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Planning for Success – Put Your Ideas Down!

How to plan a story, narrative or creative writing exam question. Exploring three different methods of planning writing, with an inspirational quotation thrown in!

Planning a Story

Why Plan?

Right caveat here. No random zombie invasions or discovering a random weapons cache under a park swing. I am not saying they can never work, but as I tell my students, it is a little old hat now. At least do something creative with them. (By the way before I am lynched by a lot of people, I am a huge zombie fan, don’t believe me leave any questions about the undead in the comments and I will impress you with my knowledge, at least I hope so).

There are several reasons to plan a story using the old fashioned pen and paper technique. Now I am not saying that planning has to be done in any one particular way but planning is useful, be it for short stories, a novel or even for an exam. They help you to:

  • Consider what exactly you are writing
  • Sketch out ideas that can be developed
  • Allow you to quickly get ideas down and not have that oh f**k what was I going to write moment. (Yes we have all had that)
  • Give you a visual snapshot of the direction you think your writing might be heading in
  • BONUS – you can completely ignore your plan if you want, they are there as an aide memoire and sometimes, you end up in a completely different place.

Planning, as I have said, is crucial (at least for me) in beginning the creative process, I spent many years in the creative wilderness because I was too bloody stubborn to think that I needed to plan. This was wrong and incredibly naïve. As a teacher and a scribbler, I have realised and now preach the need to plan before doing any form of longer style writing. I will point out that – A PLAN IS NOT A DRAFT, it can be as long or short as you like. I’ll be honest I spend a fair bit f time fleshing mine out because it suits my style of writing. If you want to just bullet point some key ideas down that is fine. To be honest your plan should make sense to you, who cares if it makes no sense to anyone else.

Freytag’s Pyramid – a Five Part Structure

A style used to help analyse narrative plot throughout a text and is actually useful to help guide a general overall narrative when writing. The basics are really simple as shown below:

Freytag’s Pyramid – Dramatic Five Part Structure
  1. Exposition – introduces the plot – provides, well some exposition
  2. Rising Action – tension increases, this can be man v man, man v self, man v nature etc.
  3. Climax – the point at which things cannot ever be the same, things have and must change
  4. Falling Action – Events that begin leading to the narrative’s conclusion
  5. Denouement – the ending of the story, will things be resolved? Is there catharsis? (More often than not yes)

All you need to do is think about how tension rises and falls. You can use this an overarching look at a traditional narrative structure across a book for example, or, you can even use this for individual chapters or short stories.

Example when applied to Romeo and Juliet:

1 – Two families at war opening fight scene with Montagues and Capulets

2 – Tension grows between Romeo and Tybalt; Juliet and her parents.

3 – The death of Tybalt and Marriage of Romeo and Juliet

4 – Juliet is forced to marry, she pretends to die as per the Friar’s instructions. Romeo finds out

5 – The young lovers take their lives, parents realise all this fighting is for nought and resolve their differences.

Planning Backwards

Have you heard the phrase ‘having a vision’? Yes it does sound like something that would be said by a marketing executive. I promise this is not the case! No really, I promise. When it comes to writing (especially for shorter fiction) having an end point in mind is really useful. Think about  what your end point is. Then ask the following question (or variants thereof)

  • How did I get here?
  • What happened just before?
  • Why did that person, animal, creature, general idea end up here?

For the sake of argument let’s break this down into a plan, beginning, middle then end.

No one trusts a picture that innocent

Here we have a start and end point, but how do we arrive there? Think about the ending first, something evil has changed the globe from something pure and innocent (isn’t that always the way?) Remember the plan needs to make sense to you and it is a sketch of your thought process.

My Own Style of Planning – the Tension Graph

Rather than read loads, it is explained in this video

Final thoughts:

Planning is the means to an end. It allows you to get some initial ideas down; have a reference point and on top of that eliminated that feeling and niggling voice that says you cannot write. That voice tell it to piss off, grab a pen and get started. You can do it!

Oh and remember your first draft is just that, a draft. The plan is a tool that helps to shape your writing by grounding your ideas.

Look someone far more able than I summed it up:

Before beginning, plan carefully.


By magpiestories

An English teacher by trade, an author at heart, it only took a global pandemic for me to start writing my first novel. Along the way, I found a love for creating shorter fiction which I share on this site along with some updates and (hopefully) useful writing tips.

I hope you have a... pleasant time reading.

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