Monday, August 10, 2020

10 Steps to Making a Story

Only ten steps? Well, if you start with the actual writing, we can probably break it into ten major ones. Let's try.

Think of these as the key moments in your story.

1. With the HOOK, your job is to grab your readers and make them read beyond that first paragraph. This hook has to be fresh and memorable. In fact it should be able take an old topic or theme and put a unique twist to it. It should plant this question your readers' minds: “What happens next?” Put that hook in your first chapter, if possible on the first page, and best of all in the first line.

E.B. White knew all about great hooks: "Where's Pa going with that axe?"

2. The INCITING EVENT is where your story kicks off. It's where the readers see the conflict. And it creates a question that as a writer you must answer at the CLIMAX of your story. There are a lot of places for this event to occur: before the story opens, at the beginning, or at least in the first quarter of the book.

In The Hunger Games Katniss, an independent girl with skills and a drive to protect others, sees her sister drawn to be Tribute in the Hunger Games.

3. The KEY EVENT puts your protagonist smack in into that plot. Let's say your inciting event was a murder. Well, that murder doesn't affect your character until you a) put him charge of the investigation b) have him enter the room and leave his fingerprints c) make him the prime suspect.

The Key Event always follows the Inciting Event--the sooner the better.


The First Plot Point comes at the end of the "First Act." It signals the beginning of "Act Two."  Here's where your character's usual world changes. You've already set up what's normal for this character, you've shown what his world looks like (setting), you've introduced your important supporting characters, and you've made the stakes clear and hopefully high. At the first plot point your character's world has shifted, maybe it has turned upside down, and now he has to deal with a whole new set of rules and issues. 

A husband is arrested for the murder of his wealthy wife and must prove his innocence.

You put this first plot point about 25% into your book. Think of this as your first quarter and you have three quarters to go.


Reaction. Reaction. And more reaction. That's what your character is busy with during this part of your story. Remember his world is upside down and he's in deep trouble, struggling to get out of it. Think about Dr. Richard Kimble in that now ancient TV series, The Fugitive. He was in act two, part one for a long time.

Think of this part of your book as leading up to half time. It should fall between 25% to 50% of your story.


Get ready for another major change here. Your character has struggled to survive in a futuristic survival game, or chased down clues to prove he's innocent of the murder. Now this character is a lot more savvy and ready to take the ball and run with it. 

Katniss uses her cunning to outsmart those who try to manipulate the games.
Dr. Kimble (after many years) now starts using better strategies for closing in on the "one-armed man."

I guess it's pretty obvious that you plunk the midpoint in the middle. This is the end of act two, part one and the beginning of act two, part two. 

Here's where your character stops being victim and turns proactive. He’s got some plans for taking charge of the situation and fixing whatever mess you've put him into.

Here's where you're heading into the 75% part of the story.


This is the last major plot point. Here's where things are going change again, and not for the better. Your character is at the crux of his situation. He has to come to terms with who he is and what's been keeping him from succeeding in whatever quest you've set out. 

This comes at the beginning of act three, again that 75% part of the book. There's a lot happening here because you're setting up for...


Here's where all those threads (main and complicating side ones) are tied up. Any conflict is resolved. Katniss saves not only herself, but her village and sets off the revolution. Dr. Richard Kimball snags the real killer.

You've come to the 90% mark in your story. You're heading into the highest peak and the moment when the book ends. 


This is an important part of the story. It gives your readers a chance to breathe and relax. They've followed the character through his trials, his failures, his self-doubts, and now they have an opportunity to see him as the changed person. Maybe they'll even glimpse a bright future. 

I guess I don't have to say this is The End.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That outlines it very well!

Computer Tutor said...

Good tips. I think new writers could build a story from this--and mature writers could build a better one!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for breaking it all down. I'm checking in my head to be sure my current manuscript follows this.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Excellent way of breaking it down.

cleemckenzie said...

I'm not the best at structure, so thinking about building a story in sections does help me. At least I know where to hang the plot details and flesh out the characters.

Jemi Fraser said...

That's a great outline - one my brain can actually wrap itself around! Thanks :)

The Liberty Belle said...

These are some very good tips. Thanks for sharing them.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Lee - great points ... I get frustrated when I read a book I enjoy - and then the climax, ending let me down ... it's insufficient - it might solve things ... but I'm left unsatisfied. One must finish properly what one's spent a book writing ... so ending and the beginning are so important. Take care - Hilary

Denise (Baer) Haschka said...

Nice outline! It's always good to revisit when writing something new. Thanks for sharing.

Gra said...

Excelente esto me ayudaria mucho hasta para implementarlo en mi blog; que suelo contar historias de cantantes y parte de su biografia.
Me encanto tu blog y te sigo!