This post is my first attempt to capture my thoughts about the essentials of storytelling. The list I’ve created needs refinement. I welcome comments, but please note that, for the sake of clarity, I’m not trying to be comprehensive. For example, I write below that your story should be sequential. Obviously, it’s possible to create a compelling story and use flashbacks.
Essential Steps for Creating a Compelling Story
1. Come up with an idea. The importance of the nature and originality of the idea is debatable. On one hand, it can help you get the book marketed and published. On the other, if you’re creating a character-driven novel, it doesn’t have nearly the importance to the story as the character does.
2. Create a character. Though your story may have multiple people floating through it, one needs to be the protagonist, and that person needs to be both relatable and the primary focus of the story.
3. The core of your idea should be a Significant Situation. Throw your character into that Significant Situation, and you have the beginnings of your story.
4. Break your idea into a series of events. Each event should be presented inside a scene. Note that a discovery writer cannot skip this step. Whereas an outliner will come up with a scene list before writing the first draft, the discovery writer typically writes the first draft and then checks that the scenes properly present the idea.
5. The sequences of scenes should:
• Follow a logical plot structure
• Follow the character from just before introduction of the Significant Situation until just after the conclusion of the Significant Situation
• Be presented in chronological order for the most part
6. Each scene should:
• Build upon the last scene. Think of building a story like presenting a case to a jury. Each scene is a bit of evidence, and you build that evidence up to reach your conclusion. Get rid of any scene that doesn’t advance the plot.
• Be interesting to the reader. Ask yourself the question, “What is the reader getting out of this scene?” Does it have enough tension, emotion, and/or humor?
• Show the event to the reader. If someone tells you about an accident on the freeway, the account isn’t going to stay with you for long or interest you all that much. If you see the accident, you’re going to remember it a whole lot longer, and it’s going to impact you a whole lot more.
• Be filtered through the POV character to give it emotional context. Events have no relevance. They’re not compelling or impactful in a vacuum. If you read a story about a guy dying in an accident, you may think that it’s a sad event, but it’s not going to impact you much. If you hear about the accident from the guy’s wife and she tells you how much his death has affected her, you’ll find the story compelling.
• Develop character. Each action, thought, and spoken word reveals something to the reader about your character. Understand what you’re revealing and let these three methods do their job. Telling the reader that your character is tall is far worse than showing him ducking under a doorway.
7. The conclusion should show a transformation in the character. For the story to be compelling, it needs to be meaningful. The best way to show the impact of the events is to show its effect on the character by showing significant personal change.