But on the other hand, it’s not that hard. You look at the page, put your hands on the keys, and start making stuff up. Eventually you stop.
Ethan Canin, whose cool and chiseled story collections like The Palace Thief don’t exactly feel off the cuff, cuts to the thick of it in this interview from The Atlantic where he’s talking about Saul Bellow:
In a way, plot is very simple: You have someone do something wrong. You don’t plan out a plot. You have somebody do something wrong, and that engenders other bad behavior. Behavior—especially bad behavior—is what forces character to emerge.
So: Think of a place. Put a character. Make them do something stupid. Watch them try to get out of it. There’s your story.