Baking A Great Story, by Kelly Inglis
Writing a great story is a lot like baking a great cheese soufflé or lemon meringue tart. Making either tasty dish is a lot more complicated than simply tossing the ingredients in a bowl and expecting it to come out of the oven looking like the photo in the recipe book. An amazing soufflé requires using the right combination of ingredients in the correct concentrations, followed by cooking it at precisely the right temperature for an exact length of time. If any of these ingredients or processes are even the slightest bit off, the soufflé will flop. So will your story if you don’t get the key ingredients right.
There are many wonderful stories out there. Although each one is unique in its own right, all great stories have several ingredients in common. Memorable characters are vital to a good story. Whether the main character is an adorable, ditzy Bridget Jones or a psychopathic, flesh-eating Hannibal Lecter, great characters help make the reader continue reading. A lovable character is one with whom we can relate. As their story unfolds you find yourself identifying with their problems, see yourself drinking wine and giggling with them, or lamenting over whether to wear the big undies or the sexy revealing ones. On the other hand, the Hannibal Lecter type characters we read about leave us triple checking the locks before we go to bed and wrench us from the depths of sleep.
The second major ingredient that a great story needs is conflict. Something needs to happen in the story If it all falls into place without a hitch, that’s not realistic, nor does it make for an interesting read. Although most of us eventually want to see a happy ending, if there’s no conflict in the story – no obstacles for the protagonist to overcome – and it’s one hundred percent smooth sailing for three hundred pages, that story is going to put most readers to sleep. Readers lose interest when everybody is happy all the time. What does the main character want? Who or what is standing in their way? Is the conflict the inner struggle of good morals over poverty, or caving in to peer pressure? Or is it an external conflict with an abusive partner, or losing a lover to someone else? What are the consequences of the character’s actions? When conflicts occur, the reader becomes immersed in the story, silently willing their favourite character to succeed. When obstacles must be overcome the reader becomes emotionally invested in seeing the bitter divorce through to the end, or if the heroine will discover that her husband murdered her father, or which sorcerer will win the battle of wizardry and rule the three moons of a fantasy world.
There are many other ingredients needed to craft a compelling story, such as exploring relationships, sub-plots, pacing, tension and editing, but by mixing up just the right combination of lovable or loathsome characters and tempering them with the right degree of internal and external conflict, you will be well on your way to creating a story that readers will not be able to put down until they’ve read the final sentence at three in the morning.
Now where did I put my soufflé recipe?