I don’t know how many writers or would-be-writers I have here, but I’m going to pass on a very simple lesson that I learned from the late, great Algis Budrys at Writers Of The Future. Because while hardly any new writers need “an idea” as earlier discussed, many need to know what to do with that idea. So here is a plot structure that intrinsically works:
At least one protagonist.
At least one problem (and this is important) solvable by the protagonist!
Step 1: The protagonist encounters the problem. This is generally your hook. If this is a long-standing problem (like, say, the protagonist has a terminally-ill child and has had for years) then the problem must become immediate.
Step 2: The protagonist attempts to solve the problem using a reasonable amount of intelligence and the resources available.
Step 3: The protagonist fails. Ideally, the protagonist fails in a way that costs him something, or makes the situation worse, or reveals something to her about the nature of the problem.
Step 4: The protagonist attempts to solve the problem using what he has learned the first time to bring more resources to bear.
Step 5: She fails again, more severely or learning more.
Step 6: The crisis is now imminent. The character is out of some resource (this may include time) necessary to solve the problem. She throws everything valuable to her at solving the problem, knowing there will be no other chances.
Step 7: The character triumphs against great odds. Or, if the story is a tragedy, she may fail. Note that the character losing his life does not necessarily count as failure.
This formula gets you a functional story.
At this point, some objections may occur to you, such as:
That’s not the only way to write a story!
You are right. I never said it was.
Fiction is more than a formula!
Of course it is. And people are more than skeletons. Nevertheless, people work very BADLY without skeletons, or with incomplete or damaged skeletons.
Wouldn’t that make all stories the same?
Again, only in the sense that having practically the same skeleton as most other people means that YOU are qualitatively “the same” as all other people. In other words, not at all.
In any case, that concludes the brief lesson. For many of you, it won’t be necessary, but it was valuable to me when I read it, and in that spirit, I pass it on.