Here is an edited version of my Plot Guide (I've stripped out the superhero references as usual <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />). It still reads a little oddly at points for a general guide, but the principles are basically the same. Hopefully it will be useful to you <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />
Constructing The Plot
These are the questions I ask myself when I am constructing a plot:
1) What Is The Point Of Contention?
What is the prize? What are the protagonists seeking to achieve? This might be anything from 'a quiet night' to 'acquiring a mystic artifact'. Or anything else, really... What are the basic motivations that actuate the plot? Who or what is the prime mover?
This is the basic concept of the arc, and can usually be expressed as a short phrase, such as 'Earthquake in Brazil' or 'Out on a date' or 'Invasion of Earth'.
2) Is there a villain? What are they after?
If so, what are his motives? What does he hope to achieve? Are his goals the same as the heroes, or different? If the villain is not the motivator behind the arc, how does he come into it? Is there more than one villain? If so, are they working together or against each other?
3) Who is the Villain?
Are they interesting? Will they be a challenge to the heroes? Are they an ideological challenge as well as a physical one? Can they be portrayed as a realistic threat? Are they too powerful? If so, is there any way to even the odds that will work naturally within the context of the story?
4) Why is the villain there?
Far more important than who the villain is, is why they are active within the particular story you are writing. What do they hope to gain? Why are they risking their life and/or freedom? Many stories fail simply because the writer has not considered this question.
5) Why are the heroes there?
What draws them into this adventure in the first place? Heroes are generally more reactive than villains, so this one is usually easier, but should not be taken for granted regardless. Coincidence should be avoided wherever possible...
6) Does the villain know about the heroes?
If so, how has s/he allowed for them? If not, how will s/he react on encountering them? Does the villain have any past history with the heroes, or other sources of knowledge? How well will s/he know the heroes?
7) Do the heroes know about the villain?
As above, but opposite perspective.
8) How do the heroes win?
Vital to know before you even begin. If this one isn't plausible, your whole story is dead. Note that the heroes do not have to win every time. Simply surviving can sometimes be accounted a great victory.
9) How badly is the villain beaten?
A heavy defeat lowers credibility for the future. This is bad. A good villain should always salvage something, if only the knowledge that the heroes took a right beating in order to stop him.
A villain that is nowhere near the heroes' class, and is only being beaten up for information or equipment may be beaten as easily as desired.
10) Does the internal logic of the whole plot hang together?
Will the characters logically react in the way that you need them to? Will the villain? A good plot is always driven by the characters, not by the requirements of the plot. If the heroes are to be captured, why? Why does the villain not kill them?
If any part of the logic fails to convince when tested from all angles, the story must be either amended or thrown away, and a new beginning made.
11) What is the point of this story?
Why am I telling this story with these characters? What, if anything, will the characters gain? Will the reader learn anything new about them? Is this a new story, or just a rehash of something else? Is the story sufficiently challenging for the characters? Will it be entertaining for any readers?
12) Actions Have Consequences
Always remember, if you intend to tell more stories with the same characters, that what you have written will impact their world.
If one of your characters makes an enemy, that enemy may later seek revenge. If your cast quarrel badly, they should not magically become friends again between stories.
Always consider the ramifications of your plot upon all the subplots you are developing and the direction of your overall story.
Failure to do so will damage not only the integrity of your world, but also the credibility of your characters.
When you have answered all of those questions, you can then create a basic framework, laying out each chapter in terms of the things you need to cover with it. The real trick here is creating something your characters can move about in without wanting to move outside of. A good character will change some things as you write them, but a good plotter allows sufficient wiggle room for the character to do that <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />
Hope this helps <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />
If you are interested, I will post one of my completed plot synopses as a general example of how this process actually looks when it is put into practice...