Not every story writer is a plotter. I wasn’t until I began to struggle to keep track of complex story elements. Plotting your story can be an arduous task. Still, if the idea of writing out a hundred scene cards or even following the hero’s journey, makes you want to have your nails ripped out, maybe a simple plot planner is for you. I can speak from experience, a little forethought can save you from a lot of confusion and discouragement.

The first step when designing a plot planner (Clothesline Planner), is to decide on the opening scene, inciting incident and climatic scenes. Your opening scene may show the character in his ordinary world–how things are before the events of his story change. The first step might open on the inciting incident–the event that either puts the external goal for the story in front of the character. The climatic scene is where your hero will face the antagonist  on the page. It’s the BIG scene at the end everyone is reading toward.

Once you have these three scenes you will be at stage 1 of your clothesline. If you are really anti-plot, you can stop here and still be better off than you were without plotting at all.

In stage 2, you add your mid-point/point of no return. The mid-point is where things change so drastically the hero can not go back to that ordinary world even if he wants to. He HAS to go forward.

It can also almost be as if a new story is starting at this point. The character’s fear will be the same, and he still won’t have his core need met, but his external goal may change or his method for getting to that external goal may change so drastically it is like a new story in many way. The mid-point needs to be a BIG shift in direction for your hero. If there is no turning point here, the book will have a  sagging middle.

In stage 3 we add a scene where the protagonist (your hero) engages and a dark moment. It can be tempting when writing a book to let events push your hero along. Bad things happen to him; he reacts. Isn’t that enough? No, it isn’t. Strangely, this too makes for a boring read.

So in the first quarter to third of your book, your hero needs to engage. He needs to say “I’m going to do something about this.” Think of a scene where your protagonist does this and put it in between the inciting incident and the mid-point to prop that little sag there up. Then go to the end. You have this beautiful climax all thought out and you can’t wait to get your hero to that point. But if he gets there too easily, your reader just won’t care.

The dark moment is the place where your character thinks everything is lost–where there is no way he can win this fight. Let us see him suffer. Then kick him in the pants and make him realize he CAN win. He is a proactive protagonist after all. He is just going to have to give up something that up until this point he didn’t think he could stand to lose. And once he makes that decision, he is off and running again.