Flannery O’Connor once wrote, “I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.”
As most authors understand when they get past the first few thousand words, there’s far more to telling a story than you think. And now that we’re smack dab in the middle of Nanowrimo, story-telling basics may bear repeating.
Below are ten story-telling basics that may help you as you find the story within you:
- Story is more than beginning, middle and end. If you reduce the story to that, assuming that the parts are equal or that there’s no push and pull or ascension to the quest for the goal, you have no story.
- All basic genres should have their share of conflict and tension — the difference in genre is the setting, the objective of the main character, the stakes, the audience and whether or not there’s gratuitous blood. Sub-genres focus on nuanced differences.
- A character-driven story puts most of the conflict inside the characters. A plot-driven story puts most of the conflict outside the character. Stories are all about conflict. If you don’t know what to do to progress your story, add conflict, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s internal or external, but here’s a hint: it’s a lot easier to write about a flat tire or a flash flood than inner turmoil over past sin.
- The most common question a story crafter should ask is, “what does my main character say he wants, what does he really want, and how can I keep him from getting it?” Then, each scene re-asks that question for the specifics of the scene.
- Tension is all about a deadline and every conceivable force possible keeping your characters from meeting it.
- Your story listening experience can mean that you can recognize when a story doesn’t feel right. Writing a first draft is all about getting the feelings right.
- Everything you write is for that scene late in the second act when everything falls apart. Then everything will come together and your main character has to two choose between two mutually exclusive ideas. Start from this point and work backward and you may see the story with more clarity.
- Assume that the first chapter is awful. Take it out and start with chapter two and see if you like it better. Take out chapter two and start with three and see how that feels. Never be so attached to your chapters you can’t delete them.
- Instead of an obvious theme or moral, have your characters discuss and react to all sides of an issue, then avoid a clear conclusion about this issue. The reader will come away thinking for themselves and not feeling like they were preached to.
- Keep things simple: this applies to backstories, details, descriptions, plots, and settings. Too much information is a great way to bore a reader.
This is far from an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. If you follow these guidelines with the story you’re working on, everything about the story will be stronger.