How to Write Stories-Step 2: Sort Out The Nitty Gritty

Step by step writing guide. Free Step 2- plan the story details worksheet.

This is Step 2 of my Seven Steps to Story Success – A step-by-step guide to teaching children how to write stories. If you missed the previous step, or want to browse all of the steps you can catch-up here:

Step 2-Sort Out the Nitty Gritty

In this step kids will explore and pin down the key elements of their story.

Accompanying activity sheet can be found towards the bottom, available to download and print.

By identifying the protagonist’s goal, anticipating challenges and obstacles, establishing a clear setting, and crafting a satisfying resolution, kids can create stories that are more engaging, cohesive, and have satisfying narratives.

Without considering and articulating the nitty gritty details of the plan, the story may lack direction, characters may seem aimless, and the reader may lose interest.

5 Key Elements to Include When Planning the Nitty Gritty of a Story

  1. The protagonist’s goal
  2. The protagonist’s actions
  3. The obstacles the protagonist faces
  4. The story’s climax and resolution
  5. The setting of the story

1. The Protagonist’s Goal

What the protagonist wants is the driving force of the story. It is what motivates the protagonist to take action and move the story forward.

Without a clear goal, there isn’t really any story and the protagonist’s actions will seem aimless and the story may lack direction. So it is really important to clearly define their goal.

In this part of the story writing process get your kids to identify what the protagonist wants and also why the protagonist has this goal.

Considering these two aspects of the main characters goal makes the character more complex and readers can better understand and empathise with the character. Readers become interested in whether or not the protagonist will achieve their goal.

2. The Protagonist’s Actions

Once kids have established the protagonist’s goal, it’s important to think about what the protagonist will do to achieve that goal as it is the protagonist’s actions that moves the story forward and creates tension and conflict.

Get your kids to identify what actions the protagonist will take to achieve their goal and how they will take them.

Will they act boldly or cautiously?

Will they take risks or play it safe?

Again, by considering these questions, kids can create a more believable and cohesive main character.

3. The Obstacles the Protagonist Faces

Obviously a story with just a character wanting something, and then obtaining it- the end- is not really going to have any interest for the reader.

In order for a story to be compelling, the protagonist has to face obstacles that prevent them from achieving their goal.

Try to get your kids to think about obstacles that would force the protagonist to struggle or adapt, or add uncertainty and increase the tension.

4.The Story’s Climax and Resolution

The climax of a story is the point of highest tension and conflict in the narrative. It is the point where the protagonist’s goal is either achieved or thwarted, and it often represents the turning point in the story. After this point, the character is changed in some way from how they were at the beginning of the story.

To get kids to try and make the climax the most suspenseful and exciting part of the book, get them to think about giving the protagonist a disadvantage. This will make readers wonder whether or not the protagonist will succeed.

Another way that the climax can be infused with excitement is to make the bad thing extra bad. Make the challenge the greatest one the protagonist has faced. The fear that the protagonist will have will make the story more realistic.

Tied in with the last point, maybe your kids could make the protagonist comes close to failing making sure the protagonist has to work hard and struggle to succeed. When the protagonist eventually succeeds after nearly losing everything, it will make the ending more satisfying.

The resolution of the story should flow naturally from the climax, and should provide closure. The resolution is an opportunity to answer any unanswered questions and complete the characters story. It should leave readers with a sense of what’s next for the characters.

5. The Setting of the Story

The setting is where the story is taking place, including time, environment and, cultural and historical context. 

The setting can play a big role in making the story interesting and keeping the reader hooked onto the story as well as affecting the characters’ experiences.

Two rules to apply when deciding on the story setting:

  1. The story setting should match the plot so that it all makes sense and is realistic. A mystery story that is fast-paced would be better set in a busy city, with the opportunity for many unexpected events occurring quickly, rather than a rural setting.
  2. The setting should match the protagonists character. If the protagonist has a shy introverted character, it would be unlikely to find them hanging out at the shopping centre with a rowdy group of kids after school.

How to make the setting add to the story’s mood and reader experience:

  1. Plan the mood that they are aiming for in their story and match the setting to it. A bright summer’s day in the beach has an entirely different mood than a dense foggy forest.
  2. Plan the weather/ environment to match the atmosphere in the story. Two siblings who are mounting up to an argument in the garden is incongruous with fluffy tufts of cloud passing by overhead.
  3. Add setting details throughout the story, not just in the beginning. Try to slip it in between the action as well.
  4. Use the five senses to describe the setting. To make the reader experience the story through each of their senses, use the five senses throughout the setting descriptions. An effective way of incorporating the five senses into setting description is to use literary elements such as onomatopoeia, similes, and metaphors. These aspects will be talked about in later steps of the story writing process. For now, just get kids to consider how they might describe the setting to engage the readers’ senses.

I can’t emphasis how important the setting description is to the experience and quality of a story. The best advice I can give to really nail this is, to get kids to practice writing some setting descriptions in isolation as freewrites, bearing in mind the mood that they are trying to depict.

If you want to just complete this step of the story writing process with out taking any stops or detours, your child can plan out the 5 elements detailed in this step using the planning template.

Download my child friendly ready-to-use Planning the Nitty Gritty Template:

Model Examples of Planning the 5 Key Elements of a Story

I find that no matter how well a concept is explained, nothing beats an example (or four!).

I have used the process outlined in this step to plan out the nitty gritty details of hypothetical stories in different genres.

