Whether you’re a Planner or Pantser (or Architect or Gardener), you still need to have a super basic plot as a starting point to your story. Yes. Yes, you do. I’m not saying you have to outline your story, but you need to at least know the following:
- Who is your main character (MC)?
- What do they want?
To make this as simple as possible, try using “The 7 Whys” method. I promise, it’s as easy as it sounds.
Just as a fun fact, when I was a kid, I was in the Gifted & Talented (GT) program at school. This is not a brag. It was more awful than awesome. (Ask me sometime about the teacher who kept calling me out of other teachers’ classes to scratch her back.) 4/10 stars, do not recommend. This was where I was first introduced to The 7 Whys – but it wasn’t for writing stories. Our teacher asked us, “Why are you in the Gifted & Talented class?”
Spoiler alert: every single one of us ended the exercise with the following answer: “So I don’t die.” We were a bunch of horribly morbid 8 year olds, apparently. But if you were a GT student, you totally get it. I see you.
Okay, so if you’re planning to write a story, you probably have some idea of a main character and their want or need. Jot that down as a statement (or type it or etch it into clay, your choice). Then start the process of The 7 Whys. Sometimes, a simple “Why?” doesn’t cut it – you might need to ask a more clarifying question like “Why does that matter?” or “Why haven’t they already done that?”
Ready to see it in action? Of COURSE you are!
Step 1: Identify your MC and a need.
To start this example, I asked two different people in line with me at Subway for lunch (yes, I really did) for suggestions. So I am using the following:
- MC: a sandwich artist
- Need: a boyfriend
Note: no sandwich artists were offended during this process.
Step 2: Create your problem statement.
Given the points above, writing a problem statement is super easy.
“A sandwich artist needs a boyfriend.”
Step 3: Ask your 7 Whys.
Don’t be afraid to answer your Whys in creative ways. Your imagination is your only limit! And remember that your Whys may need a bit of clarification to them. Your brainstorming may look a little like this:
A sandwich artist needs a boyfriend.
She was invited to her ex’s wedding, and she obviously can’t show up alone.
If she shows up without a boyfriend, her ex will know she’s sad and lonely.
WHY does that matter?
Her ex has always been the competitive type, and he will think he’s won if he’s getting married while she is still single.
WHY doesn’t she already have a boyfriend?
She has major trust issues with dating because this particular ex cheated on her with her estranged sister.
WHY is she going to his wedding then?
The MC was actually invited by her sister because she’s family, but it’s a thinly veiled excuse for them both to rub their relationship in her face.
WHY would they do that kind of thing?
The ex is a horrible human being who likes dragging other people down to make himself feel better. The sister is holding a grudge because one of her high school exes dumped her for the MC – but the main character, of course, never dated that person.
WHY does all history this matter?
One of the main challenges for the MC in getting a boyfriend is her poor experience with men in the past. She will need to overcome this AND not succumb to her ex’s and her sister’s horrible intentions.
Step 4: Yay, you have a plot!
At this point, you have a pretty good idea what the storyline will look like without plotting out specifics. If you’re a Plotter/Architect, this is a decent springboard to start your outline. If you’re a Pantser/Gardener, then you have a direction and off you go!
You’ll also have a tentative grasp on your genre. The outline above is clearly pushing towards a romance, but if that’s not your thing, you can always consider how the plot can be adjusted to match a genre of your preference.
And if you hate what you’ve come up with, just change one of the answers to a Why. That will create a domino effect for the subsequent Whys, and your plot might change entirely.
If you’re ever at a loss for a starting MC and/or need, feel free to reach out. I’m always happy to come up with random suggestions.
Photos in this post are by Marcos Paulo Prado and Andre Hunter on Unsplash.
1 thought on “Using “The 7 Whys” to Develop a Plot (With an Example!)”
Excellent approach! You make it seem so easy…thank you!