The Puzzle Framework Part 1: Figuring Out What You Have

Posted May 10, 2017 by Pamela Nicole in Writing / 2 Comments


Not so long ago, I shared this part with you already. I put together a workbook that focused on developing the four pillars of a story: Character, Setting, Plot, and Theme.

It was a means to keep all that information super organized and ready to pluck for when you needed it to advance in your story planning process.

Because this step is so instinctive, it’s easy to take for granted. I don’t want you to take anything for granted when we’re speaking about your story.

Best case scenario: You are in the middle of writing, and your’re still figuring out details that turns out you needed to have defined earlier on so you can properly foreshadow them. So you kind of have to go back and fix everything.

Worst case scenario: You don’t notice, somehow book gets published (Congrats!) and readers DO notice. Oops.

My writing always existed in an eternal best case scenario. I would write. Then I would learn something new about the craft and have to go back to add it and just… rethink the whole thing.

This went on for almost seven years, with different projects. Like I discussed in another post, I’m grateful for all those years because they were years of learning to do things better, and now it’s paid off and I can share some stuff with you!


Figuring out the main things early on is a BIG help

From the no-brainers like characters to the deep stuff like what you want your readers to feel when they read your story. It’ll help you ground yourself and know exactly where you want this to go.

I admit it’s not always possible to figure out everything.

Some things just pop up as you go. And it’s fun! Because the story keeps surprising you and it almost feels like it’s alive and it can write itself (WE WISH).


What you need to ask yourself about your characters

  1. What misconception does my character have about himself or the world?
  2. What does he or she want more than anything?
  3. How can I make this misconception really mess with my character’s goal and keep him from achieving it?
  4. What does my character fear the most?
  5. The 3 main qualities that define my character at the beginning
  6. The 3 main qualities that define my character in the end

Rinse and repeat for every major character

Tip: Start with your antagonist

Take it one step further. Do it with all the characters major and minor. Every detail doesn’t have to be in the story, but all of them are people, and it will help to see them as such, especially minor characters, which often come out as stereotypes or mere plot devices. This way you’ll remember that each of them has their own problems.


What you need to ask yourself about your setting

  1. Where does this story take place?
  2. How is this place run? Is it a monarchy/democracy/dictatorship?
  3. How do social classes work?
  4. How did this society came to be?
  5. Relevant traditions
  6. Common expressions
  7. What does this society value the most?
  8. Currency

Tip: Consider creating a Pinterest board for:

  • How people dress
  • The food
  • Houses
  • Transportation and,
  • geography

I think it works better to be visual about those things than just describing it. Because when you get to actual describing them in the story it will be much easier.


What you need to ask yourself about your plot

  1. What is this character’s life like when the story begins?
  2. What event can take place that will disrupt their precious routine?
  3. What major information will the character need to be able to solve the conflict, or at least start making some headway towards its solution?
  4. What is the absolutely worst thing that could happen to your character?


What you need to ask yourself about your theme

  1. How do you want people to feel after reading your story?
  2. How can they relate with your characters’ journey?
  3. How is your setting similar to the world we live in?


Less is more when you begin

I believe in knowing as much as we can about our stories, but also in reducing the overwhelm. That’s why each time I begin a new project (Which happens much more often than it should), I go through this little recon mission first.


My personal favorite thing to be prepared for is theme. I didn’t use to give it much thought with my stories, but now it’s such an important part of their development!

Tomorrow we’ll continue to the next part of puzzling out stories: Arranging the pieces.

(Edit 5/15/17: Yeah, tomorrow turned out to be in a couple of days. I had some things to prepare and the next posts needed touching up so I decided to wait a bit to have it complete instead of publishing them just like that. It will come soon, so don’t worry!)

Now, curiosity time. How do you guys develop your story at the beginning? Do you use notebooks to write ideas? Do you do questionaires? Or do you just write and see what happens?


Hi, I’m Pamela, your curly-haired bookdragon friend, here to talk about books, writing, introversion, and everything creativity! I also teach creative writing through workshops and online courses to spanish-speaking writers.

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2 responses to “The Puzzle Framework Part 1: Figuring Out What You Have

  1. Your blog posts are always SO inspiring, Pam! 🙂
    I do try to write a bit about my setting and my characters but since I’ve been working on my story for a while now, I feel like I know them very well and don’t take too much notes anymore – I write the story and craft the details as I am going on 🙂