Let’s set the scene here: you’re searching for a writing guide that easily explains everything you need for crafting/writing a compelling story/narrative. Next, you quickly realize there are hundreds upon thousands of these guides, even ones from bestselling authors of varying genres, but you still don’t know which one is going to be the best book or guide for you. Maybe you started with a Google search or perhaps you stopped in at the local library or even a bookstore chain. Now, you’re getting even more frustrated because you still just can’t find that exact guide you’re looking for. Or maybe you did find one but it’s way too expensive.
Well, that’s when things come full circle and you’re back at doing another Google search.
Listen, it doesn’t have to be complicated in finding the best writing guide that properly breaks down how to craft a solid story/narrative.
I’m going to show you the perfect way to structure your next story where you can simply “fill in the blanks” yourself and be off to the races.
First off, everything above you just read fits in every step of the classic storytelling structure:
- Setting the Scene/Exposition
- Rising Action
- Falling Action
- and Resolution/Denouement
Setting The Scene (Where and When)
Every setting must answer the “where” and “when” questions of the story. Your answers to these questions depend on the type of story you’re writing, too. A setting can be used to orientate a reader to that type of story. For example, a humorous fiction story or a children’s story will often begin with describing their environment – illustrations help if you’re going that route. It’s the same with science-fiction stories, too. There are “visual triggers” or descriptions giving the reader a sense of what kind of story it is, when it’s taking place, where it’s taking place, etc.
Author Tip: Practice writing what you see in your own personal life. Take a walk through a park and describe it in as much detail as possible in a notebook. When: what time of day is it? Where: what does the park look like? Are there children and parents around? What does the park sound like? What do the kids have fun doing the most at the park? What problems do they have that brought them to the park? Word banks and writing prompts are phenomenal for practicing setting the scene. Appeal to your readers’ senses!
Remember: Show! Don’t Tell!
Who Are Your Characters? (The Who….No, Not The Band)
Now that you’ve created your believable world (often referred to as “world-building”), it’s time to sprinkle in some believable characters. Your kind of characters and how many characters you have depends on both the story you’re writing and the genre it’s in. If it’s a short story, you may only need between one – five characters at most. This includes your main character and the rest being your “secondary” characters. Too many characters lead to confusion, and confusion leads to frustration in the reader, and frustration leads to not caring about continuing reading your book.
Author Tip: KISS!!! No, not go out and kiss someone! It’s an acronym for “Keep-It-Simple-Stupid!”. I know you’re not stupid, but that’s just the way the acronym is.
Memes might be just memes but every broken clock is right at least once a day. You’ve probably seen the “Be careful or you’ll end up in my novel” memes floating about the internet. Well, it’s true! If you’re a novice writer, it’s best to take the guesswork out as much as possible by creating characters inspired by people you already know. The more you understand your character’s personality traits, quirks, what makes them happy, upset, or [insert adjective here], the better. What part of their looks, their personality, quirks, problems, etc impact the story later on?
Remember: Show! Don’t Tell! Don’t fall into the trap of “adjective stuffing” of describing your characters. Choose an adjective and rewrite the sentence(s) to describe this adjective through action rather than telling.
What’s Your Problem? (The Why and the What!)
This is considered part of “Act 2” of a play, movie, tv-show, etc., whereas the above is considered part of Act 1. Act 2 is where most writers, both novice and master, have the most difficulty. Heck, it’s my weakness, too. What’s your weakness? Is it Act 1 (the beginning), Act 2 (the middle), or is it Act 3 (resolution)?
The problem of the story must exist or else everything else falls apart. It is the driving action of the story. It’s what the character(s) want – or rather not want – to happen. It’s through both their struggle in identifying and the challenges they face in overcoming the problem where most of your story takes place.
In just about every children’s or middle-grade book, every problem is resolved. But suppose you’re writing something more along the lines of YA (Young Adult) or General (Adult) Fiction – not every problem gets solved. This is noticeable throughout books geared more towards an older audience because it’s easier to understand that – in life – some problems remain unsolved. It doesn’t always mean their problems can’t be solved – it just means the hurdles they face is not as important as the fact that their problems will be resolved.
An Excellent Exercise: read books within the genre you’re writing. Read through and identify on a separate piece of paper the central problem in each story. Not every problem will get solved in their first attempt – that can help build tension during late Act 1 and/or throughout Act 2, also known as “Rising Action”.
Climax! (The How of Act 2)!
Simply put, it’s how things come to a head for your main and secondary characters. The dramatic high point of the action. Your climax, the pinnacle of Act 2, will ultimately decide the story’s fate. Will it be a happy or tragic ending? It’s the classic hero situation. Does the hero of the story become victorious or does the villain win? How does your main character finally overcome their big emotions about entering middle school against the odds of feeling like their parents abandoned them at a brand new school after uprooting them from their old one, making them feel as though they want to run away?
Your rising action elements finally lead up to this climax. The rising action builds and builds, creating enough suspense to leave the readers wondering how the main characters and/or others are going to overcome their problems. Your climax in the story is the release of this suspense.
This is where all elements of your story are achieved. If you’ve created a compelling (show) narrative the reader can feel, then you’ve done your job quite well. The problem your main character is faced with must matter deeply to them for it to matter deeply to the reader.
Watch a movie or tv-show and try to identify the most exciting scenes. What was revealed to matter most to the main character(s)? Identify with your own feelings as you’re watching them. How did it make you feel? Did it get your heart racing? Did you feel your muscles tensing? Those feelings are the result of an excellent climax.
Let the dice roll and let the chips fall where the writer may as it is said.
Resolution! Resolution! Read All About Act 3!
Alright, so your character(s) made it through the climax. What’s next now the conflict has been resolved? That’s where your resolution comes in. It’s where any lingering questions are answered.
Are they now living happily ever after? How are they doing after overcoming their big emotions about being at a brand new & scary school? Are they still wanting to run away or are they now enjoying school? How do you want your reader to feel when the story is over?
Here is where you can insert some sort of twist: think of it as one of my favorite movies, The Usual Suspects. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it here for you. But you certainly should watch it to get an excellent grasp of all the story elements above.
I’m a digital marketer by trade, and storytelling is critical for sending the right messages out to my audience(s). If you’re wanting a more simplified version of the “hero’s journey” kind of storytelling structure, just take what you’ve learned from above and follow this formula:
A character has a problem. They meet a guide who gives them a plan. Therefore, it calls them to action. Therefore, it ends in success/helping them avoid failure.
Do you still have any questions about developing a solid storytelling structure?
Comment below and I’ll do my best to answer each and every one of them.