You started writing a story last night. Your character (we’ll call him Jorge) is taking a train to Washington, D.C. When he finally makes it to Washington, he meets the president face-to-face and shakes hands with him. He later goes to a flower shop and buys some roses for his wife back in Houston, TX. He spends the rest of his time in Washington staying at a hotel and watching different programs on his TV day-after-day. By the end of the week, his train returns to take him back to his home state. While on the ride, he pulls out a pair of earphones he bought while in Washington to listen to some music. -The End.
But there’s something wrong with this story, isn’t there? All Jorge does is go to Washington, chills and buys some flowers for a character we only hear about, but never see. And what point did him shaking hands with the president serve anyway? The story doesn’t know where to go, and it needs a plot.
For those of you who haven’t heard of it before (trust me if you’re new to writing, you may not know what it is), the plot is what sets your story in motion; gives it reason for being. There are further specifics for it as I found in one article I stumbled on (and the Creative Writing Now website is a decently straightforward guide for writers). (Chapter 4 of a book out there called “Fiction Writer’s Workshop” by Josip Novakovich also explains plot–and there are some reasonable prices for it on Amazon if you wish to buy it for further guidance in your writing career.)
After reading the article I’ve mentioned (or Ch. 4 of Novakovich’s book, if you have access to it), you’re probably overwhelmed by all the details of plotting (and it can be overwhelming if you haven’t heard of it before). But to summarize, all you really need are these basic ingredients for a plot–and for the plot to work:
1. A vulnerable, main character (though I’m not saying go over-the-top with making them a weakling–but they should have some weakness, even a flaw, that makes the goal they want to achieve… well, hard to achieve). After all, even a flame can’t stand to water.
2. (Though I forgot to mention this in my video), there needs to be an exterior weakness as well (i.e. a villain who is thwarting the protagonist’s goals–and this doesn’t have to be a physical, living being; it could even be a disease spreading throughout their hometown, or a natural disaster that strikes when they least expect it–so long as the disaster somehow adversely affects the protagonist’s goals and doesn’t just give the ground they stand on a shake-up to spook them. What’s the point in that?
3. Challenges! Challenges… and more challenges! Wow! That’s a lot of challenges for your character to face–but the more, the better. Seeing how they overcome obstacles and other problems is the thrill that comes with reading your story. (Just don’t make them that wealthy king who will cry in his crown if he loses his followers. Suck it up, your highness.)
But what about that final question I haven’t answered: will the protagonist get what they want in the end or not?
That’s for you to decide. You know your character(s) better than I do. You know what they do in different situations and how their course of action will either positively or negatively affect them. These factors (and the others I’ve mentioned) will all determine whether or not your hero has that “happy” ending. (But even happy endings come at a price, and your character should definitely have lost something along the way that makes their happy ending more bittersweet than anything else.) I learned that from Chapter 4 of a book called Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us (author: Jessica Page Morrell). I’d definitely recommend buying her book / renting it / etc. as she is very well-versed in advice on making your creative writing a success.