us.

“Ellen. Peter,” Father said sharply. “Get in the car. Quickly!” His voice was laced with panic, and I could practically see the fear radiating off him.

Ellen looked at me questioningly. I grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the car.

Father jumped into the car and started the engine.

“Wait!” Ellen said, lunging forward. “What about Mother?”

Father stepped out of the car, and I could see the grief in his eyes. “I don’t know where she is,” he said. “She went out this morning to walk the dog. There’s no time to look for her.”

Ellen went into the car first. I wanted to protest, to do something, but I knew what he meant. Worst of all, I knew he was right.

(2019, The Ocean’s Wrath by Ching Yi Mak)

You might also consider how to raise the stakes and include conflict in your scenes, like in these examples:

I can still feel her biting words cutting through my skin, shredding any little fragments of confidence I had left into black-and-white confetti.

Honey, there’s no way you can be a professional with those eyes of yours. I don’t want you to get your hopes up. You shouldn’t even be thinking about it. You can’t even find the right keys to press . . .

I shake her words from my mind and play. The rush of the piece is exhilarating, and soon its energy consumes me. I find myself lost in the intricately woven passages and the hidden lyrics underneath the blanket of technique and rhythms. The melody is hypnotizing and lulling at the same time, and I feel static electricity through my whole body.

Prove them wrong. Prove her wrong. Show them you are capable of doing something.

(2018, Music Lessons by Tiffanie Huang)

“Hide the map!” Jack shouted.

I shoved it into the refrigerator. Moments later, there was a knock at the door.

We opened the door and a man and a woman stepped in. The woman had a clockwork eye, so I assumed she must have lost the real one. Both had the NAFD agent logo printed in bright red on their camouflage uniforms. NAFD stood for National Association for Discovery. They were the government department that oversaw all Explorers looking for new lands. They asked me if I had seen any men with clockwork hands, and a chill ran down my spine. I looked at my siblings, and they both shook their heads slightly.

I told the agents, “I don’t think I did.”

The woman pushed further, “Are you sure, we have reliable sources that tell us he might have known your father.”

(2019, Free Solo by Vedant Balan)

✍🏼 Ready to write?

↓Here's that PDF:

Use the interactive tool below or download the PDF 👉🏼 to complete the activity.

Download this PDF at the link below:

Hero's Journey Printable.pdf107.4KB