Last updated on January 13th, 2022
Short stories have a lot of work to do. They have to convey vivid details about setting and characters while advancing a cohesive plot in a limited amount of space. Using a story planner template is an effective way to ensure a positive short story writing experience for both new and experienced writers.
The Benefits of a Story Planner Template
As a child, I was obsessed with writing. I carried notebooks everywhere I went and wrote short stories (and long ones!) in them whenever I could.
The only problem was, my stories never really went anywhere. I mean, physically, they did. I travelled up and down the Pacific Northwest coast with my dad and my stories made some epic journeys.
But the plots always got stuck. I was really good at getting my characters into bad situations, but not so good at bringing them back out again.
Most of my stories just faded out somewhere in the middle. If they had an end, it was usually something like, “Suddenly, I woke up and realized it was all a dream.” Blech. It got to the point where I stopped writing for several years because I was afraid to tackle endings.
That’s why, when my kids developed a passion for writing short stories, I worked on strategies to help them plan out their stories from the beginning. For every short story assignment or passion project they do, we sit down together and use a story planner template to develop a backbone for their work.
The result is amazing: they are now adept at generating ideas, developing well-rounded characters, describing the setting, and planning out a plot with lots of twists and a satisfying resolution. I have to tell you, it’s quite hilarious when your child starts pointing out the emotional wounds of fictional characters and the universal life lessons that will help them overcome those wounds.
In this post, we’ll look at how using a story planner template can help kids write better short stories, and I’ll give you a free download you can use with your students at home or in the classroom.
Why Writers Need a Story Planner
A story planner is an essential tool for helping writers organize their thoughts and ideas, create an outline for their story so they can avoid problems later on, and develop a visual roadmap for the writing journey that lays ahead of them.
It helps organize thoughts and ideas
When a new story idea strikes, a lot of information can come with it. Kids can get overwhelmed if they don’t have a way to organize their racing thoughts.
Conversely, you may give a writing assignment to your students and find they have no ideas whatsoever. They might stare at a blank page for an hour trying to come up with an idea that inspires them.
Either way, a story plan will help put them on the right track. For those with too many ideas, the story planner will help them narrow their ideas down and sort them into different buckets. It will also ensure they don’t lose any of their valuable ideas.
For those who are struggling, probing questions can be very effective in eliciting new thoughts. Not every story starts with the same elements. Sometimes, a short story might be born of a “What if’ question. For example, “What if you found a secret passage in your house that led to a different period in time?” These stories start with a premise and expand from there.
Another story might start with a character idea. For example, my daughter wrote a story about a girl who was raised as a dragon slayer only to find out she was actually a dragon halfling. An interesting character provides many opportunities to craft a strong short story premise.
Because the short story planner is flexible in its use, kids can start wherever they feel comfortable. They may have an idea for a character, or they may have a really neat setting in mind. Either way, an organizational tool is essential for bringing these ideas together.
Creating an outline helps avoid problems later on
Even the most experienced writers can get bogged down in the details of their stories. It can be hard to keep track of information that you wrote or planned out several paragraphs or pages ago.
Also, sometimes when you write by the seat of your pants without a plan, you can write yourself into a corner from which you can’t retreat. When that happens, sometimes you have to rewrite large sections of the story or even start over from scratch.
A story planner helps you avoid this problem because you work out the problems in advance.
For example, I was recently writing a story in which the main character’s husband needs to go away for a long time. It wasn’t so much that he needed to go away, but that I needed her to be left on her own.
My initial plan was to send him off to take care of a sick relative but I couldn’t make it completely believable that his wife wouldn’t have gone with him. As I wrote this version of events in my planner, I came to see that I needed a different excuse to send him away, one that would prohibit his wife from joining him. I was able to come up with a plausible alternative before I ever put pen to paper.
Figuring this out in the planning stage saved me from spending hours writing scenes that just wouldn’t have worked in a final draft, and helped put me on a better path from page one.
It provides a visual roadmap of the story
Writing a story is a journey in the truest sense of the word, and like every journey, it really helps to have a map. Knowing where you’re going and the path you’re planning to take to get there frees you up from having to figure out such things on the fly and allows your creative brain to just run wild with wonderful writing ideas.
