Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Essential Story Ingredients

Story Steps Seven

You’ve got an idea for a story, some characters with interesting backstories, a general idea of your theme, and a working title. Now what?

Personally, I like to write a synopsis of my story. I see it as an opportunity to sketch out the major events of the story. It’s not written in stone, but it gives me an idea of where I’m going. It can also clue me into weak points or details I may need to further research. A synopsis offers any writer the opportunity to see if the essential story ingredients are there.

Say what?

Essential story ingredients, you ask? What could those be?

Well, a story needs at least one protagonist–I mostly write romance so we have two: the hero and the heroine. The word protagonist originated in Greek drama and means the main character–or two characters in a romance. This is the story character you want the reader to like, to cheer on, and become the most emotionally invested in whether or not he or she succeeds.

Then you’ll want an antagonist. This just a “writerly” word for adversary or opponent. Someone who doesn’t want the hero and heroine to achieve their goals. While the antagonist is usually another character, it could be a natural event such as a flood in the man against nature stories. Or the whale in Moby Dick.

Then a good story needs a situation that bumps the characters out of their current rut. The situation needs to be something that forces the main character(s) to act. In my recently released Regency novel, Butterfly Bride, the hero returns to England and discovers his wife has initiated divorce proceedings. This situation forces him to act.

Another important ingredient is motivation. The hero in Butterfly Bride is motivated by the need to avoid scandal. Plus, he’s motivated by the potential loss of his wife’s dowry. A divorce would mean repaying monies he doesn’t have which will ruin him financially.

The situation and motivation provide a goal for characters, another important component of a story. Due to the situation and motivation, my hero adopts the goal that he must convince his wife not to divorce him.

Every well written story has conflict. For my story, the hero faces conflict because his cousin has fallen love with the heroine. The cousin encourages the heroine's plan to divorce the hero because then she will be free to remarry him. There are, of course, many other obstacles for the hero to over come. A writer cannot make things easy for the main characters or the reader will become bored with the story.

Last, but not least, the story has to have a satisfying resolution. In other words, the story needs to resolve the issues in such a way that satisfies the reader.

Ensuring I have all the essential ingredients in the synopsis helps me figure out any holes that might exist. A writer needs to keep in mind that people have been telling and listening to stories for time immemorial. Good storytellers accept that readers bring certain expectations to the reading experience. Expectations you must meet to keep your readers reading.