We’ve been on quite a journey the past several weeks. From exploring the Beginning of a story through the tumultuous Middle, and to its climactic End, we have seen how these elements combine into a narrative structure that is commonplace in most commercial stories today.
As you develop your story, think about how you can take these different areas and make them your own, creating a powerful, compelling, and intriguing narrative that will grab readers from the start and have them furiously reading until the very last page.
With that in mind, let’s look at a few things to consider as you craft a story.
Plot-Driven of Character-Driven?
What is affecting the main character that is driving them to action? Is it an external or internal force? If it’s an external force, you are dealing with a more plot-driven story. If it’s an internal force, you’re looking at a character-driven one.
Most action movies are plot-driven. There’s an external incident that pushes the main character into action. Steve Rogers doesn’t become Captain America if there’s not a war effort going on. Batman doesn’t jump into action if the Joker doesn’t inflict his criminal insanity on Gotham City. While we do see these characters change due to their external circumstances, they are not driven forward by those internal forces in terms of the story being told.
Dramas and some comedies are more character-driven. An event may spur the main character into action, but they are in control of their circumstances. There may be external forces at work against them, but the hero’s internal drive and internal obstacles are what the audience is banking on. When you watch or read these stories, we watch to see how the hero is impacted internally by what’s happening. American Beauty and Nomadland are two great examples of character-driven drama. We are watching the main character’s internal evolution and how that impacts their external circumstances.
When you sit down to flesh out your story, ask yourself what’s driving your main character forward? Is it an internal motivation or an external force?
Take the Time to Outline
There’s are two terms that writers often use to describe the two types of writers: Plotters and Pantsers. Basically, a Plotter outlines their story; a Pantser throws caution to the wind and “flies by the seat of their pants.” Now, while both are fine, I recommend that before you put pen to paper or start typing your story, you at the very least jot down a basic guide of where the story is going.
Like many writers, I have had an idea for a story and started writing only to lose steam a few pages in? Why? I didn’t take the time to work on a basic guide to see where the story would go and how it might end.
When you plan a road trip, you usually look at a map and decide where you’ll stop for food, gas, a hotel, etc. on your journey. Winging it may result in you getting lost, running out of gas with no station for miles, or turning down a road that leads to nowhere. Not planning ahead in a story can have similar consequences.
I’m not saying you have to detail every single minute detail that happens in each chapter. But you should afford yourself the courtesy of knowing the significant events that will take the story and your characters in a new direction. Are they set in stone? No. But at least you have a story event that you are working toward. If it changes, it changes. But you have a goal to write toward in the meantime.
Ask yourself the basics:
- What’s my character doing at the start of the story?
- What inciting incident moves them onto a new track and changes their goal?
- Who is their antagonist?
- What is the antagonist doing to prevent the hero from reaching their goal?
- What big turning point occurs that sends them in a new direction in pursuit of that goal?
- What event takes place that makes them realize there’s no turning back?
- What major event makes them almost give up and lose hope, but they get back up and fight anyway?
- How do they confront the antagonist? How do they move forward after achieving their goal?
Now you have a map with major landmarks to write toward.
Don’t Be Afraid to Make Changes
A work of fiction is a living document. Things can be added, cut, changed, removed, or altered in any way they need to serve the story. And that’s the key: everything exists to serve your story.
Your rough draft is “rough” for a reason. You now have a manuscript that you can edit and change to make the story and characters stronger. The drafting process takes time, and as you write more, you’ll find a process that works best for you.
Since it’s your story, instinctually, you will know when something isn’t working, if a character seems out of place and should be removed, or if the dialogue isn’t realistic. Take your time and be brave enough to make the changes that will make your story stronger.
Enjoy the Process
You have to love your story and your characters. That love will shine through on the page. Unless you are writing for an assignment, you have free reign to write whatever you want, however you want, and that means you have the power to control character, story, dialogue, and all the other elements that go into your story.
Writing a novel, a play, a screenplay, even a short story or poem can be a lengthy, time-consuming, and often lonely task. If you loathe what you’re working on, then you won’t get very far. Love your story. Love your protagonist and antagonist. Love your setting and dialogue.
Finding that passion and enjoyment in what you’re writing will go a long way to making sure you not only complete the project but you’re proud of what you wrote and want to dive back in to make it even better the next time around.
If you are having problems with what you’re writing, take a step back and ask why. Why am I now enjoying this? What can I do to make this story more enjoyable and make it less of a task and more of an engaging creative escape?
I encourage all of you the next time you sit down to write – whether it’s a new story or one you’ve been working on – to ask yourself what you love about it and what motivates you to finish it. Then let your creativity and energy go to work.
This series has been a lot of fun, and I’ve enjoyed sharing my thoughts about story structure with you over the past few months. In two weeks, I’ll be starting a new series, so make sure to stop by and have a look.
Happy writing, and I’ll see you next time!
Check out the entire Story Structure series below: