Yup, this is pretty basic stuff, but bear with me because I’m going to lay this post is coming with some bonus material and links to help you take that story to the next level!
So what are the 5 most important parts of a story?
You may find yourself more character driven, setting driven, or plot driven as a writer, but all of us use these five parts of a story in every book
For me, I know I’m a character driven writer. That’s what fuels my world the most.
Fantasy writers often tend to be more setting driven. They want to really define those worlds through words.
And other genres like say police procedurals, are far ore plot driven, or even the occasional conflict driven.
It’s not necessary to define what your biggest story part strength is because you have to have them all to create a story, BUT anytime you can identify your strengths and weaknesses in writing can certainly help you to become a better, stronger writer.
Let’s break these parts down one by one.
This is always my favorite part! Every Fall in my Facebook Reader Group called Julie Trettel’s Book Lovers, I host a Reader Appreciation Day. There’s giveaway, announcements, reveals, games, polls, FB live sessions, and some Zoom live workshops. The favorite hands down is my Character Development Workshop. Basically, it breaks down to these basic questions, which those attending get to do to create characters that I then turn around and use in my stories as fun shoutout to my readers.
3. Hair color
4. Eye color
7. Description & notes
Now, this is MY basic list for character development. This is not necessarily your needs, so ultimately you need to decide on what your actual needs are. For example: Because I write PNR, I need to know what type of shifter I’m working with. This would also come in handy for fantasy and sci fi writers or anyone dealing with characters outside the human world. Those of you writing say historical romance or women’s fiction probably have no need for this, so remove it from YOUR list.
I’ve already told you that I am a very character driven writer. Someone who is not character driven can easily incorporate hair color, eye color, and built into “description” and make notes a separate category. For me “description & notes” is basically anything from defining a characters appearance more specifically, to notes I want to remember about that character later.
I can tell you that whether you do a one page rap sheet on each character or create a spreadsheet with a line for each character is irrelevant. But I can also tell you from personal experience… especially you pantsers out there… get in the habit of writing this down as you go. If you’re a plotter, a character development worksheet should fall write in line with your need to create before writing. For pantsers, you’re going to struggle to keep up with this by forcing yourself to stop and sometimes even backup, to make these notes. But coming from someone with 40 books in one world and recurring characters that keep popping up, you want this data to refer back to!
Keeping track of characters, even if you’re just writing a standalone, will bring consistency and strength to you story.
World creation can be lots of fun. There are lots of ways to do this. Personally, I don’t write much down when it comes to settings, though as I continue to grow my world, I do keep a spreadsheet sheet with basic places and their locations relative to other things in my towns/packs.
One thing that I think is super cool that I’ve been hearing often from my more setting driven author friends, is to sit down and draw out a sketch of your setting, town, world, building, room, whatever your dominate setting is as a visual reference to refer back to when needed. Basically, a map of your story setting. There are online programs like www.inkarnate.com that are really cool to use to define your settings, especially for you fantasy writers out there.
Another tip for helping to define your setting is to create a collage or Pinterest board with pictures of the area, the buildings, the feel of your setting.
Now, some of these things, for me, are more time suck and spiral down the rabbit hole of the interwebs than actually helpful. This is where you have to be self-aware of what YOU NEED. If something like this is going to hijack your writing for days or even weeks as you work to get it perfected… don’t do it! If this is something quick and easy that you will refer back often and actually use… do it.
These are only tools and not everyone needs the same tools to do the job right.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one. I’m not talking about plotting like we discussed when defining what type of writer you are. Whether you actually write it down and plot it all out or you pants your way through it, this “plot” is referring to your actual story progression. I’ll dive into more specific things like transitions and such on later posts.
And yes, you can absolutely be a plot driven writer. This is when the action is more prominent than the characters and settings.
Want to skip ahead and learn how to strengthen your plots and add more “butter” to your storylines? I highly, highly, highly recommend 7 Figure Fiction by Theodora Taylor on the concept of universal fantasy. And there are additional books out now too, including a workbook to help your storylines add that little bit extra addicted oomph.
Whew, this one should be an entire post on it’s own. Let me just try to keep this one as simple as possible.
Every story must have conflict!
Now, this does not mean that every story needs a surprise baby or a grand “Yippee-ki-yay, MFers” moment. Understanding the expectations for your genre can help you to define whether your conflict is strong enough or not for YOUR readers.
For me, I look at conflict like this…
Is it realistic to the story?
Blowing up the Nakatomi building or someplace similar isn’t very realistic for my Six Pack Shifters series, maybe for my Westin Force books, but probably not for some relatively peaceful shifters in a small-town cowboy community.
Did it drive the desired wedge between the characters?
Basically, did it give you the desired conflict? If surprise pregnancy is your “conflict” yet everyone’s thrilled about a new baby on the way, then it’s probably not the desired effect you’re looking for making it a weak conflict.
Is it resolvable?
Conflict must be resolved! Which brings us to our final story part…
“But Julie, I write with cliff hangers…” Hear me now – it does not matter. Stories written across multiple books with cliff hanger endings still require a resolution. Sure, there can be an overarching series conflict left unresolved until a later book, but every individual book must also have a conflict that is resolvable before you drop that cliffy.
Resolutions can be multi-faceted. You may have several smaller conflicts that need to be wrapped up in order to successfully bring an ending to your book.
Just like conflict, the resolution must also be believable. “They blew up the Nakatomi building, dead bodies were everywhere, and they lived happily ever after.” Unless your MC was a sick sonofabitch, this is not a believable resolution.
Back to knowing your genre matters, there are some romance genres that absolutely want that HEA – happily ever after – ending regardless of how horrific your conflict was with your characters. So knowing your audience and their expectations can also very much help with you to write stronger resolutions and endings for your story.
Resolving your conflict should end your story. Sure, you can add a little extra fluff after the resolution, I do it with an epilogue on each book, but ultimately the story needs to flow in a natural progression. Resolution can’t come before conflict and new content (aside from necessary cliff-hanger details for those of you writing those or added bonus content not containing additional conflict) should never occur after the resolution.
To recap today…
Knowing your writing strengths is always a bonus!
Keep track of important factors within your story.
Again, I can’t stress enough for those of you writing in series and multi-series worlds especially, take notes of your story and characters. It doesn’t even have to be much, just enough for you to maintain consistency.
Conflict must be believable, drive the desired wedge, and resolvable.
Resolution always ends the book.
Now that you know what type of writer you are (last week’s W&P with Julie – What kind of writer are you?”, I want you to start considering what tools you need to help you write stronger, better storylines. Would a visual board of your setting help? Do you need help establishing a character log? Are you crafty and want to try drawing your own map of your world?
And regardless, I’d like you to create a spreadsheet or document for your current project and start tracking some of this data in whatever manner works best for YOU, with the data most beneficial to YOU. FYI, I like organized chaos, so my spreadsheets won’t help most of you, but I can share, and do have some other handouts and examples to share if you’re not really sure how to begin this.
Remember, none of this is meant to take hours of writing time away- unless you’re a diehard plotter and really need every little detail defined before writing your book – but to help you maintain consistency throughout your books without having to fact-check yourself every time you sit down to write.
If you have any questions or comments, just drop them in the comment section below or reach out directly to me. I’m really not had to find.