It’s Friday and what is up at Lange? Before we say thank you for this week and welcome the weekend, here is a word from the Publisher Manager Lilith.
How do you write a story that captivates the reader from page one to the end?
This behind-the-scenes Friday, I will give you the important seven elements that need to be in a story.
A plot is the sequence of events that make up a story— what happens.
A successful story answers:
- What happens? (Plot)
- What does it mean? (Theme)
- An Opener
- An Inciting Incident That Changes Everything
- A series of Crises that build tension
- A Climax
- A Resolution (or Conclusion)
How effectively you create drama, intrigue, conflict, and tension, determines whether you can grab readers from the start and keep them to the end.
The theme is why it happens.
It is good to determine why you want to tell your story.
- What message do you wish to convey?
- What will it teach the reader?
Resist the urge to explicitly state your theme. Just tell the story, and let it make its own point.
Give your readers credit. Subtly weave your theme into the story and trust them to get it.
You want them to think about your theme long after they’ve finished reading.
Every story needs believable characters who feel knowable.
In fiction, your main character is the protagonist, also known as the lead or hero/heroine.
The protagonist must have:
- redeemable flaws
- potentially heroic qualities that emerge in the climax
- a character arc (he must be different, better, stronger by the end)
Resist the temptation to create a perfect lead. Perfect is boring.
You also need an antagonist, the villain, who should be every bit as formidable and compelling as your hero.
Don’t make your bad guy bad just because he’s the bad guy. Make him a worthy foe by giving him motives for his actions.
Villains don’t see themselves as bad. They think they’re right! A fully-rounded bad guy is much more realistic and memorable.
Depending on the length of your story, you may also need important orbital cast members.
For each character, ask:
- What do they want?
- What or who is keeping them from getting it?
- What will they do about it?
The more challenges your characters face, the more relatable they are.
The setting may include a location, time, or era, but it should also include how things look, smell, taste, feel, and sound.
Thoroughly research details about your setting so it informs your writing, but use those details as a seasoning, not the main course. The main course is the story.
One of the biggest mistakes beginning writers make is feeling they must begin by describing the setting.
That’s important. But a sure way to put readers to sleep is to promise a thrilling story on the cover—only to start with some variation of:
The house sat in a deep wood surrounded by…
Rather than describing your setting, subtly layer it into the story.
Show readers your setting. Don’t tell them. Description as a separate element slows your story to crawl.
By layering in what things look and feel and sound like you subtly register the setting in the theatre of readers’ minds.
While they concentrate on the action, the dialogue, the tension, the drama, and the conflict that keep them turning the pages, they’re also getting a look and feel for your setting.
Point of View
POV is more than which voice you choose to tell your story: First Person (I, me), Second Person (you, your), or Third Person (he, she, or it).
Determine your perspective (POV) character for each scene—the one who serves as your camera and recorder—by deciding who has the most at stake. Who’s story is this?
The cardinal rule is that you’re limited to one perspective character per scene, but I prefer only one per chapter, and ideally one per novel.
Readers experience everything in your story from this character’s perspective.
This is the engine of fiction and crucial to effective nonfiction as well.
Readers crave conflict and what results from it.
If everything in your plot is going well and everyone is agreeing, you’ll quickly bore your reader—the cardinal sin of writing.
If two characters are chatting amiably and the scene feels flat (which it will), inject conflict. Have one say something that makes the other storm out, revealing a deep-seated rift.
Readers will stay with you to find out what it’s all about.
You must have an idea of where your story is going.
How you expect the story to end should inform every scene and chapter. It may change, evolve, and grow as you and your characters do, but never leave it to chance.
Keep your lead character centre stage to the very end. Everything he learns through all the complications you plunged him into should, in the end, allow him to rise to the occasion and succeed.
If you get near the end and something’s missing, don’t rush it. Give your ending a few days, even a few weeks if necessary.
Read through everything you’ve written. Take a long walk. Think about it. Sleep on it. Jot notes. Let your subconscious work. Play what-if games. Reach for the heart, and deliver a satisfying ending that resonates.
Give your readers a payoff for their investment by making it unforgettable.