You've got a brilliant idea bouncing around in your mind for a story, but now you've got to write it. Suddenly, a rush of fear and lack of knowledge hits you, right? Well never fear! Like most things, there is a formula to starting a story. The first thing that any writer will tell you, before you actually start the story, is to make up a plot.
Now, I've heard so many novice writers say "Well I don't want to plan the whole book out, because I want it to be a creative endevour without the restrictions of a plan." I can tell you from experience that this is a really bad idea! When you have no plan you don't know where you're going, and often it leads to the writer's block, the opposite of what you want.
Imagine this, a contracter -let's call him Bob T. Builder- is building a house for himself, and he wants his creativity to really show in the finished product. Bob doesn't make any blueprints, or plans, but instead picks up some lumber and starts building, so to really let his creativity shine through. Halfway through the project he realises that he wants his house to have a basement, but Bob's got a problem, the first level is already built. Now to draw the parallels between writing a story without a plot line, and Bob's little story. When you begin writing without a plan, like Bob began building without blueprints, you run into the inevidable problem of changing your mind. Let's say you decide that your protaganist needs a sidekick, now you must go back and create new scenes, and possibly rework the whole draft. You've just created a bucket load of work for yourself that could have easily been avoided if you had a plot line. The beauty of the plot line is that you can change your ideas around with pretty little to no effort. Another plus to having a plot line is that you aren't just writing random scenes that might mush together into a story. You have a purpose and know where you're going which ultimately makes a better story.
Now, down to how to come up with a plot line. I'm not going to repeat what others have stated in numerous webpages, so I found a few that offer a good set up for a plot. Find them here, here, and here.
If you decide to use a plot mountain, I recommend that you make one for the action (events), one for the main characters relationship(s) with another character(s), and one for how the main character's personality evolves. Regardless of what you might think, a good story has more than just events and action. For example: there's no way that a person can travel across the country to find their long lost parents with their best friend without a) developing a better/worse relationship with their friend, and b) learning something new about themselves, thus changing. If the character hasn't changed from the beginning of the story to the end, than it doesn't seem realistic and is a bit of a let down to the reader. Overall, a good story should have more than just the top layer of action, and the best way to organize that is to have multiple plot lines for the different aspects.
So to recap everything in this post. Plot lines are a must have in order to write a good story, and actually finish it. Another quality of a good story is to have more than just action. To keep track of your different "layers" make different plot lines.
Stay tuned for part two where I talk about what to do after all the planning; how to start the actual story!