3 Things You Need for a Good Story

My dear friends,

I present to you today the most valuable piece of writing advice that you will ever receive.  (Probably.)

I would like to share a concept that I have used for years, whenever I critique stories (either my own, or others’).  This is the idea of the Golden Three, or, the three things you need for a good story.

And, they are, of course, Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.

If your character has these, your story will shine.

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Here’s the thing: a good story isn’t just one event happening after the other.  A good story is about something, or someone.  And I have found that a great way to break your story down into its simplest parts is to look at the structure of Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.

Your main character(s) should always have these three things:

1. The Goal:

What does your character want?  What are they working towards in the story?  This can evolve as the story progresses, but your MC should always be striving for something.

2. The Motivation:

Why does your character want that?  What is driving them?  What is motivating them?  What makes them want this?  Again, this can change throughout the story, but there should always be a motivation behind your character’s actions.

3. The Conflict:

What stands in the way of your character’s goals?  What is hindering them?  This might be a person, a circumstance, a government, or an internal barrier.  While this will also change as the story develops, it’s often helpful to have one overarching Conflict, as well as smaller Conflicts along the way.

Have your characters want things.  Give them dreams and reasons they dream those things.  Give them things that stand in their way.  And if you find yourself at a point in your story where your character doesn’t want something, then mix things up.  And if you find that there’s nothing too tricky standing in their way, have everything go horribly wrong for them so that the conflict in their path is enormous.

At least, that’s what works for me.  Those are the stories I enjoy reading, writing, and watching.

Also, a note, others have talked about this before – this wasn’t my original idea.  It’s just one that I discovered a long time ago and have loved since.  There’s even a book called GMC that is supposed to be excellent.  But I don’t think that this topic is discussed enough, so I thought I’d share it around.

Okay, hope you are all having a lovely day, and that your writing is going swimmingly.

 

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The Setting of a Writer

// Setting: noun. the place or type of surroundings where something is positioned or where an event takes place. //

As writers, we sometimes discuss the setting in our writing: the forest where the lost traveler finds himself at night, the tavern where the princess in disguise strikes a deal for her father, the garden where the love interest finally confesses his burning passion.  But what about the setting of our writing: where it happens, what it looks like, how it feels, what we wear?

Today, I wrote for a short while at my local Panera Bread (excellent choice for writing, if you ask me).  Tonight as I scrolled my twitter feed (follow me, @3lizabeth_A) something caught my eye: an author I follow (Ally Carter) posted that SHE had been writing at HER Panera Bread today as well.  And.  Wow.  For a shining moment, I saw myself as an author.  Not just a writer, like, someone-who-writes-for-fun, but an Author, someone who publishes books.  I had been working on a novel at a Panera Bread, while, at the same time, one of my favorite authors had been working on her novel at another Panera Bread somewhere else in the world.  It was a magical feeling.

So.  On the topic of writing and setting and all that jazz.

I wrote my first novel, The Sound of Color, almost entirely in my bedroom.  Sixteen-year-old Beth was a little terrified of the fact that she was writing a novel, so she kept it a secret for a while – a private, behind-closed-doors thing, only shared with a select few.  I wrote it in an armchair from my grandparents, with slippers on my feet and silence in the room.  It was a late night love affair, requiring only a Lord of the Rings soundtrack and a wild imagination.

But THEN, the 2015 NaNoWriMo struck and everything changed.  A busy Senior in Highschool, if I was going to write 50,000 words in a month, I was going to have to get creative with where I wrote.  So I brought my laptop to school and wrote between classes.  I’d write during carrides and lunch breaks, letting my novel-writing bleed into all the other areas of my life.  It was so freeing to write anywhere and everywhere.

And then I moved off to college.  And to be honest, I’ve struggled to find a time and place that feels right for writing when I’m away from home.  But I am teaching myself to let writing bleed into my “adult life” as well.  I’m teaching myself to look for Writing Spots.

So now?  Now, writing happens at Panera Bread in the half hour before meeting a friend for lunch.  It happens late at night with candles lit because the power has gone out, and I’m hoping my laptop battery lasts until I finish the chapter.  It happens in a childhood bedroom while I wait for my best friend to get out of the shower after I’ve dyed her hair.  It happens at the table after dinner, dishwasher humming in the background, family members talking in the other room.  It happens in a quirky coffee shop on campus, or in a busy college library.

One of the things that I’ve learned about myself in the past year is that I tend to write better when I treat is as something professional, or official.

Power to you, writers, if you can write in sweats and sweaters, laying in bed, with the covers pulled up to your chin.  The writing you do is still valid and still hard work and still important.  But I’ve found that I write the best if I take five minutes to put on real shoes, do my hair, and pretend like I’m going to a meeting.  If I try to write when I’m in bed or in my room, it’s too easy to sneak over to YouTube or Facebook or Twitter.  But if I dress like I’m off to a meeting, and I take my laptop to a table or desk, then it feels like I’m there to get something done.  And so the writing gets done much easier.

So, I’m curious: what do you all wear to write?  Where do you write the best?  I’m fascinated by how different settings can effect my writing so much, and I’m curious if you all experience the same thing.  Let’s chat in the comments.

// ps, this post is partially inspired by my friend Vivian’s recent post about writing and sweaters and books.  she’s great, go check her out. //

Write Whatever

I’ve had a lot of trouble writing my current WIP.  I feel like I’ve been working on it forever, but I don’t know where the plot is going.  I don’t know how to write a contemporary, I don’t know what the stakes are, and I just feel burned-out when I try to work on it.  I’ve just felt blehhhh every time I sat down to write.  I’d open the world document and just stare at the screen, unable to lift a finger.

So.  That’s fine.  Sometimes, stories do that to us.  Sometimes, they are just persnickety and don’t want to be written.

The important, thing however, is to not stop writing.  If one story isn’t working, and you’ve taken some time off to read and think, and you come back to it, and it’s still not working, (and you’ve repeated this ad nauseum) then it’s time to write something else.

Write something different for a while.  Have another novel you’re writing?  Work on that.  Have something you should be editing?  Work on that.  Want to play around with poetry?  Do it!  Have a song you want to write?  Write it!  It doesn’t matter.  Write short stories, write blog posts, write poetry – heck, if you want to, even write fanfiction.  Do whatever it takes to get your creative-gears moving again.

Sometimes when I hit a wall in a project, my instinct is to just sit and stare at the wall.  And complain about the wall.  And study the wall.  And write blog posts about the wall.  But maybe what I need to be doing instead is writing a different project for a while.

Does that mean I’m totally abandoning this project that I’ve spent so much time working on?  Probably not.  But I’m just not going anywhere with it right now.  So let’s go somewhere else instead.

Which leads me to my other point for today: write what excites you.  I write to escape, to go to a world that I love, to meet people that only exist in my head.  I write for fun, for adventure.  And the novel I was trying to write doesn’t have any adventures.

So, I’m writing other stuff.  I’ve written some really fun fanfiction.  I’ve written some short blurbs and beginnings of stories.  And now I’m working on re-writing/ finishing/ installing a plot into an old novel that I adore and want to breathe life into.  And for the first time in many weeks, I’m excited about writing.  I’m excited to be returning to this other story, to this other world.  It’s a bit daunting, but it’s also the most fun I’ve had with a WIP in a long time.

Let your imagination run wild.  Write whatever the heck you want to.  Adventure awaits.

adventure is out there!