Here is a question from a fellow writer: “Writing is hard, even when you sit down with a good plan based on good advice. An infant story can go anywhere with just a few keystroke decisions. So my question is, how do I find the one story that tells itself? I've got my interesting character, I've got their voice, and I've got the brilliant world around. Where is my story?”
I actually have two answers to this question. The first one is simple. Your story revolves around three elements: a character, in a setting, with a significant conflict. You’ve got two out of the three, since you’ve created your world and your character, but now you need that last important ingredient—the main conflict.
In fact, let’s be honest: a good story typically has several good conflicts.
The most noticeable conflict is often what is called “the outer conflict.” This is often a man vs. man story, but sometimes it can be a man pitted against an entire society, and other times it might be a tale about a man pitted against nature or even himself.
This outer conflict, often called the “A-line” in screenwriting, short for the A storyline, needs to be significant. In fact, my mentor used to say that it should be the single most important conflict that that character faces in his or her life. Otherwise, the tale could be rather weak or maudlin.
So your character is faced with a huge conflict and must make various attempts to resolve it. If you find that conflict, and you create a character who makes interesting attempts to resolve the problem, you’ll find that that storyline pretty much will resolve itself pretty easily.
But as I said, your character may have more than one conflict. He may have an inner conflict, and in fact for a satisfactory story, he almost always does. He might also have romantic conflicts, social or family conflicts, and so on.
The conflicts are what I call the “engine” that drives your story forward, giving it momentum. Once you consider each of your conflicts, think about how your character will try to resolve his problem, and then decide how the story will resolve to your satisfaction. You should be able to quit focusing on plot and start focusing on how you will write your story scene-by-scene and line-by-line.
But here is the thing: sometimes authors put a lot of work into developing a character and a story, then sit and wait for a revelation to strike them, so that they know how to write the “perfect” earth-shattering bestseller, the most fabulous book ever written.
The truth is, that story will probably never come to you as a gift. My wife sometimes has complained when I take too long to compose a story. She says, “You know how to write better than just about anyone.”
I always remind her: "There are ten thousand ways to write a good story, but a million ways to mess one up.” I tend to find that once I begin composing, I have to focus my energy on writing the story that I’ve got the best way that I know how. In other words, there isn’t just one “right way” to write a tale. Instead, the little treasures come as I’m actively working at it.
One last bit of advice. You mention that sometimes you feel like you’ve got a plan, but then you find that as you make choices, the story begins to go astray. I think that all of us want to be organic, to write beautifully, but as we make new decisions about our world and characters, we very often drift off course. A good author will recognize when that is happening and then re-plot the novel. This often happens when you reach the halfway point.
So when you’re writing, consider your conflicts to be the engine of your story, and set them up carefully to drive it forward. Recognize if the storyline is beginning to drift, and decide if you really are writing better or “just differently” from what you had planned. And remember, the perfect story doesn’t lie in having just the perfect conflicts, but in the artistry of communicating that tale.
Military SF Mega Storybundle with 15 action-packed books for as little as $15. Titles by me, Jody Lynn Nye, Robert Asprin, John Ringo, Brad Torgersen, Michael Z. Williamson, Steve Rzasa, William C. Dietz Aaron Allston, Rebecca Meluch, Travis Shane Taylor Jonathan P. Brazee, David Afsharirad, LJ Hachmeister and more. Part of the proceeds benefits the Challenger Learning Centers for Space Science Education. (please share!)
Realm Makers - Looking for a conference with in depth workshops taught by award-winning faculty? Ready to pitch your manuscript to an agent/editor? Or maybe you're just looking for a mentor to bounce ideas around with? Realm Makers 2017 has all that and more! So what are you waiting for? Late registration starts on June 15, so get in now!
Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing (book) by David Farland - All successful writers use resonance to enhance their stories by drawing power from stories that came before, by resonating with their readers' experiences, and by resonating within their own works. In this book, you'll learn exactly what resonance is and how to use it to make your stories more powerful. You'll see how it is used in literature and other art forms, and how one writer, J. R. R. Tolkien, mastered it in his work. Check out this book here.
Storytelling as a Fine Art (live workshop) - Most authors want to do more than just make money. They’re struggling to communicate their thoughts beautifully. But how do you do that in a story? In this workshop, Dave would like to create an intimate environment where individual students will receive ample time for one-on-one interaction and critiques. He will be spending personal time with each student. Because of that, we will be strictly limiting the number of students allowed to attend to 10. This workshop will be in Montana and you can learn more or sign up here.