Getting Started

You have a story to tell. Notice I did not say a history. In fiction writing, the “history” of your story world is called backfill and should be used sparingly like spice when making a soup or sauce. Overusing backfill, especially early in a story, will send the reader screaming and hurling your writing against the wall.

A story, by definition, is: A character has a problem to solve, and after repeated adversity and being pushed to the brink, the character either succeeds or fails to reach the goal, and because of said outcome, is changed. Perhaps the character succeeds in one aspect and fails in another. That is something you will decide as the story matures.

First and foremost, a story (regardless of length) is about a character or characters the reader emotionally relates to. Without a bond, there is no reason for the reader to continue. That does not mean that the reader “likes” the character as in the case of an anti-hero (Thomas Covenant in Stephen R. Donaldson’s trilogy), but nonetheless, there is something that forces the reader to turn the page.

The thing that forces the reader forward is a problem facing the character. It can be internal or external (and preferably both, especially in a longer piece), but must be important to the character–your lead MUST address the problem, and there is no way to avoid it. Otherwise, there is no story.

The character‘s problem is beset by great adversity that threatens him/her and shatters their world. It must be of extreme importance to your lead (physical or emotional death, total ruin as in losing a loved one or one’s job/profession) and the character must overcome several problems to reach (or not reach) the goal that you set forth. One hurdle is not enough, and it cannot be a small problem. Example: Character needs money for an operation to save their life. If they have something they can sell to pay for it (even if it hurts them to part with the item), the selling is not enough to keep the reader’s interest. Instead, have them homeless and penniless. Nothing defines adversity like certain death.

Following several attempts against adversity (ideally, each increasingly more difficult than the one before), the character succeeds (or fails) to solve the problem, depending on the point of the story. Not all stories have happy endings where lovers embrace against the background of the sun disappearing on the horizon. Like life, people fail, but there is often also a silver lining. If your character fails (they do not get the money for the operation), have them learn an important lesson such as acceptance of impending death, maybe changing another’s life (a child?) by donating an organ that will save them. If you set your character up as an entire life spent selfish and self-serving, the emotional change of their final act to save another is your resolution.

Most importantly, the change (resolution) must satisfy the reader. Reading is an investment. Give the reader what they want and they will scour bookshelves and the internet to find more of your creations. Isn’t that what we all want?

Let us know how you develop a sympathetic character with a problem to solve.



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