Good day! How do you feel? Is your story starting to take shape in your mind? Does it feel like something real that you can make progress on now? Let's recap where we are.
You have a central theme
You have developed your main character
You have a handle on the setting and time period
You have given some thought to what voice and point of view you are going to write from
You are ready to build the plot.
Let's go over the basics of a plot so that you can start an outline. But even before that, here is the disclaimer: Every writer has their own process, method, and order. No matter what anyone told you in high school English, the creative process is unique to the creator. The one constant, however, is that whatever you first write down will inevitably be a draft. That is to say, don't overthink your first version or you will never finish it. You have to put words on paper. You can edit, rewrite, cut, add, and amend later. But for your story to take shape, you have to commit to begin writing.
Pro Tip" Write SOMETHING every day. Even if it is only 10 or 15 minutes, it will prevent you from falling out of the habit entirely and leaving a pile of unfinished works in your hard drive for eternity.
Every plot has a beginning middle and end. The beginning is where you establish the characters/setting and begin to introduce a "problem" or conflict. The middle is rising action or tension with regard to the conflict. The end is where the problem is resolved for better or worse (with the exception of the infuriating cliff-hanger). This who cycle is commonly referred to as the "arc" because it builds and then recedes indicating the shape of well..and arc. You will want to commit to a conflict and resolution early on. In the case of the short story, this will be a tight, highly structured arc. In longer works, the writer and spend more time meandering through this arc and even add additional smaller arcs within the larger plot. The same holds true for business or non-fiction works. It may not seem evident, but sales, advice, encouragement - all books have to contain an arc in order to hold the reader's interest. Below is a good graphic from narratext.com for those who are visual learners:
This graphic shows the progression of the arc for both fiction and non-fiction works. Just FYI, a denouement is the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.
Let's look at some examples across genres that you may be familiar with.
In Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (Theater Drama) the plot is structured: Star crossed lovers meet >>>> Discover family enmity and are forbidden to see each other(conflict) >>>>A plan is hatched to bring them together (rising action) >>>> plan goes terribly wrong>>>> Double suicide(resolution).
In Becoming by Michelle Obama (Autobiography) the plot is structured: Young Michelle's personality and grit is formed from her childhood >>>> with all of her ambition and intelligence she gains monetary success but loses her sense of self (conflict) >>>> she leaves corporate law and pursues a passion that ties back into her roots (rising action) >>>> She finds a success that allows her to also be her authentic self (resolution). Wrapped up in that work is the love story of Barack and Michelle (separate arc).
In Aleena's Scarf by Bird Collier (Moi) (Children's Book): Jamal is just out to enjoy recess but he doesn't know anyone >>>>He encounters a young girl that is also alone but she is dealing with emotional turmoil (conflict) >>>> Jamal helps her work through her feelings (rising actions) >>>> This results in Jamal making a new friend and enjoying recess with his new friend (resolution). Aleena has her own story arc within that arc.
Even most poem follows this basic structure. One of my favorite poets, Nayyirah Waheed, is a master of creating a full arc in very few words. Here are a few of her pieces
You haven't felt yet.
give them time.
they are almost here.
-fresh Nayyirah Waheed
You broke the ocean in
half to be here
only to meet nothing that wants you.
-immigrant Nayyirah Waheed
In just a few lines we experience tension, a short journey, a conclusion or resolution.
Now it is time for you to draft out your own arc. Take your time. The story will grow and blossom within this outline. You can take as many twists and turns as you like within the arc. You just need the four corners to keep you from veering off down dead-end word-heavy digressions.
Here is a more involved template that you may find helpful. If you need help jump into the Writer's Forum and ask away!
Pro Tip: Maintain the tension from the conflict for as long as possible. The need to discover how the tension is resolved is what spurs the reader on and maintains their interest.
Pro Tip: The main character does not always have to be the protagonist. In fact, making the main character hard to root for at times ads a feeling of authenticity and elevates the reader experience.