I'm writing a sci-fi/fantasy story, which is arguably not yet a novel, and has general similarities with most fantasy stories. I have a back story set and a fairly good idea on how the story is supposed to end. What I'm missing, however, is the filler content which propels that story towards its ending.

Update: Thanks for letting me know of those shortcomings. I'll try to be a bit more specific here:

The Plot

Now while it's true that the plot details are up to me, what I want to know is how to connect the dots in an effective manner. Like I said, I have all the events that happened way before the actual story takes place, in other words, the back story.

How do I make those events relevant to the current story line? How do I plan and write the story itself using this historical framework.

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    This question seems to lack on the detail. Can you provide a little more information or specify your question a bit? As it stands this is pretty vague.
    – James
    Oct 8, 2014 at 18:01
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    Welcome to Writers. This question is very broad, and we also can't tell you what to write -- we're more focused on the how. It sounds like you're looking for techniques to get from the large-scale plot down to the details of individual points along that plotline? I'm going to put this on hold temporarily so you can edit the question. Please check out our tour for more about what we're looking for. Thanks. Oct 8, 2014 at 19:23
  • The major problem for me is that he is asking 2 questions. 1. How to develop a plot. 2. How to develop a character. If he modifies the first question and gets rid of the second question then I feel that "How to add filler text" would be a legitimate question.
    – user8727
    Oct 8, 2014 at 19:43
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    i've divided the question up into 2 parts, as suggested. This question now only deals with the plotting. Thanks for the suggestions. Oct 11, 2014 at 5:55
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    @SubhasishSarkar thanks for the edit. I've reopened. Oct 12, 2014 at 2:58

7 Answers 7


It sounds like you don't really have a story yet, but a world.

But a story is the journey of a character who wants something.

Try one of these:

  • Start with a character who lives in your world. What do they want? How they get it is your story. (If they have everything they want, you don't have a story; take something away from them). OR

  • Start with a big conflict/problem/goal that might happen in your world. Who'd be most affected by it? That could be your main character. How they handle, maybe overcome, this challenge, is your story.

(It's a common problem for new sci-fi/fantasy authors to focus too much on worldbuilding in the beginning, and that's fine, but don't fall for the illusion that the world is 90% of the job. Characters and their problems/struggles/growth are still the main part of any storytelling).

I recommend books on the writing craft in general, google:

Truby's Anatomy of a Story
Writing Excuses Podcast
On Writing by Stephen King


Plot... Story... blah blah blah. You're talking about a journey. You're talking about a quest. You're talking about a goal, a conflict, and a resolution.

What I don't like is the use of the term "filler content". You can't go into a story thinking like that. Everything you write has to be important, every sentence should define a character or the world, or be a necessary step in the journey. You can't steamroll into the end and expect the reader to still be with you when you get there.

Easy formula: Define a goal (Find the thing! Save the guy! Stop the evil!), then use a character that is LEAST able to reach that goal, and stick them in the protagonist role. Give them help, then screw up their chances. Make them work for it. Make them either not want to, or believe they can't, or think their real goal is something else. Add layers of elements like that, where you point your characters, and the reader, in what seems to be abstract directions, and then find a way to curve the road around to your end.


I notice that you didn’t mention theme among the basic elements you had in place. You didn’t say much with your question, so forgive me if I wander off into speculation. In fact, I’ll toss a couple of ideas out there and hopefully something will stick.

Several writer friends of mine and certainly many successful pros are plot-focused, genre writers. There’s nothing wrong that. My genre writing buddies rock at plot; it just pours out of them, but I just can’t do that. I’m not pumping myself up. I’m saying I literally am incapable of creating any plot without knowing what I’m trying to say as a writer in the story.

There are just too many possibilities. Consider how many car chases there could conceivably be for example. How do you know what kind of car chase works for your story? Knowing the point my story intends to demonstrate, helps me understand the job of each scene or chapter. Combining this with the need to develop the character really helps hem me in, reducing the possibilities to a manageable few. Some people are more creative without constraints, but I need them.

Another possibility I’ll throw out there (and I really am speculating here) is that you’re writing the wrong story. You didn’t say much, but you mentioned you had the backstory set, but only had a good idea of the story. This suggests you understand the protagonist’s past better that their present. But your story occurs in the present. Consider this.

I’ve noticed in the work of my writer friends a funny tendency to hide from their own character’s emotions. This takes the form of a tragic and defining backstory contrasting a more standard, factual, plot-based story. Often they reference the backstory as exposition when the story’s current events run out of steam. If you find that your protagonist’s backstory excited you into writing in the first place and not the, “basic elements of most fantasy stories,” it might suggest that the better story is the backstory. If so, write that story. Just a thought.

