Plotting a story isn’t easy so one way to start is to define your beginning and ending. The beginning should be the opposite of the ending so in a typical happy ending, the hero starts out in a dead end life and by the end of the story, the hero is now a happier and better person.
Look at Neo in “The Matrix.” In the beginning, Neo is just an ordinary person working in a humdrum life. By the end, Neo is the chosen one to lead mankind out of oppression from the Matrix.
Every hero goes through a tremendous emotional journey. In “Titanic,” Rose starts off as a woman who is unhappy with her life that’s being chosen for her by others, forcing her to marry a man she doesn’t love. By the end, Rose has chosen to leave this man and live her own life.
Once you know your ending, you need to define how the hero gets from the beginning to the end, and that typically involves pursuing four mini-goals that increase the hero’s risk.
In “Die Hard,” John McClane’s first mini-goal is to escape from the terrorists after they take over the Corporate Christmas party. At this point, there’s little risk because the terrorists don’t even know he exists. Once he succeeds in that goal, his next mini-goal is to contact the police.
Trying to contact the police increases his risk because now the terrorists know he exists so they try to kill him. He finally contacts the police by throwing the body of a dead terrorist out the window so it lands on the police car’s windshield. That completes his second goal.
Now his third mini-goal is to save the SWAT team when the terrorists pin them down. This greatly increases his risk because now the terrorists are highly motivated to kill him and threaten his wife.
Finally, John’s fourth mini-goal is to foil the terrorists’ plan to blow up the hostages on the roof. Completing this last mini-goal leads him to the end where he finally kills Hans the villain and saves his wife.
Study “WALL-E” where the hero (a robot named WALL-E) starts lonely and isolated on Earth, but but he end has found love and saved humanity in the process. WALL-E’s first mini-goal is to get to know Eve when she lands on Earth, and he succeeds. At this point, the risk to WALL-E is low from the villain.
Then WALL-E’s second mini-goal is to follow Eve to her spaceship where he finds the remnants of humanity. WALL-E succeeds in reuniting with Eve on this spaceship. Now the risk to WALL-E is slightly higher because the villain knows who WALL-E is.
WALL-E’s third mini-goal is to save the plant from destruction, which greatly increases the risk because the villain is now actively trying to destroy WALL-E and the plant.
When WALL-E succeeds in saving the plant, his fourth-mini-goal is to put the plant in a special device that will recognize the plant for what it is and send the spaceship zooming back to Earth again.
So when plotting your own story, start with defining the beginning and the ending as opposites. Then define four mini-goals your hero must achieve to finally get to the end of your story. By thinking of these four mini-goals as stepping stones to your end, it can guide you into creating the rest of your story much faster than simply starting at the beginning and trying to figure out where your story is going as you write it.