How To Fill Plot Holes With An Equation in Your Writers Bullet Journal

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. All this means is I get a small commission from your purchase, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for keeping the blog running!

When I first found this graphic on Pinterest, it piqued my interest to no end! It was a good visual reminder to me on how to build stories to grip and intrigue my readers.

However, it can be so much more than that, because it can really be plug and play, much like those algebraic formulas that you learned in high school.

Oh dear. Are we talking about math? Because I became a writer so that I DON’T have to think about numbers.

#same^^^

But we aren’t talking about numbers, I promise.

You see, when I first started using it, I didn’t realize the whole potential and that it was a formula that I could use to build a story from my initial character sheet.

This means that I can make my story CHARACTER driven, rather than events driven. It also gives the characters more agency. 

Now, keep in mind this is how I morph this infographic into a strategy to get me to think about my story in a more holistic way. Everything is interconnected. If this technique doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean that you’re broken in any way. It just means your brain and mine don’t work in the same way.

 We are gonna dive right in and talk about how I use this formula to create stories that are addictive and leave readers begging for more!

How To Use a Formula to Make a More Dynamic Story

Where The Heck Did You Get This?

DynamicStoryFormula

First off, full disclosure; this is NOT mine. However it’s so useful, I think it’s worth dedicating a spread to and dedicating some time filling out for each of your books.

I got it HERE from Well-Storied and it’s on my Pinterest boards. She did such a good job with this graphic that I think it should be on everyone’s board and in everyone’s writers bullet journal. I may even turn it into a dashboard!

Step 1: Make a Character Profile

Now, I’ve harped on this many times, but I really do believe that getting organized in the beginning, even if you’re a pantser is the secret to success with your writing.

Obviously, I think you should use the one in my Novel Starter Kit! Which you can snag by using your email below!

Now, I’ve laid out how to best use this in many different posts, I suggest these ones:

How To Create Characters Using the Meyer’s Briggs Personalities

Top 5 Character Worksheets and Why You Should Be Using One

Character Archetypes: The Love Interest

Go through it and lay it all out. You don’t even have to do it in a journal. You can just make a word document and turn my printable into a reference document.

Now, I realize that my worksheet doesn’t have all the categories you will need, but once you get the basics filled out, it will be easier to get the rest.

Also, we are NOT going to be doing this in order. So, bear with me and we will get through this.

Step 2: What is Your Conflict?

There are two types of conflict that we need to figure out here, and we are probably going to have to do it in two stages:

  1. External Conflict
  2. Internal Conflict

The external conflict is the conflict of the story itself; who or what is your main baddie and why is it/they so bad? 

writersbulletjournalconflictequation

conflict = (external conflict x internal conflict)

This changes our formula to look something like this:

Goal + motivation + (External conflict  x Internal conflict) + lie + need= dynamic story

With my current WIP as an example:

My world has been thrown into economic apocalypse which has made many “necessary evils” arise, including less than reputable government stimulus programs and a thriving black market.

The main antagonist is a psychiatrist, Piwitti, bent on reviving her own stimulus program after it was shut down due to the events surrounding my protagonist, Alex. To get her prized test subject back, Piwitti pins the assassination of a UN North American Governor on Alex and her friend, among which are several ex-participants in the stimulus programs and geniuses of many kinds. Alex and her friends are on the run.

The internal conflict has to do with your main character’s wound and what they have to deal with as they deal with the external conflict. What morality does your main character struggle with? What choice is your main character going to have to make?

In my work in progress, Alex is trying to piece together what is real and what is not from her PTSD. She sometime hallucinates and is trying to pull apart her past.

So, my personal formula, as I write it in my Writer’s Bullet Journal, starts to look like this:

Goal + motivation + (economic apocalypse + false accusation from crazy head shrink x Alex’s PTSD) + lie + need = dynamic story

The trick is to get the formula to work for you and so it has to morph as you come up with more and more stuff for your story. 

Step 3: What is the Lie?

We have two lies that get plugged in here

  1. the lie the MC tells themselves (Internal Lie)
  2. The lie being TOLD to the MC (External Lie)

The lie that your main character tells themselves will be the CORE motivator through your book or series. This can be any number of things, ranging from self-image to the perceived image of another character. KNOW what lie your MC is telling themselves to cope with their circumstances.

The lie being told to your main character probably comes from the antagonist, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a breathing person. 

The Antagonist can also be their circumstances or the main story conflict.

Also keep in mind that the external lie and internal lie probable have something to do with one another.

dynamicstoryequationlie

Internal lie = external lie

So, what lie is being told to your MC?

In my fugitive novel, the lie my MC tells herself is that her wounds make her useless. Why? Because my antagonist had to discharge her from a specialized military branch when she got caught in an unexpected crossfire and wounded. Now, despite what all they analysts tell her, Alex believes that the fire fight was her fault. Why else would her partner have died, too?

The lie being told to my MC is that Piwitti is the only one who can fix her and help her feel not useless anymore. Notice how my external lie and internal lies counter balance each other?

Our equation now looks like this:

Goal + motivation + (External conflict  x Internal conflict) + (internal lie = external lie) + need = dynamic story

Step 4: What is Your Main Character’s Need?

This is probably different from your main character’s goal. If it’s a spin off of what your goal is, that’s probably okay.

