alright lovelies strap in for Berry’s fic-writing plotting class where i tell you what works for me, specifically, and then you decide if it’s gonna work for you. remember everyone’s writing process is different, so this is not ‘the absolute correct way to plot fics’ it’s just ‘the way that i have found that works best for me’. that said, here’s how i approach the issue of planning/plotting stories:
- every story has an emotional climax, and i usually know exactly what that climax is very early on in the story. the emotional climax is not just ‘the biggest battle scene’ or ‘hugest explosion’ – it is the point where the story’s major emotional arc hits its most important and powerful beat. as a writer, you need to figure out what this emotional arc is and what that climax is, and then you write towards it.
- if you’re not sure where to start with this, think of some stories you like (fanon or canon) and then pinpoint the most powerful emotional moment – the point where everything felt like it was hitting you at once. notice how those scenes aren’t always the most action-packed. a famous example would be The Reveal between Vader and Luke at the end of Empire Strikes Back – although there’s a fight beforehand, the actual impactful moment in that scene is just three lines of dialogue.
- emotional climaxes are tied to characters, and their individual and interconnected character arcs, and the emotions they’re going through. so look at the characters and think about how you want them to learn and grow as the story progresses. then think about how you could bring that to a powerful climax and what that moment might look like.
- here’s where i admit that my story planning process is kinda wonky, because i often start a story idea with that emotional climax in mind and then work backwards to figure out how to get the plot and characters to that point. sometimes a story idea for me is just one hugely emotional scene between some characters, and then i have to figure out how to write a story in which that can happen.
- daydreaming. most of my story planning involves extensive daydreaming as i mentally try out different ideas.
- over the years i’ve found that very strict and stringent planning can bog me down, but at the same time having no plan at all leaves me flailing wildly because i don’t know where i’m going. so a good middle ground is to have a loose story ‘shape’ in mind and then allow the pieces to move around as the story progresses.
- the way i manage this is by breaking down a story into individual ‘nodes’, which are moments or scenes or even just conversations that i want to happen. then i roughly arrange them in the order i want them to occur in the narrative, and write towards each new ‘node’ in turn.
- the advantage of this is that you always know where you’re going: rather than writing aimlessly, wondering what will happen next, i simply hop from one node to the other. i know where i need to go next, so i know that i can skip certain scenes or actions if they’re not bringing me closer to my next node.
- tie in the nodes to the emotional arc of the story. when you look at the scenes you want to include, notice which ones are really important and powerful emotional beats. those are your key scenes, so place them accordingly.
- some scenes are there just because they’re fun or cute, but mostly you want to keep the narrative tight and have scenes serve multiple purposes. cute scenes are great for progressing characters and relationships. quiet conversations are opportunities for worldbuilding and lore, but also demonstrate characters’ dynamics/morals/feelings/beliefs etc.
- some advice for placing key scenes: think about where they will be most impactful, and at which point in the narrative they will hit the reader the hardest and feel the most powerful. a great example of this is in Pride and Prejudice, where Elizabeth finds out that Darcy deliberately broke up Jane and Bingley’s relationship right before Darcy comes to the house and proposes to her. as a result of that narrative placement, Elizabeth is already furious and upset at Darcy by the time he comes to speak to her – and the result is an absolutely explosive conversation that is one of the most memorable in the story.
- when you treat story elements like nodes, they become like mental post-it notes: you can move them around and reshuffle the order of things if you decide they will work better in a different place. this allows the story plan to be organic and adaptable. if you’re writing along and you suddenly feel like a scene you planned down the line would fit in great here – you can move it up and slot it right in.
- separate out the emotional arc from the action arc. they are two different things. an action arc needs escalating stakes and conflict; the emotional arc needs character and relationship development. the action arc serves the emotional arc, not the other way around. plan how you want to hit the emotional beats and the emotional climax, and then fit the action in around it.
- stories need tension: as you go through the writing process, it should feel like you are being pulled towards the key emotional beats. the big emotional climax of the story pulls everything towards it like a narrative black hole, so that all the plot threads and character moments lead up to that one point. it should feel like that for the reader, too.
so, to give you an example from my most recent fic: i knew i wanted a scene where the two characters argue and have a conversation about one of them having to leave the other behind if things get really rough. i had that scene in mind for a while, and in the planning process i knew i needed it to happen early on in the fic, because it establishes stakes for them both (as they flee into the wilderness, pursued by their enemies) and it’s also a really important emotional beat for one of the characters, who’s mourning the loss of her entire family. i knew i needed to hit that beat and i knew it needed to come relatively early in the story, because it adjusts the status quo and establishes exactly what’s at stake in the story.
likewise, i also knew that at some point, i wanted one of the characters to get sick. this particular story beat could have happened at any point in the action arc of the story: i could have placed it later on, after the characters are very close, as a way of escalating the stakes and conflict. i could have put it somewhere in the middle, and used it primarily as a catalyst for deepening the core relationship of the story. but in the end, i decided to include it relatively early on (chapter 5, in fact) because (a) i like anguished, one-sided pining and (b) it helps to propel the next phase of the plot whilst deepening the stakes and giving the opportunity for some important worldbuilding.
so this is my advice for planning out stories: figure out where you want the story to go and write towards it. break down your plot into ‘nodes’ or beats and allow them to shuffle around as you figure out the best way to hit them. always prioritise the emotional arc of the story and don’t let the action drown it out. hope this helps!