Monday, January 10, 2011

Elements of a Story

Hope everyone had a great weekend!

So far this year we've talked about gathering your ideas and determining if your idea is big enough. Today we're going to get basic and make sure we have the five essential elements of a story. This can also be considered an overview of what we'll spend the next couple months delving into:

Back in October, when I asked you guys what you were most interested in talking about, many of you had questions about characters. Which is great, because the importance of crafting good characters really can't be overstated. Last week I was talking to my mom and she shared that she was reading a book she didn't like. "You know what I finally decided?" she said. "I don't like any of the characters. I think I'm just going to stop reading it."

Every book should have one main character. That's right - one. As in uno. As in lone. As in the only main character. Your main character determines the way the plot will develop and is (usually) the person who will solve the problem the story centers around. But it's also very important to have a great cast of secondary characters as they supply additional details, explanations, conflict, and so forth. A couple things we'll cover are making your characters necessary to the story, how to name your characters, combining roles, how to make them sound different, and so on.

The setting is, obviously, the location of the action. And some are more unique and memorable than others. Like an enormous chocolate factory or a giant peach. I adore Roald Dahl. We'll also talk about historical settings, research, etc.

A plot has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Many newbie writers develop only their main character's plot, but every character in your novel should have their own plot and we're going to talk about it. (Okay, don't take that to the extreme. Like the teacher who has one line doesn't need a plot, but your antagonist and secondary characters need to have things happening as well.)

James Scott Bell (I like his books, so you'll be hearing his name a lot on here) says Concept + Character x Conflict = a Novel. Without conflict, you have no story.

The solution to the problem the main character has been trying to solve. A satisfying ending takes work, care, and patience. Ever read a book with an unsatisfying ending? Yeah. Annoying, isn't it? We'll talk about happily ever afters and mostly-happily ever afters and maybe even some not-so-happily ever afters.

So as you're looking at your idea, make sure you've covered your basics.

See y'all back here on Wednesday!


  1. Do you know have to know all the conflict & resolution that will be faced when you start the story?
    I started a "blurby stuff" folder & added to it with some of you suggestions today, lol!

  2. Yay! Thanks for letting me know.

    For conflict, I don't think you need to know every bump in the road, but I think you should be sure that the idea you've crafted has a good breeding ground for conflict.

    Endings ... when I start a book, I occasionally know where it'll end. But more often I figure it out somewhere around the middle of my first draft.

  3. Love what you're doing with this blog Stephanie!! So fun to read!

    I really liked the way you pointed out that every character should have their own plot. It seems obvious, but sometimes it's those little things we forget about in our process.

  4. Happy to see you on here, Nicole!

    It's something I often leave out in my first draft. Now I'm getting better about thinking it through when I'm still in the plotting stages, but it's taken me quite a few years :)

  5. Q:So you ALL think books with 2 main characters are to confusing?
    I know that I was reading The Mother-Daughter Book club (Dear Pen Pal)today and she divides the books into 4 seasons and then gives each of the four characters a"chapter".It was kind of confusing.And I do think that if it's going back and forth like one main character then the other that it takes me a couple chapters before I get into the swing of things.
    The way I was writing my book originally was with 2 characters.But now the story is changing some and I am not sure.Worst part right now is the plot.I can't decide :(

  6. While there are certainly exceptions, a traditional novel has only one main character. Now, maybe it has one main character and a really, really prominent secondary character, but typically just one MAIN character. The character whose change propels the story.

  7. Like Nicole, the thought of a plot for the other characters has never occured to me before. It gives more depth to the characters themselves, doesn't it? Like you actually get to hear about their live and stuff and they don't just help the main character with their's!

  8. That's exactly right, Emii! And it helps create more conflict :)

  9. Personally I just find it absolutely FUN to create backstorys for my secondary characters =D
    Its awesome.
    And it gives me a more "personal relationship" with them if you will.
    One character is a guy and I feel really attached to him, he's a complex and kind of a "figuring out what he wants" type.
    and not so sure if he wants to be on the bad side or the good side... (this is a fantasy book i'm writing)

  10. Oh by the way,
    did anything ever happen with that book inside YOUR book we were helping you come up with??
    I mean the book that the book is in... (geez thats confusing)
    YOUr book I'm talking about lol

  11. Jazmine, thanks for asking! As far as I know, it's sitting on my editors desk, waiting for her to take a look at it. I'll keep you guys updated!

  12. Thats great =D!
    I look forward to know what happens ^_^

  13. Thanks for posting,Stephanie. :)