Writing Tip #6 – What’s Your Story?

Hello my lovelies,

well, the sun may have disappeared but not our love of writing, so it’s time for the next post in this series 🙂

In the last post (thank you for all your likes, comments, shares and reblogs) we talked about how when it comes to writing books, people can be plotters or pantsters – or perhaps something in between. The conversations I then had with both published and aspiring authors on social media were fascinating – how writers do their thing really is unique to them… But however you do it, there is one thing we all have in common; we need to know our story.

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So, what makes up a story? Here are the important elements, so far as I see them:-

  • It’s a good idea to have an overarching theme, or set of themes i.e. love, hope, loss, survival. This basically lays the foundation for what your story is about, and if you can keep this at the forefront of your mind when you’re writing your book, it’ll keep pulling you back in the right direction.

For instance, in The Shawshank Redemption (one of my favourite films) which was actually based on a Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the key theme is hope – you must never give up even when things seem at their worst.

  • You need at least one protagonist (main character aka hero or heroine) which the story revolves around.

In a romance you’ll normally have two protagonists aka the people who’ll fall in love with each other. Some crime novels or historical fiction can have three or four protagonists as the book will be written from multiple viewpoints. E.g. a crime novel may tell the story from the points of view of the serial killer, the detective or team of detectives trying to catch him/her, and the killer’s next victim.

You need to make sure protagonists are interesting, well-rounded and engaging. You need your readers to want to root for them. We’ll cover characterisation another time, but do bear in mind when creating your story that you need to know your characters – how they think, feel and behave etc. – in order to understand how your story might unfold.

  • Your protagonist(s) will have a goal, or perhaps several – what is it that they want? What are they trying to achieve?

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In my novella, Valentine’s on Primrose Hill (part of the #LoveLondon series) my protagonist Georgiana is trying to find normality and create a new life for herself following a catastrophic car crash that has left her injured and scarred. In C.L. Taylor’s excellent and claustrophobic The Fear, Lou Wandsworth is trying (as an adult) to stop the man who abducted her as a teenager from abusing another girl and ruining her life.

  • There will be one or several conflicts. These will stop, or get in the way of, your protagonist achieving their goal(s). These can be internal or external.

Internal conflicts are a psychological struggle in the protagonist’s mind, driven by a previous bad experience or a set of values or beliefs that creates a tension for them i.e. in the film Titanic, Rose (Kate Winslet’s character) is torn between what she should do based on her class and upbringing (marry the man her mother wants her to in order to save them financially) and what she wants to do (live life on her own terms and be free to fall in love with whoever she wants).

External conflicts are events or people outside of the protagonists’ control i.e. in Titanic, Cal Hockley (played by Billy Zane) who cruelly pursues Rose and tries to force her to marry him, or the iceberg which sinks the ship, forcing Rose to choose between Jack (Leonardo DeCaprio) and staying alive.

  • You may have an antagonist (aka the anti-hero) – a character who is getting in the protagonist’s way or creating events that drive the story on and make the protagonist work that much harder to achieve their goal.

In the Die Hard films featuring Bruce Willis, there is always a ‘baddie’ who is trying to blow something up or kidnap someone. If there was no baddie, then Bruce Willis would not be trying to save the day, and there would be no story.

  • Think about the plot – this is the series of interrelated events that form the whole story. They will get the protagonist from A to Z, via B to Y, to achieve their goal.

In other words, and to simplify; first this happens to the protagonist, and then that happens, followed by this, and this, and this, until this happens and the protagonist does that, and it’s the end of the book.

Even if you are a total pantster and don’t like planning, you should at least have an idea in your mind of the main things that are going to happen to the protagonist. For example, *Spoiler Alert* the plot for Eat,Pray, Love might be: Elizabeth Gilbert breaks up her marriage and has a bitter divorce, then has a passionate love affair with an actor, then decides to go travelling to find herself, so then she goes to Rome and has a passionate love affair with food and the culture, then she moves on to India to find enlightenment, and then moves onto Bali where she finds love and faces a tough decision in order to find happiness… I won’t spoil the end.

  • You may have sub-plots too. These are secondary strands of the main plot, which either support or add tension to the story.

They can link into the main plot later on in the book or just be there to add depth to the story (but if it’s the latter, make sure it has a purpose i.e. to help the protagonist develop or grow in some way). Sub-plots can involve secondary characters or the antagonist in some way. They should take a back seat to the main plot, so only give them as much air time you need in order to achieve the purpose of the sub-plot.

In some books, the sub-plots of some characters go on to become the main plot for a subsequent book featuring that secondary character as a protagonist. For example, many of Paige Toon’s books are interlinked in this way i.e. Bridget has a sub-plot as a secondary character in The Longest Holiday in order to help the protagonist Laura achieve her goal, but later has her own story – one of my favourite books of 2017 – in The Last Piece of My Heart.

Hopefully the above should get you started with determining your core story.  There are other things you’ll need to consider when writing your book, such as setting, tension, structure, pacing, language, using the five senses, characterisation etc. but those are other posts for other days 🙂

Let me know how you get on – and if you have anything to add, please leave a comment 🙂

Until next time, happy reading and writing,

Love, Nikki x

 

 

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