By Karen Cioffi
Think about the last time you read a story that stayed with you. A story that made you feel. A story that took you on an adventure or had you sitting on the edge of your seat. A story that made you cry or laugh ... or think.
These types of stories have it. They have the key to making a story work.
So, how do you go about creating a stirring story?
Here are 5 top tips to writing a fiction story that works:
1. It’s got to have conflict.
All writers have heard this and the reason is because it’s true.
Your protagonist MUST be striving for something, and it should be something significant. She needs to have obstacles in her way that she has to overcome in order for the reader to be engaged enough to turn the page.
The reader has to be pulled into the story wondering if, and more so hoping that, the protagonist reaches her goal.
You wouldn’t have much of a story following a couple in an amusement park going from ride to ride, waiting on line for food, and so on. There’s nothing for the reader to get involved with. There’s no emotional element.
Or, what if a great writer puts two children in a story that takes place at the Bronx Zoo. The narrator describes in detail all the exhibits they visit and does it wonderfully. But, what does the reader have to sink her teeth into. Nothing.
One of my all-time favorite movies was Thelma and Louise. The conflict was never-ending. And, it was the conflict that keep you on the edge of your seat.
How would they get out of the mess they were in?!
That’s how you want your readers to feel. There needs to be conflict in order to make the reader feel. It doesn’t have to be ‘seat of your pants’ drama, but it needs to be significant. It can be external or internal, but it has to be something the reader can grab and hang on to. It has to make the reader get involved with the story and care about it.
2. The readers need to be invested in the story.
A good story brings the reader into the protagonist’s shoes. This is what will motivate the reader to like and root for the protagonist.
It’s all about making the reader ‘feel.’ The story has to evoke emotion on the reader’s part. The story has to have substance.
Going back to Thelma and Louise, one wrong decision spiraled out of control into what seemed to them as a live or die situation.
Circumstances and choices took them bounding out-of-control, as if caught up in a tornado. This kind of story creates investment.
It evoked emotion in just about everyone who saw the movie. Everyone was rooting for the protagonists.
In an article, “Make Readers Deeply Connect to Your Characters,” the author calls this key factor, “transportation.” You’re bringing the reader out of their reality and into your story world. You’re transporting them.
Like Alice when she steps into the rabbit hole. Down, down, down she went into another world.
3. The characters have to act ‘real’ and be likeable.
Your characters need to be multifaceted. They need to behave like real people. This means they’ll have good traits, but they’ll also have some bad traits or weaknesses. It may be they’re indecisive. Or, at the beginning of the story they may be frightened of everything.
Your characters should make great decisions, but they should also make poor ones.
Along with this, your protagonist needs to be likeable. He needs to have traits that the reader will admire and connect to. It’s important that the reader likes the protagonist.
Maybe your protagonist will be honest, heroic, responsible, generous, or loyal.
You get the idea. These are characteristics that most people admire in others. They’re characteristics that will draw the reader in.
I forgot what movie it was and I forgot the exact details, but basically the protagonist was sitting in a diner across from her date. Another woman, elegantly dressed, walked passed with toilet paper stuck to the bottom of her shoe. The toilet paper woman was heading to a table where a man was waiting for her.
The protagonist excused herself for a moment. She got up and removed the paper from the woman’s foot by walking behind her and stepping on the paper. Then she sat back down and returned to her conversation.
The woman that passed by never knew the kindness the protagonist showed her. And, the protagonist didn’t mention what she did to her date.
This one simple act of kindness spoke volumes about the character of the protagonist. She’s the type of person you’d admire and like to be friends with.
4. The protagonist needs to have some heroic qualities.
At some point in the story, the protagonist needs to step up. This can be in several small incidents that she overcomes throughout the story. Or, it can be in one climatic incident that wraps the story up.
In general, and especially in children’s stories, the protagonist needs to take action and reach her goal.
It may be after one or two or three failures, but ultimately, the protagonist must step up. Whether it’s physical or emotional, whether internal or external, she needs to fight through all obstacles that stand in her way.
Readers want a purposeful story. They want and even expect the protagonist to be victorious. Don’t let your readers down.
5. Tie-up all loose ends.
When you’re getting to the end of your story, make sure all loose ends are tied up. Any tidbits of information you put out there must be resolved.
You want the reader to go away satisfied. You don’t want her wondering why something was mentioned somewhere in the story and not resolved.
One example is mentioning that the protagonist’s close friend lost his dog. Then there’s no mention of it. Was the dog found?
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE DOG?
Another example is in a middle-grade manuscript I read. The author had the friend of the protagonist saying he couldn’t go to the protagonist’s special event because he had something URGENT to do that day.
Afterward there was no mention of the urgent matter.
This is a NO-NO. What was so urgent? Why was it mentioned, if it wasn’t followed up with?
As I read the manuscript I knew that part would either have to be addressed (tied-up) or eliminated.
These loose-ends are things that will gnaw at the reader. They will finish the book feeling like something is missing. Again, this is a NO-NO.
So, there you have it.
While there is more involved in writing good fiction, these five are at the top of the ‘good fiction story’ list.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, a successful children’s ghostwriter with 300+ satisfied clients worldwide, and an author online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. For children’s writing tips, or if you need help with your children’s story, visit: https://karencioffiwritingforchildren.com
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