On Writing-What Every Good Story Needs

I belong to a writers’ group where the pros and cons of beginning one’s book by creating an outline has been discussed a lot. Recently, I was asked to write a guest blog on writing without using an outline for The Scribes: Comprehensive Writing Services for Non-Fiction. That turned into two blogs. The first, What Every Good Story Needs, is the first of a series on writing I’ll post here.

What Every Good Story Needs

How Stories Announce Themselves

…For most writers, whatever the exercise that precedes the story, there comes the moment when the initiating impulse—whether it be character, or events, or ideas—has triggered a fluttering throb of excitement…that will not subside—increases rather—until the story has been lived through, written through, dreamed through to its end. At least some of that excitement comes from the urgent desire to see what manner of creature this thing will insist on becoming. (Jack Hodgins, A Passion for Narrative)

If you are reading this, I’ll assume you have a story that is pressing you to write it. You likely have folders of relevant research, ideas for the story, and character sketches for each main character. All of these can be added to as the writing takes shape and the story develops.

Multiple-award-winning author, Jack Hodgins, says: there is no beginning, end, or proper sequence for the act of writing fiction. If you are writing a non-fiction narrative (memoir, biography, autobiography), this is also true.

That said, to bring a story fully to life, there are rules a writer needs to follow. Whether one writes fiction or non-fiction narratives, the rules are essentially the same, and if the aim is to create a work that engages readers from beginning to end, a writer needs to know them.

Every good story includes the following key elements:

•Setting—Setting offers colour; atmosphere; can contribute to action, affecting character; can become a major character itself; can be a metaphor; time—the passage of time

Stare at your setting until you discover what it has to offer you. (Hodgins, A Passion For Narrative)

•Believable Characters—Characters are those primary substances to which everything else is attached. (William Gass, Fiction and the Figures of Life)

To be believable, characters must act in contextually believable ways. All the time.

•Conflict •Tension—conflict brings tension. Stories build through escalating tension. …Tension comes from unmet desire. (James, Go Organic, Writers’ Digest, March/April 2013)

What do your characters want, what stands in their way, what are they doing to get it?

Escalating tensions equals rising stakes. Keeping the stakes rising is what keeps the reader involved.

When the conflict ceases, the story ends.

•Causality—everything that happens must be caused by the thing that precedes it.

•Downturn—a moment when everything seems lost.

•Climax—an encounter that turns things around.

•Transformation—either of a character or a situation, or both. It’s irreversible. There is no going back.

•Conclusion—must be a direct result of all that has gone before, and in retrospect could not be other than it is.

The next blog will be the one I started out to write: Writing Without an Outline. It’s a subject that’s often debated by writers of all stripes.









8 thoughts on “On Writing-What Every Good Story Needs

  1. jocelynm Post author

    Hi Jane,
    Thanks for the comments. On my home page there’s a menu at the top. On the menu, you’ll see ‘Blog’. Click on it, and it will take you directly to all the posts.

  2. jocelynm Post author

    I’ve been following your writings and I thought the guest blog for the scribes was really good. Well written, as always, and informative. The only thing I wonder about regarding accessing your blog from your web page is that there isn’t really anything on the page which tells you the blog exists and how to get there.

  3. jocelynm Post author

    Thanks Coleen. Much appreciate it. I know you’ll be a wonderful teacher for any who want to learn about treating dementia with kindness and positive strategies, and can’t wait to take a workshop from you.

  4. jocelynm Post author

    Sent: Sunday, May 11, 2014 5:18 PM
    To: Jocelyn Reekie
    Subject: Re: new blog series

    Wow!! Awesome site, Jocelyn.
    Love your blog and what you are sharing about your journey with Bill.
    Powerful and honest.
    Many thanks.
    Coleen Carmichael

  5. jocelynm Post author

    Thanks Hilary!
    Yes, friendships often get put on the back burner when our lives are filled with the things we must do, and there’s never a shortage of those.

    I feel like I need to show the friends I do have that I cherish them and want to stay connected. And that, of course, does take time. But it’s little things, like phone calls now and then, going for coffee or lunch, sending a card for no reason at all than to say Hi, How’re you doing? that I think matter most. Maybe an invite to a movie or some kind of performance now and again. And if they can’t make it, well, I try not to forget to try again. The groups I belong to (writers’ groups, art group) provide friendships, too, but as you say, friendships develop in different ways. I really enjoy my time with them, but socialize with few of them outside the activity we share. However, I do feel that if I asked for help from any of them, if they could give it they would. And that’s a valuable feeling to have.

  6. jocelynm Post author

    I really enjoyed reading your blog… ”with or without an outline” was very interesting.
    The article on Bill and friendships not realized, was very thought provoking. So very true, but we don’t think about it when life has us rushing through our daily routines … just getting from one day to the next was often all people could manage. Is it too late now to find a golf buddy or two for Bill?? It leaves one feeling as though something in our own lives is incomplete, and not able to be rectified ! I feel the same as you do, about the groups of friends made over the years… still in contact with childhood and school friends … some old neighbours from different areas lived in, and albeit few in number, work colleagues who were there, but not bonded with for long-term. All these friendships developed in different ways. I really feel like I should analyze them all with new eyes and try to re-kindle some now!! I think I need to look at some of my OLD CHRISTMAS CARD LISTS … which I no longer refer to each year, as I do not mail out cards. I should do it while lucky enough to still have them with us. Thanks for the BLOG! xx

Comments are closed.