In ten simple steps, you too can plot like a Grim.
1. Get an idea
This can be a brief snippet of dialogue. Or an ending that just seems perfect. Sometimes it's just the concept of what I'd like to see a character go through. I write that down. Usually it doesn't see the cold light of day for at least a couple months, but when I've thought about it long enough and can't seem to get the idea out of my head, that's when I sit down and start plotting things out a bit.
2. Work out the basic plot
Now that I've got the idea, I need to work out the basic details. But how do I do that? Well, I write it down. Then I think about the different angles to get to that idea. I write those down. If it's dialogue, who's talking? What do they feel? Who are they talking to? If it's a snippet of a scene, who's in the scene? Why are they there? What are they doing? What's going on outside of that scene?
From there, I construct the basics of a story. The beginning, the conflict, major arc of events, the climax and finally the conclusion. Just brief details, nothing massively plotted. At least, not just yet.
And that's the bare bones of the story. Honestly, one could technically start writing from this, but I don't. Not even close.
3. Create the characters
With the story basics written down, I now need to populate the story with characters. I start with the main character/hero, antagonist/villain/obstacle to overcome, and then move to the secondary characters (sidekicks, evil minions).
The main character gets the most attention, and is given at the very least a back story/history. I need to know how they got to the start of the story. Same goes for the antagonist. Once I know every dirty little detail about them, I move onto the secondary characters.
They don't get the same amount of attention, but I figure out the basics (how they look and where they're from). There's no need to go into grand detail unless it's something that's important to the plot.
4. Plot Sheets!
First things first. Before getting into too much detail, I write down what I already know and have plotted. Each scene getting it's own sheet. Then they're arranged chronologically. Knowing how I want the story to progress, I start filling in the blanks.
Many times, I'll plot out scenes that I later cut, but at this point, I'm trying to get the story down on paper. My sheets include the characters that are in the scene, the mood of the scene, significance of the scene, obviously what happens, as well as any vital information received.
The mood allows me to put the characters into a proper frame of mind when I sit down the write the scene later. The significance is necessary, because if I can't come up with one, the scene is obviously not needed. It also helps later on when I need to cut scenes out. Finally the vital information can be anything. It can be the main character's realization on why they want to fight the antagonist or the key to a puzzle he couldn't figure out. Sometimes there only one bit of information I put here but other times there's a short list. It all depends on the scene.
5. Can't forget the character sheets
This is actually something I do while I'm filling out plot sheets. It's easy enough to fill in the information I already know about my characters, but as I work through the plot, I often change things about my characters to make it better suit the story. I could go into a long winded explanation on how I fill in characters sheets, but it's a whole lot easier to just point you in the direction of my Guide on using them.
6. Figure out what drives the characters
In other words, what motivates your characters to do the things that they do? Because without motivation, there really isn't a story. Unlike Character Sheets, the motivational sheets need to be filled out with as much detail as possible.
Obviously, I don't fill one of these out for every
character. The main character, antagonist and some secondary characters each get a sheet. At this point, if I can't come up with a strong enough reason for my main character to go through the trials of the story, then I need to go back and rethink my plot.
7. Research – No way around it
It has to be done. There is always some aspect of a story that I don't have personal knowledge to back up my writing. That's when I hit the library and nag a couple librarians for a few hours. If I'm writing in a period piece, I need to learn social norms for that time, dress, linguistics, etcetera. And I absolutely refuse to rely on Wikipedia. It just doesn't have all the answers. I take my laptop and phone to the library. If I'm not checking the books out to take home and scan, I'll grab a picture of a couple pages, or jot down notes in a word document.
If I'm unable to find the information I need at the library (which has happened, not everything can be found in a book), then I start looking at professionals. I'll contact college professors, or call up a local group/club/business that's an expert in the field. If I need to find out the ins and outs of horses and how a stable runs, I'm not going to get the correct knowledge from a book, but a local farm is the perfect place to start. Just remember to be courteous. They're doing you a favor.
8. Grab References for EVERYTHING
Now that I've got the plot and characters hammered out, and I have all my research done. I need to start building the world and it's people. Hunting down visual references is fun, but tedious. Using dA, stock image sites, and even Google, I start collecting character references. I want to have a set of pictures I can rely on to bring me back to that character. What they look like. What clothes they wear. Even references for how they'd interact with other characters or how they'd hold their cigarette. Maybe they have a special piece of jewelery that is crucial to the plot and I'll need to recall it quite often. Hair styles are a big one too. Especially for female characters that might change their style throughout the story.
Along with characters I also want references for the places in my story. Images that at a quick glance I can set myself inside that room and start writing about it. Maps also come in handy here. A map of the town, the layout of an often used building or an entire world map may be required if you're writing an epic fantasy.
9. Build the Binders
I have three binders for every lengthy story I write. One each for characters, plot and places. It keeps me organized and is an easy reference when I need to check on something. I use binders mainly because they can be rearranged a lot easier than computer files. Once again, I have guide already written on how to build your binders.
10. Start Writing