A good story keeps the audience focused on what’s happening, while allowing them to subconsciously recognize the underlying the patterns. As a writer it’s important to understand how and why a story works. I will often start with an idea, character, or conflict, and wait until the revision process to try and understand what pattern I’m trying to create, but that is only a preference.
Motive, Means, and Opposition
When people criticize a story as boring they usually mean there isn’t an engaging conflict. A good conflict gives the reader something to anticipate. To create a conflict, start with a character and a goal. Give the character a motive to achieve the goal; a means to pursue it, and obstacles to obstruct the character.
Cycling Through the Middle
The middle of the story is comprised of many small conflicts. A successful resolution transitions into a new one, while a failed resolution creates new complications. In rare instances a conflict may end in a draw or interruption. The resolution is postponed. This is more common in relationship based conflicts, which are often used to add subplots (more on subplots in a later post). During the middle of the story the various small conflicts expand the scope of the story, creating a sense of new perspective in the character and the reader.
Stories begin with a protagonist, a setting, and a status quo. Then something disrupts the status quo. This is the beginning of the plot. Plot constitutes everything that happens in the story; every event, action, or choice. The foundation of any plot is conflict. Conflict is any time a character has an objective with an uncertain outcome. Every conflict has two steps, the promise and the payoff. The promise is when you build the conflict up. The payoff is when you resolve the conflict.