Step One: Choose Your Protagonist

a) An outcast girl on the fringe of her school’s social hierarchy — not cool, but also not the most uncool. Sassy and very opinionated, like, even has opinions about what containers certain beverages should be drunk out of (mugs for milk, mason jars for water, lemonade in plastic novelty cups from local amusement park and/or The Olive Garden). Straight. Cis.

b) An outcast boy on the fringe of his school’s social hierarchy — not cool, but also not the most uncool. No opinions, no sass. Basically has the personality of plain yogurt. Straight. Cis.

c) Either of the above, but suffering from a rare or fatal medical condition that prevents him/her from: touching other people/ going outside/ climbing trees.

Step Two: Choose Their Quirky BFF

a) Drummer in an all-girls punk band that gets mentioned only once. Goes by the nickname “Scooter.” Her real name is Sarah, but she hates being called that. Protagonist will call her Sarah in the pivotal moment of an argument to show that things have escalated to The Next Level. Bi, but again, it’s only mentioned once. Cis.

b) Slightly cooler and older than the protagonist. Smokes clove cigarettes and drives a shitty car that he’s ironically named Patsy Cline or Ringo Starr. Said car will break down when the protagonist needs it the most, like to get to a concert to see his love interest, or to get to the hospital to see his love interest, who’s dying of a fatal medical condition. Has a nonsensical catchphrase, like “that’s just the way the turkey trots,” or “jibber jabber, Mister McGabber.” Sexuality is never mentioned. Cis.

c) Reads more books than the protagonist, who already reads quite a bit. Redhead, and it’s mentioned a lot. Has an older brother/sister that the protagonist has a crush on. Really shy. Straight. Cis.

Step Three: Choose Their Love Interest

a) Girl who is way cooler than him in every way. She wears earrings shaped like saxophones and lipstick the color of asphalt. He finds out they are both fans of same indie band, The Davy Crockettes, and plots an elaborate scheme to run into her at their concert in The Big City. She may or may not already have a boyfriend. Straight. Cis.

b) Quiet new boy who just moved here. Has one gray eye and one blue eye. Speaks in metaphors or not at all. Straight. Cis.

c) The Quirky BFF’s older brother/sister. Plays a sport. Straight. Cis.

d) Any of the above, but suffering from the same rare or fatal medical condition as the protagonist.

Step Four: Choose a Plot

a) The protagonist finds a mysterious key taped underneath her desk at school. She discovers that it unlocks a secret costume room behind the auditorium. Her and her quirky BFF plan to put on the talent show of the century, but they hit some snags along the way.

b) The protagonist learns his parents are having another kid. He must grapple with what it means to bring a child into a post-Twitter world. He starts a new Twitter account called “Love, Your Big Bro.” He posts advice and anecdotes in the form of 280-character tweets for his future sibling to read. Things take a turn when the coolest (and meanest) kid in school, Todd Flesher, discovers the account and shares screenshots with the whole school.

c) The protagonist has a rare/fatal disease, and so does his/her love interest.

d) In a dystopian world, the protagonist gets cast in a reality television show that involves fighting his/her classmates to the death on a floating island that hovers six inches above the earth, over a boiling pit of lava.

Step Five: Choose a Subplot

a) Quirky BFF’s parents are getting a divorce!

b) Protagonist’s sister gets a belly ring/abortion that their parents don’t approve of!

c) Protagonist’s theatre teacher takes a liking to her and gives her plays to read outside of class. The Glass Menagerie really resonates with her, and she uses a quote from it as an overarching metaphor to understand the main plot.

d) The protagonist falls in love with one of the cameramen on the dystopian reality-television show. While she’s starving on the floating island, he sneaks her a bite of his scone during a commercial break.

Step Six: Choose an Overarching Metaphor

a) That’s the thing about wildflowers — they grow wherever their seeds land.

b) Being sick is like drowning: it’s painful, but you have to keep fighting or else the dark water will overtake you for good.

c) “Time is the longest distance between two places.” — Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie