Story essentials

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Think about your main character, what they want, what is standing in their way, and what they have to lose if they don't get what they want. The answers should comprise your main plot, or your A plot, and the conflict and stakes should be such that there is enough things that can happen to fill all those pages. (Compelling pages.) Romance is usually your B plot, unless of course you are writing a romance.

Every good story starts with character, conflict, and stakes.

When brainstorming, think about these essential elements. A good core conflict and high stakes can drive the book, whereas weak (or non-existent) conflict and low stakes can kill momentum. No one wants to read a boring book.

Think of THE HUNGER GAMES. What does Katniss want: a) to save her sister b) once she volunteers, not to DIE. Like, damn--that is some big conflict and heavy stakes. THG also has layered micro-conflict/stakes of Katniss not wanting to become a killer and then having to grapple with the reality of killing to survive.

A story about a girl who lives in a village and, say, the boy she likes doesn't like her back... that's pretty insert in terms of conflict, stakes and potential character arcs. Now, a person liking someone and their object of affection not liking them back CAN be good conflict, if paired with other layers of conflict, stakes, worldbuilding, etc. Effective storytelling is all about finesse, skill and subverting tropes.

You don't want to be lazy with stakes, however. LIFE OR DEATH and/or SAVING THE WORLD! are overdone. If you're choosing such massive stakes you need to layer them with smart worldbuilding, character development and lots of interesting conflict, ala Suzanne Collins.

Consider Freytag's model for fiction structure:

Exposition: the world your character lives in, establishing character(s), and what your main character wants.

Rising Action: your main character faces a series of obstacles (conflict).

Climax: the most exciting scene in your book--the thing everything has been building to. This could be a battle, a confrontation, a secret revealed, a romance brought to a head (confessions of love, a kiss, etc.).

Falling Action: everything that happens as the result of the big climax.

Resolution: remaining questions, mysteries, feelings, arcs are resolved.

But wait! It gets more complicated! The above is the bare bones basics of what you need your story to do, and there will be many layers on top of it. You can have A plots and B plots, which work in concert together to create a dynamic and complex story.


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