I mentioned in a previous post that you have to decide what your main character wants and that that is the problem of the story, what your main character wants. So, this is the first thing you have to decide because that problem will drive the plot. What the main character wants should be so important that her happiness depends on it, and the consequences of failure to achieve this goal should be serious. It is important, too, that you understand what motivates her to seek this goal. Strong motives make for strong stories.
The three basic human motivations that you will draw on are: Life, Love, and Power. The life urge is the drive for survival, for self-preservation. Love, of course, is a strong motivation for all of us. The desire for power can be used for good or ill. But, whatever your character’s motivation, make sure your readers understand that these motives are driving your main character. The same can be said for the antagonist, as well. The reader must see what motivates her to fight against your protagonist.
Once you know the problem of your story, you can begin to construct it. This is the plot. Begin by looking at your characters and their relationship to one another and their various roles in the story. Remember in my post entitled “The Other Characters,” how I talked about Christopher Vogler’s explanation of archetypes, or recurring character types, in literature?
1. Think about your characters now to see how they fit into these archetypal roles. This will help you in planning what will happen in your novel.
2. Think now about the antagonist. You know your protagonist’s goal, so how does the antagonist prevent her from getting what she wants?
3. Then, what does the protagonist do about this obstacle? It will be her doing something about this situation that starts the action of your story.
4. What are the results of this action? The main character should struggle here.
5. What do these struggles lead to? This is the point where things just can’t get any worse for your main character.
6. What is the climax? At this point, your main character must decide which way she will go. This is the big moment of decision.
7. Does the main character accomplish her goal, or is she defeated?
Once you’v answered these questions, you will have the basic outline of your plot.
Now that you have this rudimentary outline, it’s time to write a brief synopsis of your story. Put down a general account of what happens, from the opening scene all the way to the end. It might go something like this:
Kelly Harris arranges to pay for guitar lessons by working in Bandolino’s Guitar Store in San Francisco. Then her father announces that the family will be moving to Dallas. Kelly is distraught — all her plans are ruined. Also, her father does not approve of her playing guitar when she trained as a classical pianist. He tells her he won’t pay for guitar lessons in Dallas.
Kellly talks it over with Mr. Bandolino who tells her of an excellent theater arts high school in Dallas — a public school with enrollment limited by auditions.
When Kelly arrives at the school, she runs into five other potential students, all competing for the same slot. Because she’s from out of town, they all make fun of her, shaking her confidence….etc.
Now, read your synopsis. Does it work for you, each part of it? Take time to consider any changes you want to make, and add ideas as they come to you. You’ll probably end up making lots of changes — this first synopsis is definitely not written in stone!