All vibes and no plot? 6 steps to find out what happens in your story

Have you ever had the exact vibe of your story down, but no idea what actually happens? If lack of plot has ever stopped you from exploring your totally aesthetic story idea, read this post to learn how to find the plot under those immaculate vibes.

This blog post could be all you need to find your awesome plot, but if you’d like a little extra help, you should check out this workbook in my Etsy shop that’s designed to walk you through the steps.

You can also watch the video version of this post on Youtube!


What to do when you have vibes but no plot

So what are these “vibes” anyway?

In case the concept isn’t familiar to you yet, “vibes” are what your story feels like, and usually it’s something very specific and can refer to existing media. For example, you might want to write something that feels like the first day of summer holiday, or something that makes you feel the same way as the episode of Gilmore Girls where Rory decides she’s going to Yale.

Often the vibes have certain images or visuals connected to them, which we’re going to use to our advantage later in this post.

The word “aesthetic” is often used in this context as well. Of course, you can’t see a story in the same way as you could see someone’s home or clothes, but you could still have a story setting that’s totally cottagecore or dark academia, for example.

Why shouldn’t you write something based on vibes alone?

If you’re just writing for fun or you want to explore different types of writing to get more practice, it’s more than fine to start writing something based on nothing but vague feels. But if you want to write a full novel, you would end up wasting A LOT of time and making things a lot harder for yourself than they need to be with that method.

A story is always about a transformation, and if you don’t know what that is when you start writing, you’re not really writing a story. In addition, the setting of your story and the characters can’t be chosen at random, and although it’s common to discover new places and people after you’ve already started writing, you should start with ones that have a purpose. Choose them intentionally.

Again, if you’re writing for yourself or for your own entertainment, do what makes you happy! But if you’re writing something with the intention of sharing your writing with the world, you can’t replace a good story even with the most immaculate writing. Even if you’ve read novels where not much seems to happen, I promise you those writers knew exactly what they were doing and there’s a lot more going on under the hood than you might realise.

Your characters need to be active

It can sometimes be very tempting to write about characters staring out the window into the dark and have them ponder their lives, but you know where pondering goes in your story? After stuff has already happened. It depends on your genre how much emphasis you put on action vs. reaction, but things still need to happen.

Your story also can’t happen in a vacuum, so you need to create a story world where things are affected by your character’s actions and where your character is affected by the world. You also need other characters who also have their own purposes in the story, so there’s a lot of brainstorming that needs to happen to create a full novel.

Let’s begin. What are the vibes of your story?

First, let’s get clear on what are the exact vibes of your story that you want to write.

Make a list of everything you want your story to feel like and what it reminds you of. Think of everything you want your readers feeling and thinking, and what you want them to associate your story with. Choose things that are broad and things that are specific – don’t leave anything out. After you can’t think of anything more, move on to the next step.

When I was planning this post, I chose these vibes: frosty lamp posts, wrought-iron fences, creaky floorboards, a small attic room that somebody rents, a messy bookstore and windows lit with orange lights.

Make a moodboard based on your vibes

Yeah I bet you’ve procrastinated on your writing by making a moodboard before! But this time we’re on a mission and we’ve got a purpose for the moodboard. I promise.

Can a moodboard help you plot your story?

I recommend you do this on Pinterest, and if you don’t have a Pinterest account yet, it’s totally free and quick to create. We’re using it because it’s the easiest way to find plenty of interesting pictures and to organise them into a board without having to download or copy and paste anything. You can also easily find similar pictures to something you’ve already found, which can come in handy.

Start a new board for this story and name it however you want, and if you don’t want anyone else to see it, feel free to set it on private.

Use the Pinterest search bar

Look at the list of vibes you came up with in the previous step and start typing them in the search bar. If they’re a little too specific, you can chop them up into smaller search terms. So instead of “rainy day at a Parisian cafe in October” you could try “Parisian cafe” and “October in Paris”, for example.

A fun thing about Pinterest (or should I say Pinterest users) is that you can put the word “aesthetic” after pretty much any word to find images that can be a lot different than just the search term alone. If you searched “university”, you might get blog posts about studying, but “university aesthetic” will yield you pictures that Pinterest has learned to associate with the aesthetic thanks to the boards that the users have previously added the pictures to. Anyway, that’s more about Pinterest algorithm than you needed to know!

University aesthetic screenshot from Pinterest

When you come up with pictures that you think represent your vibes perfectly, add them to your board. If you find something that’s kind of there but not quite, click the image and scroll down to see similar images – you might just find exactly what you’re searching for in there.

