Would you like to learn how to craft a compelling story? One that hooks readers and keeps them turning pages from beginning to end? Prepare for some fun as we get started!
As a writer looking to improve your work, you always need to be aware of your goals working on 3 levels:
1) Your Personal Goal.
Why do you want to write? What will change if you do? Is writing a book a dream you've always wanted to pursue? Do you love conjuring stories in your head? Would you like a career that offers flexibility, one that could help support your family? Or do you seek to inspire others?
The first thing I encourage writers to do when starting a new project is to write a letter to yourself detailing your "Why." Why is writing this story important? What motivates you? What will you accomplish? Place it in an envelope on your desk and during times of discouragement, you can pull this letter out and remind yourself why you started writing in the first place.
2) Your Story Goal.
Why this story? What does it mean to you? What is the purpose behind the story, the overall story question or theme you want to explore? If the story does not mean anything to you as the author, it won't mean anything to your readers either. Your story will lack empathy, emotion, and excitement. You need to put your heart into the book. No one else can write like you, because no one else has the exact same personality traits, background, or experiences as you. What interests you? What has embarrassed you, delighted you, or made you angry? Bring your characters to life by letting them experience some of your own life lessons and emotions. How do you want your reader to feel after they've finished your story? What is the message you would like them to 'get?'
3) Your Character's Goal.
In fiction, nothing happens without a reason. And you shouldn't have characters in your story who do not serve a purpose. Everyone has a goal, a reason for being. I recently watched a show on TV where the villain was masked and no one knew who it was. After brainstorming with my son and daughter, we finally deduced that the villain had to be the one character in the group that wasn't contributing anything, otherwise—why would he be there? As it turns out, we were right. The villain had been hiding in plain sight all along. He'd been the one person in the story who didn't seem to have a goal—until his identity was revealed. Then it all made sense.
So ask yourself—What is your main character's goal? What does he/she want to accomplish? Careful when you choose, for this goal has to be strong enough, matter enough, to drive the entire story. Who opposes your main character's goal? Why? What are the goals and motivations for the other characters in your story? What drives them to do the things they do?
Motivation is the key behind your goal, your story goal, and your characters goals.
They all connect.
Imagine a writer who has lost her husband and has had to learn how to go through life alone. She wants to connect with others, share her experiences, and inspire other women that they too can get through this tragedy.
She creates a story with themes of perseverance, reaching out, learning to accept help from others, stepping out of one's comfort zone. The story question becomes—Can the main character learn to accept help from others and learn she isn't as alone as she thinks?
Now the author sets up a fictional character, different than herself, but one who also has trouble reaching out to others. The character's goal is to start a new business to support herself, but she has trouble because she will not ask others for help. Then the character learns—through story developments—that maybe connecting with others isn't so bad. And at the end, she discovers she actually likes meeting new people or that she's needed. This incremental change in the fictional character's attitude is called the "character arc." The main character will not be the same person at the end of this story, he/she will change for the better (which will inspire the reader that they too can change for the better, just as the author has learned to change for the better during her own experience.) In this case, the character moved from isolation to community.
The end of the story also answers the story question for the reader. Will this character learn to accept help from others? Yes or no? If you are not writing a story with a happily-ever-after, you might want the reader to understand what will happen if the character's issue is not resolved. What if your character doesn't change? What is the down-side of the issue? What will happen to her? Sometimes the other characters in your story have to face the same issue and they do fail, inspiring the main character to continue on and become different so they do not share the same fate.
Perhaps as a kid, you were bullied. You were overweight, easily intimidated, and could not stand up for yourself. Over time you gained more confidence in yourself or maybe you still need to gain more confidence in yourself. This issue matters intensely to you, the writer. So you are driven to write a story about the effects of bullying. This could be a YA novel or about an adult character bullied in the workplace. Maybe you never worked a corporate position like the character in the story, but the issue is still the same. Because of your past experience, you can relate and transfer your own feelings authentically to your main character. Then during the course of the story the character is forced to face this issue straight on. Will he learn to stand up for himself? Yes or no? Why is it so hard? Will learning to stand up for himself help him to achieve his goal?
Writing the story may help both you and your reader. Writing can be therapeutic! In a fictional story you can punch that bully in the face, conjure the nerve to jump out of airplanes, tell your boss what you really think of him, or kill off your ex! Just remember that in fiction, as in real life, there will also be consequences. (Grin.)
If this post has inspired you to take up the craft of writing, or helped your writing in any way, I sincerely hope you will subscribe to my weekly blog where I will continue the Learn to Write Fantastic Fiction series.
Next Wednesday, I will be taking you to the next step in story creation when we talk about:
5 Questions to Create believable Villains
Until then, Happy Writing!