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    The last paragraph is very good advice. Because to make a story we need to know what the character wants, and for plot must see what the character needs to do. Then they do something they need to do or think they need to do to try to get what they want. If they don't really want anything in the present, it's boring generic "John went to buy milk. He bought milk. He drank it." story and plot that results. Perhaps indeed their past set in the same world would be more interesting as a story if that prompted you to write about them. Mar 29, 2015 at 7:19
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    The last paragraph is very good advice in this case. If you already have the back story, writing it as a story will get you much better feel for the characters and setting than just knowing the back story. This should make continuing with main story much easier. And a story written is a story written, you can publish it even if you originally wanted to write something else. Mar 30, 2015 at 10:56
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    Apparently the bestselling classic To Kill a Mockingbird was originally just the backstory to another novel that was only recently announced for (much delayed) publication. Apr 17, 2015 at 15:36

Plot combines all the aspects of a hook (beginning) and a great ending with steps to get from one to the other. Great stories come from conflict. Put your character in a situation that seems nearly impossible to resolve, and then step by step resolve it; adding new challenges along the way. The Middle section is most problematic for you. Keep out of the sagging middle by working more problems for your character. Decide how long you want your story. SF stories tend to be longer 90K-120K word count because of the need to world build. Your back story sounds like you have your world created. This is good. If you were writing a novella, you would have 20K words. Divide the number of words into chapters. 100K/2500=40 chapters….or if you want longer chapters 100K/4000w=25 chapters. Divide the chapters into quarters—assign 25% to the set up/beginning; 25% to the ending (climax and resolve) and the rest 50% is your middle. Create a main character with a flaw (at least one that is not disgusting, e.g. pedophile), who has a dream/goal/desire/passion.
Create an antagonist who believes s/he is the hero/ine of his/her own story and blocks the ambitions of the main character.
By your first (three) chapter(s), you should have a MC with a goal, and show what obstacle prevents him/her from achieving it.
Write goal, motivation and conflict for every scene (usually 2-3 scenes per chapter) and identify the POV. e.g. Harry Potter wanted to learn how to be a wizard(G); he had missed out on his parents and upbringing as a wizard and he felt he had to prove himself as the chosen one(M); he had many enemies in Slytherin, the Death Eaters and Voldemort who provided conflict/disasters(C/D). You can do this by outlining (plotter) or writing by the seat of your pants (pantser). Every chapter must end with either a disaster or a resolution. Disasters create tension and make the story a page turner. Resolutions give the tension a break. Don’t use too many resolutions before the end. The minute things are going well, throw in a problem. There should be a main arc (problem) to resolve, but each scene should have a problem (or resolution). Ways to improve the above: take a class, join a writers group, write every day-some, and read, read, read. Great books on writing: Rock Your Plot by Cathy Yardley; Goal Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon; [Write Active Setting (Books 1, 2, 3& 4) by Mary Buckham.][3] [SavvyAuthors.com][4] offers low cost classes by writers. [The MuseOnlineConference][5] offers a free conference. I hope this helps.


For me it's easy. Pick your characters and start living their lives. Have little nudges of fate guide them towards key points of your story, but don't force it; if the character just doesn't realistically fit in there, change the plot point and keep developing the story. At times it will be entirely different from what you planned, but better.

Essentially: If you created a captivating world (as you described you did) and set your characters at the beginning of the journey, just follow them throughout the journey: imagine what they'd feel, what they'd want and have them act upon that - live in that world. And the story just writes itself.


In his book From Where You Dream, Robert Olen Butler describes a method for generating a story that he calls "Dreamstorming." It works.

In a nutshell, you enter a dream/trance state and imagine scenes or scene fragments that touch you somehow. Write a brief description (just a few words, not even a sentence) of each scene you've imagined. You can write these on index cards. Continue with this process daily for a few weeks. Then lay your index cards out and sort them into an order that seems right to you for your story.

That's an oversimplification of the method. If it sounds interesting to you, go get his book from your local public library.

BTW, you can watch Butler write a short story in real-time in this awesome YouTube video.


I once tried to write a (ten scene) screenplay with only a backstory and an ending.

I started with Scene 1 (basically a "continuation" of the back story). Then I jumped to Scene 10, the ending, followed by Scene 9. I continued writing the story "backwards," jumping back to scenes 5 and 6 in the middle, finally adding scenes 7 and 8 to connect them to scenes 9 and 10. Then I write scenes 2 and 4, "finishing" with scene 3.

Basically, you "start" at the end, and work "backward" until you reach your "backstory."

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