By Kasie Whitener
Most writing teachers suggest plotting your story by asking yourself, "What does this character want?"
If you're like me, you back into these analyses. I'm a pantser. I just write the story as it comes to me. Only afterward am I able to discern what exactly the character wants and what he's willing to do to get it.
So if that's the case, if you're not going to be able to answer those two crucial questions until the 4th draft (like me) then how do you plot the story without knowing the desired outcome?
You can use a basic map:
The Introduction sets the scene. Who is our protagonist and what are her current circumstances? What is different about right now in this person's life? Why didn't we start reading about her three days ago?
Turning Point 1 is the inciting incident. Maybe she's a reporter and she's just received an anonymous tip. What is the tip? Why was she chosen? What does she have to do now that she knows this tip information?
Turning Point 2 complicates the protagonist's journey. She's been in pursuit of something but now the stakes are higher. Maybe following this tip has put her at a conflict with her employer. Maybe she realizes she cannot trust her boss or his advice.
Turning Point 3 is the point of no return. It's here that our character either has the courage to plow ahead regardless of the consequences or where she tries to back track and undo what's already been done. Nothing can be the same after this point and some of the most engaging stories are where the protagonist realizes this too late.
The Climax is where the protagonist must make a permanent change in herself in order to move forward. She must choose either change and victory or cowardice and defeat. Characters who give up, drop out, or refuse to complete their quest are frustrating but they're real. It does not lessen the drama for the character to fail.
Finally, the Aftermath of our protagonist's choice. What fall out is expected and what actually occurs? Is there a happily-ever-after to be lived?
Plot is like a roller coaster that saves the biggest thrill for last.
Begin with a small hill, a small turn, maybe an upside-down or a corkscrew, but then a climb, always a climb, and a freefall to the bottom. Out of control and exhilarating, the plunge should feel like a payoff.
As a reader, if you've hung with this character through turning point choices, you are invested in the outcome. As a writer, reward your readers for hanging in there with an aftermath that satisfies.