Sunday, August 7, 2011

5 Essentials For Creating a Great Story

I read an article in Writer’s Digest written by Steven James, The 5 Essential Story Ingredients. Mr. James wrote that writers think that stories are just a beginning, middle, and end but it’s much more than that. A story must emotional engage the reader so they invest in the heroine’s outcome.
Aristotle claimed stories must have an origin, an escalation of conflict, and a resolution. The resolution must transform either a situation or a character. The very heart of the story is how the character deals with the tension created by the conflict. Without tension, conflict, and crisis there is no action.
The tension in the story must build as the story unfolds. There are 5 essentials that make a good story. Using them will draw readers in and keep them turning pages. How these essentials are developed make the story unique.
1.     Orientation
Grab your reader’s attention from the very start through the setting, mood, and tone and with a heroine they care about. If they don’t care about the heroine, they won’t care about the story. The reader already knows that something will change (after all it’s a story). The orientation is the baseline, starting point, from which the change will take place. It’s the standard by which they will judge the success or failure of the story.
2.     Crisis
Introducing a crisis, usually internal and external, that tips the heroine’s world out of kilter must be one she cannot immediately resolve. This is the challenge that sets the story in motion. Her life will change and will never be the same. There are basically two ways to introduce the crisis, begin with the heroine having what she wants and take it away or desiring what she wants and have her pursue it.
3.     Escalation
According to Mr. James, there are two types of characters – pebble people and putty people. One is rigid while the other is malleable. The main character needs to be a putty person. She is the one that has to change. She will struggle to get back to ‘normal’ but she is forever changed. The more intimate, personal and devastating the struggle the more the reader will keep reading.
4.     Discovery
At the climax of the story, the heroine realizes that her life has changed and will try by wit (cleverly putting the pieces together) or grit (showing perseverance or tenacity) to get back to ‘normal.’
The irony of storytelling is that the reader wants to predict the outcome but he wants to be wrong. The resolution of the story is more satisfying when it ends in a way that is inevitable and unexpected.
5.     Change
Here the heroine either transforms or dies. Whatever happens, she will never be the same. The change marks the resolution of the crisis and culmination of the story, moving the heroine to a new normal.
“If you render a portrait of the protagonist’s life in such a way that we can picture his world and also care about what happens to him, we’ll be drawn into the story. If you present us with an emotionally stirring crisis or calling, we’ll get hooked. If you show the stakes rising as the character struggles to solve this crisis, you’ll draw us in more deeply. And if you end the story in a surprising yet logical way that reveals a transformation of the main character’s life, we’ll be satisfied and anxious to read your next story.” … Steven James.


  1. That was a great outline and check list. I had never heard of orientation before but it makes perfect sense. Thank you!

  2. Very important points to remember. This will make a good addition to my writing quilt.

    Mary George.

  3. @Angelyn -

    I had the same reactions as you. I thought of it more as setting the stage for the story and giving the reader the information they needed to start them on their journey through the story. When I stepped back, orientation made perfect sense.

    Thanks for leaving a comment.

    ... Ruth

  4. @Mary George

    I agree. It's important information to keep in mind. I'm happy to add to your reading quilt.

    ... Ruth

  5. Excellent post!
    I recently tossed a heroine for being unlikable. The steps look easy, but a great work of fiction, you sweat blood over.
    I'm sweating.

    Thank you for the reminder of the bits it takes to make it happen.

  6. @Sandy L. Rowland

    You are certainly welcome. I agree with the blood letting. But at the end you have a really great story.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    ... Ruth

  7. I wrote a novel about a woman who was not very likeable at the beginning, but changed throughout the story. It didn't work because the publishers only read the first chapter and didn't see the transition. The reader needed to sense her true (and vulnerable) character at the beginning even if it wasn't apparent to the other characters in the story. Rewrite time!

  8. @Sandy

    Sometimes it difficult but I'm certain you'll do a great job reworking the character. Your story will be great.

  9. I liked this compilation, Ruth; nice roundup and came at a very good time for me.

    Just a comment @Sandy: Hard to convey a character's journey in the first chapter, Jane Porter teaches this: the beginning of a story should always point to the end. Good luck!

    Joanna Aislinn
    Dream. Believe. Strive. Achieve!
    The Wild Rose Press

  10. This is fascinating and a great guideline! Thanks for sharing!

  11. Great, straight to the point tips that make it simple. No wading through deep paragraphs to find your info, just the way I like it. :) Char w/a Sharla Rae

  12. @Joanna Aislinn

    I'm glad this was timely for you and you are right, the beginning should point to the end. It's the promise on which you need to deliver. How you get there is the story.

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a note.

  13. @Vonda Sinclair

    Sharing is half the fun. Thanks for stopping by. I enjoy reader comments.

  14. @Sharla Rae

    I had wading through paragraphs. I really prefer bullet points. I think it's a result of reading on line. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.