You want to equip kids to avoid the nitty-gritty work of trying to map out the story as they go. Once they have more experience as writers, they might be able to do this more readily but at the beginning, you really want to help them come up with a plan so that they don’t get stuck and frustrated.
What Short Story Elements Should Your Story Planner Cover?
A story planner should cover all the important details a writer needs to consider when planning out their story. The amount of detail they include will vary depending on how advanced the writer is—a younger child will use a much simpler template (or smaller portions of a comprehensive template) than a child who is in middle school or high school.
Plot Development in a Story Planner
At a minimum, the story planner template should have an overview of the plot: What is going to happen in the story? This would include things like:
- The exposition (or opening image): how will we show what the character’s life is like at the beginning of the story?
- Catalysts (or inciting incidents): what major event happens to the protagonist that sets things in motion?
- Rising action: how will we show the way tension and suspense builds after the catalyst happens?
- Climax: what will the height of the action be? How will the protagonist solve the problem?
- Falling action: how will all the conflict that has arisen over the course of the story get resolved?
- Resolution (or closing image): what does the protagonist’s life look like after the events of the story take place? How has he or she grown as a person?
Of course, there are lots of other things we can cover in a story planner as well that will help a young writer pull together their ideas and write a more cohesive story.
Character Development in the Story Planner
For example, they may want to look at character development which is a basic building block of story development. They may want to answer questions such as:
- Who is this story about?
- What kind of person are they? Is the protagonist a girl? a boy? a man or woman? a rabbit or a horse? an alien?
- How old are they?
- What kind of job do they have or are they in school?
- What do they look like and how do they dress?
But more importantly, of course, are the things going on inside of them.
- What do they want?
- What do they need?
- What are they afraid of?
- What are their secrets?
- Who are their friends?
- Who are their enemies?
And of course, we want to know what is standing in the way of them getting what they want, and the story planner template will help develop all of these aspects of the character.
Setting in the Story Planner
Another thing a writer might want to think about before beginning to write is the setting of the story. Where does it take place? On a farm? City? Another planet? The bottom of the sea?
When does it take place? Does it take place in current times? Sometime in the past? Does it take place in the future or in a parallel universe? All of these details are going to have a huge impact on what the story looks like.
Then they can think about the details of those settings. What specific locales are going to come up in the story and how will you describe them? What do they look like? What do they sound like? What do they smell like?
The time period will also have a big effect on the setting. If it takes place in the past, how did they dress? How did they act? What kinds of laws or rules were they subjected to that are different from what we experience today?
Again, many of these details apply more to older children or students than they do to emerging writers, but it’s never too early to start discussing the basics of story elements.
How to use a Story Planner
When you use a story planner template, such as the one that is available for download at the bottom of this post, you can decide with your child or your student(s) how much detail they’ll actually cover.
Maybe you want them to go through all of it, or you may prefer that they go through specific pages or steps in the process. Consider your focus: what are you trying to get out of this assignment? Which elements of the story planner will best support you in that goal?
You can also use the story planner as a companion tool as you teach the elements of story. So, for example, you might create a long-term writing project wherein the students complete each page of the story planner after you’ve taught a specific topic.
While younger students—those in grades 3 to 5, say—will likely need a lot of support as they work through a story planner. Middle school and high school students who have received instruction on the story elements will need less. You may want to go through the story planner once together as an example and then let them give it a go on their own and see what they come up with.
However you decide to use it in your home or classroom, a story planner will help bring together all the pieces of the story so kids can focus on unleashing their creativity and improving their writing skills.
Sophie Agbonkhese is a writer, veteran homeschooling mother of four, and a recovering overachiever (who occasionally relapses). She is the founder of My Cup Runs Over, a site dedicated to helping busy women simplify and enrich their lives, homes, and homeschools. When she’s not writing or debugging websites, Sophie spends her time reading with her kids, gardening, listening to audiobooks, and striving fruitlessly to have a clean house for at least five minutes. She lives in southwestern British Columbia with her husband, Ben, and their children.