Writer's Workshop #2: Story Mapping

Welcome to Storybird’s second Writer’s Workshop. In our first video, we talked about character development—how to figure out who your characters are, understand what motivates them, and decide what they want and what stands in their way.

Your next challenge is to figure out how, exactly, these characters are going to get past those obstacles. In today’s Writer’s Workshop, you will learn how to use a Story Map to take your story from “Once upon a time” all the way through to “The end.” Story Mapping is an exercise that can help you lay out the plot of your story and guide your writing as you go.

Watch the video below to learn all about Story Mapping, and download the worksheet to help you get started. If you can’t access the video, you can read the full text below.

The Beginning

Every story, whether it’s a romance, sci-fi thriller, or picture book, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. At the beginning, you’ll introduce the main character, or characters, and give a little backstory. This history helps your reader understand where this character is coming from, or what events happened in the past leading up to your story. In writing classes, this is sometimes called the exposition.

You will also need to set the stage: does your story take place in the past, present, or future? Is it an imaginary world or the one we live in? Will there be magic involved, do people have special powers or do real world rules apply? This is what’s called the setting, and it’s an important starting point because it explains where your story begins and prepares the reader for the coming action.

The Middle

After you’ve gotten the reader oriented, there is typically some sort of conflict that sets off a chain of events and starts the action moving. Think of this part of your story map as a mountain rising out of the ground. The tension in your story should build as you get farther along and closer to the peak, or climax, of your story.

One of the most famous writers in history, Dante Alighieri, believed that three was a divine number. When you start looking closely, you’ll discover that The Rule of 3 comes up a lot in storytelling, from fairytales to movies: The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Musketeers…

Our brains love the rhythm and simplicity of patterns of three: It’s why it’s so easy to remember “Stop, drop, and roll,” or “Rock, paper, scissors.” When you’re writing, it can be helpful to think of the action or events in your story happening in threes:

    • The little pigs build a house of straw, a house of sticks, and a house of bricks.
    • The porridge is too hot, too cold, and just right.
    • Cinderella goes to the ball, loses the slipper, then gets the Prince.

A lot of other things can happen, and there can be bumps in the road or twists along the way, but if you can sketch out three main events on your story map, you’ll keep the action moving and your readers engaged.

The End

In every story there’s a turning point. The action builds and the tension grows, and then you reach a deciding moment that changes everything.
    • The glass slipper fits.
    • Harry Potter faces Voldemort.
    • The brick house remains standing.

You’ve reached the top of your mountain, and everything that follows is what’s called Falling Action. This is where you win the battle and send everyone home. Characters who have been on a journey return. Captured prisoners are released. Long-lost family members are reunited and everyone lives happily ever after.

However, a good story takes the time to resolve conflict and tie up loose ends. The main character should have learned something along the way and grown as a person. Hopefully, he or she sees the world with new perspective at the end of the adventure. And if a good story provides resolution, an even better story leaves room for the reader’s imagination to take over after the story ends.

If you’re an avid reader, I’m sure you’ve had the experience of closing a book and not being able to get the characters out of your head. You keep thinking about where they are now, what they might be doing, or what will happen next in their world. They’re like old friends that you can’t wait to see again, and it’s why we love sequels so much—but only if they live up to the previous book.

Ready to begin your story map? Download the Story Mapping Worksheet and begin to map out the plot of your story. Think about the beginning, middle, and end, and what needs to happen to get your characters up and over that mountain. Use The Rule of 3’s to keep your readers on the edge of their seats, but make sure to satisfy them with some kind of resolution at the end of your story.

Happy Writing, and we’ll see you back here next week with a new roundup and writing prompt!

Click here to see all of the Summer Writing Club posts and Story Sparks

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