This is where it will become obvious that I’m a planner (ie I plan before I start to write), not a freefaller (ie someone who just sits down and writes without any idea of where it’s going to go). However, this is something that I think would be helpful for freefallers as well, so give it a go.
After I’ve done my characters, I’ve usually got some thoughts about how the idea I’ve had is going to develop. At this stage, I’ll sit down and do some brainstorming about possible outcomes for the story. Nothing too detailed, just general thoughts. Who’s going to win? What growth is my main character going to go through? What’s going to propel them forward in search of whatever it is they’re looking for (and therefore, propel the book forward)? What will they have to overcome and why? I may not have a very specific idea of what will actually happen, but I’ll have a general feeling for what kind of resolution there’ll be.
You can see from the above that my stories are character driven, but the same works for plot driven books too. In fact, maybe you have an even clearer idea of where things are going to end and how.
Once I’ve got my end of the story, I then think about where my character is at the beginning of the story. Are they happy or are they restless? Why? What do they value in life? What have they got to lose? This gives me the two ends of the story.
The next question I think about is: how does my character get from the beginning to the end? My character details will help with this, because some of the key events will fall out of who they are. I tend to think of story developing in a ‘things get worse’ way, that the protagonist has to go through the wringer before coming out at the end. Each key event is followed by a lull before the next event to give everyone a rest, but each event is followed by another that makes things more difficult for the protagonist.
And that gives me the main plot events. These aren’t very detailed at this stage, just a sentence long. I like to keep them brief, because then I can maintain maximum flexibility for my writing. It also doesn’t mean that I’m locked into this structure. It just means that I don’t panic about drifting and not having a story. When I actually start writing, I tend to put this away and only look at it every now and then. Sometimes I find I’ve missed something important but I’ve discovered it just in time to redirect. Sometimes I decide whatever it is I’ve missed isn’t important or the story has led me to something better, and I may redo my story arc. I can have flexibility provided I don’t tie myself into my plan too much. I still get that edge from the unexpected and the unknown.