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How to write a story
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Five page guide on how to write a story, describing the various main phases of a narrative as well as a helpful hint on how to write good stories on the final page.
Almost all narratives (stories) follow a certain outline, or structure. In this small guide, we try to explain the most basic of outlines, to help guide novice fiction writers.
First : Why real life events make bad stories
Because fiction must be even more realist than real life !
Seriously, real life isn't organized like stories. You life occurs like it does because of your decisions, the decisions of the people around you but because of a lot coincidences, sometimes bad, sometimes good. Unless you form an actual plan in advance, your life doesn't have a structure in itself : events occurs semi-randomly.
Most stories are divided into various major steps :
- The Hook
- The Setup
- The first plot point
- The conflict phase
- The final plot point
- The climax
- The conclusion
We also provide, at the end of this guide, an helpful hint on how to write your stories.
The hook is the very first section of a narrative. It is what interests the readers. In Star Wars, it is the scene at the beginning when Darth Vader invades the princess's shuttle. In James Bond movies, it is the small segment before the real generic. Try to find a way to attract your readers, to convince them to stay until at least the first plot point. In very short stories, the hook is often undistinguishable from the Setup, since the setup itself is relatively short.
In a movie, it is usually the first 10 minutes.
An introduction or Setup
You know your life, your friends, your family, but in a story, you need an actual beginning to your story in which you present your universe to the reader. You may put the emphasis on the personality of the characters, on the location where the action occurs, on the events in preparation, but regardless of what you choose, it will indicate your preferences to the reader. If you take a long time explaining the relationship between the various characters, the reader will expect the story to focus on the tensions in that relationship. If you spend a significant number of pages describing the scenery, the reader will expect the action to take advantage of the layout.
Remember Anton Chekhov's theatrical rule :
If a gun is shown in the first act, it should be fired in the third
The first plot point
This is where the story turns. Before that fateful event, the story was in balance. The characters were at peace, in equilibrium even if it was a precarious one. The first plot point changes everything. The main character either makes a critical choice or is forced to make one. In many nudist first-timer story, this is usually when the character decides to try naturism. In a seduction story, this is when the main character falls in love and wants to win his or her love interest.
The first plot point distinguishes the good writer from the bad one. If the plot point is weak, the reader will not be hooked into your story enough to care about what is happening to your characters and will not trust you to deliver a story that is appealing to them. Furthermore, a lot of readers do not judge a book until they have seen where it is going and as such, many readers will be very tolerant with the setup of a story, until they get thru the first plot point, at which point they evaluate what they know so far about the story.
In a 2 hour movie, the first plot point usually occurs after approximately 30 minutes.
Let us pause a second to talk about goals. You main character has a goal in your story. He or she has a mission to accomplish, which could be to date the love interest, or to finally be comfortable with naturism. Before the first plot point, your character usually doesn't have a goal, or if she has a goal, it is not clearly defined. The first plot point will introduce or define that goal.
For example, a character might be unhappy with his self-image from the setup, but the first plot point could introduce naturism as a way to confront his problem.
The conflict phase
Once the first plot point occurs, the main character struggles to attain his or her goal. They find allies, enemies, items and ideas to help them in their quest. It is a constant fight for achieving victory which always seems to be too far to attain.
In short stories, this section will be rather small, with one or two obstacles. In longer stories, it will occupy a significant portion of the narrative.
In a 2 hour movie, the conflict phase usually occurs between the 30 minutes and 90 minutes.
The final plot point
At the final plot point, the story turns again, this time in direction of the resolution. The main character may even changes his or her goal because of the change in the narration. In Star Wars for example, Luke Skywalker changes from his goal of delivering the message to the princess, to the goal of destroying the Death Star. The change of goal might be subtle. If the first plot point showed a character falling in love, with a goal of seducing the love interest, the second plot point might be the successful seduction with developing a working relationship becoming the second goal.
Please note that in a plot point, the story turns, but is not resolved yet. In Star Wars, Luke decides to help destroy the Death Star, but it is not yet destroyed.
In a 2 hour movie, the final plot point usually occurs after 90 minutes.
At the climax, the character reaches his or her final goal, and there is an increased intensity in the story until the maximum is reached at the climax. This might be, for example, when Checkov's gun is fired. In a murder mystery, this is when the killer is unmasked and arrested. In Star Wars, the Death Star is destroyed.
The Conclusion or Resolution
A new equilibrium is obtained. The characters are at peace again, but this time, it is a stable one. This is the end of your story.
Writing your story
There are several schools of writing. Some writers recommend preparing all of your story before starting, and we strongly suggest doing so. It is not always possible however. First of all, it requires a lot of work and discipline and second of all, not every writers are good with pre-planned structures.
If you do not plan your story, there is a big trick to help you out: Start from the middle !
First establish the first goal of your character, the one he obtains at the first plot point. Then flesh our a few obstacles and allies and start writing right after the first plot point until you reach the end of your story. Do not worry to much about using deus ex machinas, or tricks such as a hidden gun, because you haven't written your setup yet! Do make a note of all such plot devices for later.
Once you are satisfied with the ending of your story, and it's final plot point, come back to the beginning and present your characters as they were prior to going thru the yet unwritten first plot point. Pay attention to the plot devices, making sure to establish them in a not too obvious way. If the character wins the lottery at the climax, now is the time to purchase it. but do not make a huge deal out of it. If a murder is solved in the climax, now is the time to plan it, unless it was the hook itself.
The final section you end up writing is the first plot point, ensuring it is coherent with the rest of the story, since you already know everything occurring after !