Story Plan for an Adventure Genre Story

  1. The protagonist’s goal: To find the treasure chest that can be unlocked with a golden key the protagonist’s grandfather left her.
  2. The protagonist’s actions: The protagonist sets out into the forest in search of the treasure with only the hand drawn map in her grandfather’s childhood diary.
  3. The obstacles the protagonist faces: The protagonist encounters various obstacles along the way. As the protagonist gets closer to the treasure, she loses her map. Without the map, she’s not sure where to go, and the forest suddenly seems much larger and more menacing.
  4. The story’s climax and resolution: The protagonist finally locates the map and finds the treasure chest, but as she is about to unlock the treasure chest, she realises that she’s being watched by a massive bear. The bear is angry and hungry. She remembers a trick her grandfather taught her and begins to play dead. The bear sniffs her and paws at her for a few moments before losing interest and wandering away. The protagonist uses the golden key to open the treasure chest, expecting to find a pile of gold coins but it is filled with books. She remembers how much her grandfather valued knowledge and stories.
  5. The setting of the story: A dense forest.

Story Plan for a Mystery Genre Story

  1. The protagonist’s goal: The protagonist wants to solve the mystery of her missing classmate who disappeared from school a week ago. Maxine is convinced that something strange is going on, and she’s determined to uncover the truth and bring her friend back.
  2. The protagonist’s actions: The protagonist starts by interviewing the missing classmate’s friends and other classmates to gather information about his behaviour leading up to his disappearance. She also visits the places where the missing classmate was last seen, including his locker and the school’s computer lab.
  3. The obstacles the protagonist faces: The protagonist encounters several obstacles along the way. The school’s headmaster is suspicious of her investigation and tries to prevent her from accessing certain areas of the school. The classmates are uncooperative and give her conflicting information about the missing classmate’s disappearance. The protagonist also receives threatening messages from an unknown sender, warning her to stop her investigation.
  4. The story’s climax and resolution: The protagonist discovers that the missing classmate had been the victim of cyberbullying, which led him to run away from school. With the help of the missing boy’s friends, the protagonist is able to track him down and bring him back to school. The protagonist also reveals the identity of the cyberbully. The culprit is punished, and the protagonist becomes a hero among her classmates.
  5. The setting of the story: The story takes place in a modern-day school in a town. The school is equipped with modern technology, including security cameras and computer labs. The story also involves the use of social media and online communication as a means of gathering information and spreading rumours. In this story the setting plays a significant role in the story, as it provides both opportunities and obstacles for the protagonist’s investigation.

Story Plan for a Horror Genre Story

  1. The protagonist’s goal: The protagonist’s goal is to enjoy their family holiday at a rented holiday house and have a fun time with their family.
  2. The protagonist’s actions: The protagonist explores the house and surrounding areas, trying to find interesting things to do and new places to explore. They notice strange occurrences and noises in the house, but try to brush it off and enjoy their holiday with their family. As the strange occurrences continue, the protagonist becomes more curious and determined to find out what’s going on.
  3. The obstacles the protagonist faces: The protagonist faces obstacles in the form of the strange occurrences and noises in the house, which make them increasingly scared and nervous. The protagonist’s family is dismissive of his concerns, which adds to his feeling of isolation and fear. He are also hampered by the presence of the mad caretaker, who seems to be stalking them and trying to scare them away from the house.
  4. The story’s climax and resolution: As the protagonist investigates further, he discovers that the strange occurrences in the house are not the result of ghosts or other supernatural forces, but are actually caused by the mad caretaker, who is trying to scare the family away so he can have the house to himself. In the climax of the story, the protagonist confronts the mad caretaker and manages to escape from him. In the resolution, the family leaves the old holiday house, but the protagonist is left with lasting memories of the scary experience.
  5. The setting of the story: The story takes place in an old, isolated holiday house, surrounded by woods and other natural features. The house is old and decrepit, with creaky floorboards, peeling wallpaper, and other signs of disrepair. The setting is ominous and adds to the overall feeling of suspense and fear in the story.

Story Plan for a Sports Story

  1. The protagonist’s goal: To win the sports competition and get the prize money to pay off her mother’s debts.
  2. The protagonist’s actions: The protagonist reluctantly signs up for the competition, despite her lack of interest in sports. She begins training with the help of a coach, but struggles to keep up with the other competitors who have been training for years. As the competition draws near, the protagonist becomes more determined to win and spends all her time practising.
  3. The obstacles the protagonist faces: The other competitors look down on the protagonist and underestimate her abilities, making her feel inferior. The protagonist’s lack of experience in sports makes it difficult for her to keep up with the other competitors, and she suffers injuries during training. 
  4. The story’s climax and resolution: During the final round of the competition, the protagonist is neck-and-neck with her toughest competitor. Despite trying as hard as she could, she loses the competition. In a surprise twist, just before the receiving the medals, it comes to light that the winner had intentionally been sabotaging the protagonist’s training, so the protagonist wins the competition, earning the prize money and paying off her mother’s debts. The girl gains an appreciation for sports and decides to continue training to compete in future competitions.
  5. The setting of the story: The story is set in a small town with a tight-knit community. The sports competition takes place in a sports arena, with various challenges that test the competitors’ strength, agility, and endurance.

You can use these as model examples with your kids if they are unsure of how to plan the key elements of their story.

I’m the first to admit that they aren’t the most sparkling, original storyline, but for the purpose of practising writing stories, it’s fine to use a set of standard ideas as a spring board.

It’s how the story is written that brings it to life. This we will cover in Step 5 where we Add Spice to the story!

If you would like to share any story plot details that your children create please feel free to upload in the comments or email

I hope this helps some of you out!

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