It’s getting started that’s the most daunting. Here are five steps that will help you work out your plot:
1: Write a two-sentence summary of the story.
The first sentence should include the protagonist and the conflict . For example the first sentence might be: “A retired school teacher takes on a gang ruining the school he’d proudly built into a center of excellence.”
Normally this is the extent of a logline. For this purpose I suggest adding a sentence that gives more information about the conflict and reveals the outcome. This could be: “When lawful methods fail, he resorts to violence that ends in his death but motivates the community to join together to drive out the gang.”
2: Brainstorm about all the key elements of your summary.
You can put your thoughts into a mind map or onto index cards.
• What ideas come up about your protagonist? Why does he care so much about this school even after he’s not working there any more? What is his background? What is his life like now?
• What’s the nature of the opposition—the gang? Why is this school important to them? Who leads the gang? What makes him or her tick?
• What are some possible escalations of the conflict? What would a teacher try first? Second? Third? What could push him over the line into violence?
Don’t stop at your first good answer to each of these. Jot down alternatives. Try not to judge your ideas, just make sure to record them.
Go through all the raw ideas you came up with in step two and cross out or put aside the ones that won’t work or are too familiar.
4: Use the remaining elements to construct a rough outline.
It may be useful to employ a simple three-act structure: beginning, middle, end.
5: Start writing when you’re happy with the outline.
Some writers like to go from a very rough outline to starting to write the script. Others prefer to refine the outline until they have all the building blocks in place.
Often I will start writing with only a very rough outline, until I get to about a quarter of the way through the script and then stop to outline the rest of the story in greater detail.
Experiment with what works best for you, and use this method of breaking down the process into small steps to help you keep going.