Don’t spend too long doing this and don’t overthink it! Just go through everything you have on your list of vibes and add suitable pics to your board. You can then click “More ideas” and add anything that Pinterest suggests for your board, and then take a final look at the images you’ve chosen and remove anything that doesn’t vibe with the rest. If you’ve been going after gloomy fantasy vibes, the image of Hello Kitty with #BossBabe written on it probably doesn’t belong with the rest.

A picture is worth a thousand words

Now you’re ready to do a massive idea dump based on your moodboard. That’s right, it’s more than just pretty pictures.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and since these pictures say something about your story, you can learn a lot by taking a better look at them. Go through your the pictures in your moodboard one by one and write down what’s going on in them and how that’s relevant to your story.

The best way to do this is to ask yourself a lot of questions. Let’s look at this picture:

First of all, what’s going on there? Someone is holding a pile of old books, there’s a painting of a cat on the wall and the person seems to be wearing a wedding ring. When you’re doing this process, you have to start by assuming everything is relevant somehow. So why is she carrying those books, and where? Who do they belong to? Who is she married to and is her partner an important character in the story? Who’s the cat in the painting?

Then you have to start answering the questions, and you need to remember there are no right or wrong answers. Don’t settle for just ONE answer per question – come up with as many as you can because your first answer might not be the best answer. They can even contradict each other, it doesn’t matter at this point. Explore all possibilities, though if you’ve got a specific genre in mind, you can already leave out anything that doesn’t work within that genre.

Choose what actually goes in your story

After you’ve gone through all the pictures in your moodboard, you’ve got this massive list of things that you could potentially have in your story. Now you have to choose everything you actually want to include in it.

To make this easier for you, organise your choices in three categories: characters, setting and plot events.

I know you must be excited about all your ideas at this point, but don’t be afraid to commit. You’ve got the rest of your life to write books, so don’t hesitate to leave out anything that doesn’t quite go with the others. By now, you should know which genre you’ll be writing in, so keep that in mind as well when you’re vetting your ideas.

How to turn vibes into plot events

Make a timeline of your plot events

You know that list of plot events you created in the previous step? Now’s the time to put those in chronological order. Do this even if you’re not planning to present your story with a linear timeline, and if you’ve got multiple point-of-view characters, create each character their own timeline.

You might want to point out that your timeline is still far from a full plot, and that’s okay! Filling in the blanks is what we do in the next step.

Understanding story structure is going to massively help you with this part of the process, so do check out this post on story structure to help you in this step and the next one. When you know how you need to organise your events for dramatic effect, it becomes easier to put everything in the right order.

Let’s discover the rest of your story and fill in the blanks

Now’s the time for the really fun part: filling in the blanks by figuring out what else happens in your story.

Story structure is going to help you again here, but the most important things to remember are cause and effect. Anything that happens in your story needs to have its roots in something that has happened earlier, and anything that happens needs to have reprecussions. Your story needs to be logical, even if only in hindsight, and it’s your job to put that logic there.

Let’s say your protagonist goes and straight up stabs someone. Oh no! You now have two responsibilities: figure out what lead to it and make it have consequences. You’d have to establish that they’re capable of such violence and they need to have a reason for it. Maybe they’ve already done something drastic to protetct their family or maybe they’re really skilled with knives and they have a bad temper.

Then the consequences, and it doesn’t have to be “getting imprisoned” if that doesn’t suit your story, but there needs to be emotional consequences for your character – whatever they might be – and the world needs to react to that act in some way. Something needs to change.

You can read this post on scene structure to learn more about how the building blocks of your story go together. I also have useful tools in my Etsy shop, like this Google Sheet plotter and these story structure printables.

Choose your next steps

You now have a rough outline what happens in your story – congratulations!

Now you have two options: You can start writing your first draft straight away or you can expand on your outline. You could create a scene-by-scene outline of your story, you could explore your setting more or you could create character profiles of the important players in your story, for example.

Here are some more resources that’ll help you on your novel-writing journey:

What if you still have no story?

If you STILL have no idea what’s supposed to happen in your story, I’m afraid there isn’t a blog post out there that’s going to do all the work for you. If you want to write fiction, you do need to make things up yourself, there’s no getting around that!

Put away your phone for a while and stop consuming so much content. Go for a walk if that’s a possibility or do nothing but stare out the window the next time you’re on a bus. When you let yourself get a little bored, you create more space in your brain for new ideas. You can’t be a writer without that space.

Check out the workbook

Like I said in the beginning of this post, you can totally do this process by yourself, but if you’d like some extra help, you can use the From Vibes to Plot workbook to keep you organised. And if you purchase two more things with it from my Etsy shop Writer Lifestyle, you automatically get 20% off.

This workbook is currently a bestseller in my shop and so many writers have found it useful. I mean check out these awesome reviews:

Whether you get the workbook or not, I hope this post has helped you uncover your story. Let me know how it goes!

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