However, I would challenge you to figure out a need that isn’t exactly what the main character’s goal is.

needdynamicstoryformulawirtersbulletjournal

Need ≠ goal

In Harry Potter, Harry NEEDS a father figure. That’s why he latches on to Sirus so quickly, that’s why he’s NOT okay with Sirius got away. That’s why he loves Dumbledore and Hagrid so much. Because he NEED’s a father figure. His goal is to defeat Voldemort. Very different things.

In my current work in progress, my main character’s GOAL is to find out who pinned an assassination on her and her friends. Her NEED is to find out who she is after life in the army and how to do that with PTSD.

Our values now look a little like this:

Goal + motivation + (External conflict  x Internal conflict) + (internal lie = external lie) + (Need ≠ goal) = dynamic story

Step 5: What is Your Main Character’s Motivation?

Your MC’s motivation hinges on their STAKES in the story. This can be very hard to ascertain if you haven’t taken the time to do a free write to figure out the main flow of the book. That’s how I have to figure it out, anyway. 

Lots of amateur writers overlook stakes in the writing process and just have average Joe off to slay the dragon.

When trying to figure out stakes you have one simple question to ask:

Why should my main character even give a flying fuck?

And maybe: THEY DON’T

But someone has told them that they should. Like Gandalf telling Bilbo to go on the adventure anyway. He was calling on the deep inner need for Bilbo to go on an adventure. Bilbo didn’t care about the dwarves at that point! He needed stakes, but didn’t have them yet!

It also hinges on their LIE and their NEED. These can be quite abstract, so take some time to get to know your character.

My main character’s stakes mostly have to do with the people around her. She’s not the only one implicated in the assassination of the UN governor; so is her little brother and her best friend. The stakes for her are very high because her loved ones are in this, too!

So:

Motivation = stakes (lie + need)

Keeping in mind our order of operations from algebra, we take care of our parentheses FIRST.

Our equation is MUCH more complex now, so stay with me!

Goal + [stakes (lie + need)] + (External conflict  x Internal conflict) + (internal lie = external lie) + (Need ≠ goal) = dynamic story

BUT we know that

lie = (internal lie = external lie)

SO:

writersbulletjournalmotivationequation

Goal + {stakes [(internal lie = external lie) + need]}+ (External conflict  x Internal conflict) + (internal lie = external lie) + (Need ≠ goal) = dynamic story

Step 6: What is Your Main Character’s Goal?

Your main character’s goal should really be the focus of the plot to drive it forward. If you loose sight of your goal, then so does your character and your reader. It does hinge on a couple of things:

  1. The main conflict of the story
  2. The Motivation of your main character

When you make the main conflict of the story, this will be fairly self-explanatory. Whether its your MC being the Chosen One, or they just need to get their groceries home; the conflict should reveal itself fairly early on in the writing process. 

So in my current work in progress, Alex is trying to figure out who pinned the assassination of a governor on her and her friends. Her motivation is purely because she loves those around her and because her little brother and bet friend are going to be held responsible.

Goal = external conflict + motivation

When you add the motivation of your main character to this equation the goal becomes VERY clear.

(external conflict + motivation) + {stakes [(internal lie = external lie) + need]}+ (External conflict  x Internal conflict) + (internal lie = external lie) + (Need ≠ goal) = dynamic story

BUT we have something here that needs to be changed! Because we know that

Motivation = stakes (lie + need) AND lie = (Internal lie = external lie) AND Need ≠ goal.

THEREFORE

Goal = external conflict + stakes[(Internal lie = external lie) + (Need ≠ goal)]

So our full and complete equation is gonna look like this:

writersbulletjournalgoalequation

{external conflict + stakes[(Internal lie = external lie) + (Need ≠ goal)]} + {stakes [(internal lie = external lie) + need]}+ (External conflict  x Internal conflict) + (internal lie = external lie) + (Need ≠ goal) = dynamic story

Step 7: The Dynamic Story

Okay we have plugged all that crap in and what you have is…

A mess.

But maybe not…

If we take my current work in progress then my equation looks a little like this:

[(economic apocalypse + false accusation from crazy head shrink) + keeping Ray and Leo safe] + {Leo and Ray [(her wounds make her useless = Piwitti is the only one who can fix Alex) + (Who am I? ≠ goal)] = motivation} +  (conflict = economic apocalypse + false accusation from crazy head shrink x Alex’s PTSD) + (her wounds make her useless = Piwitti is the only one who can fix Alex) + (Who am I? ≠ goal) = dynamic story

What comes out of this mess is a girl who is struggling finding her own identity after getting medical discharge from the army and trying to deal with her PTSD on her own in an economic apocalypse. She’s then pinned with the assassination of a UN governor, along with her brother and best friend, she’s faced with the harsh realities of her current world and her current brain. She feels useless and like Piwitti, her accuser, is the only one who can fix her. But her brother would surely die in prison and Leo would never get out, as she has been trafficking weapons in and out of the country to make some extra cash.

writersbulletjournaldyamicstoryequationcomplex

And there you go!

Show me your dynamic story formulas and if you’re putting them in your writers bullet journal! I’d LOVE to see them!

So comment down below with any questions you have and make sure to tag me on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter!

Happy Writing! 

Zoë Fleischer🖤

The Ginger Wordsmith 🐙