I hope these quick writing tips helps you jumpstart your writing!
This series on Developing Ideas is excerpted from You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Get the book if you want to see all the info at once. The book addresses writing stories for children, but if you want to write for adults, simply do the exercises ignoring the "as a child" part.
A Story in Four Parts
Last week I talked about how a story should have a beginning, middle, and end.
If “beginning, middle, and end” doesn’t really help you, here’s another way to think of story structure. A story has four main parts: situation, complications, climax, and resolution. You need all of them to make your story work. (This is really the same as beginning, middle, and end, with the end broken into two parts, but the terms may be clearer.)
The situation should involve an interesting main character with a challenging problem or goal. Even this takes development. Maybe you have a great challenge, but aren’t sure why a character would have that goal. Or maybe your situation is interesting, but it doesn’t actually involve a problem.
For example, I wanted to write about a brother and sister who travel with a ghost hunter TV show. The girl can see ghosts, but the boy can’t. That gave me the characters and situation, but no problem or goal. Goals come from need or desire. What did they want that could sustain a series?
Tania feels sorry for the ghosts and wants to help them, while keeping her gift a secret from everyone but her brother. Jon wants to help and protect his sister, but sometimes he feels overwhelmed by the responsibility. Now we have characters with problems and goals. The story is off to a good start. (This became the four-book Haunted series.)
Tips for Great Story Goals and Stakes:
- Make sure your idea is specific and narrow. Focus on an individual person and situation, not a universal concept. For example, don’t try to write about “racism.” Instead, write about one character facing racism in a particular situation.
- The longer the story, the higher the stakes needed to sustain it. A short story character might want to win a contest; a novel character might need to save the world.
- Ask why the goal is important to the character. Why does this particular individual desperately want to succeed in this challenge?
- Ask why this goal is difficult. If reaching the goal is too easy, there is little tension and the story is too short. The goal should be possible, but just barely. It might even seem impossible. The reader should believe that the main character could fail. (More on this in in You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, Chapter 5: Characters.)
- Even if your main problem is external, try giving the character an internal flaw that contributes to the difficulty. This adds complications and also makes your character seem more real. For some internal flaws, see the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.
- Test the idea. Change the character’s age, gender, or looks. Change the point of view, setting, external conflict, or internal conflict. Choose the combination that has the most dramatic potential.
Stop back next week (or follow the blog) and we'll go into more detail on building the middle of your story.
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Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting.
Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Learn more at https://chriseboch.com/ or her Amazon page.
Chris also writes for adults under the name Kris Bock. Kris Bock novels are action-packed romantic adventures set in Southwestern landscapes. Fans of Mary Stewart, Barbara Michaels, and Terry Odell will want to check out Kris Bock’s romantic adventures. “Counterfeits is the kind of romantic suspense novel I have enjoyed since I first read Mary Stewart’s Moonspinners.” 5 Stars – Roberta at Sensuous Reviews blog
Read excerpts at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page. Sign up for the Kris Bock newsletter for announcements of new books, sales, and more.