A Great Story Is More Than a String of Interesting Events

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Like many new writers, I thought I had to create a string of interesting events to make a good story. Some scary, some romantic, some brave, etc. I didn’t see the story as my protagonist’s journey to become someone better.

Goals

Now I know my protagonist’s internal and external goals need to guide the events I include. The events will have conflicts and disasters that push my protagonist forward to attain her goals or direct her to change her goals.

Here’s an example showing how to create events so that designer Abby can do something she couldn’t do in the beginning.

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First, look at her goals and what she struggles with.

Internal Goal: Abby wants people to notice her and listen to her.

External Goal: She wants to be promoted to manager of a design team.

 

Next, identify what she’s good at.

Competency: She’s an accomplished designer.

Then, considering the above, brainstorm the initial event that sends Abby on her journey.

Possible Inciting Incidents

Case 1: Abby must use vacation time to go home and take care of her loving mom.

Case 2: A design manager’s accident keeps him home for at least 2 months. The firm will choose the interim manager from Abby and her peers. The chosen designer will show how successful she is as a manager.

Case 3: For the open manager position Abby wanted, the company hires a handsome man from outside the firm.

Case 4: Three top designers must present a design for a particular project. They’ll each have three junior designers to help them. Company vice presidents will judge the design. The winner gets a manager job.

Creating Meaningful Events

Although we could make Case 1 work, it doesn’t naturally mesh with her internal and external goals or her competency. For Case 3, we could, again, brainstorm twists to make Case 3 work with Abby’s goals.

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I can see great possibilities for a series of events that flow from Abby’s goals for Cases 2 and 4.

In Case 2, the first set of events could center on Abby getting the interim job because of her competency. She thinks a permanent manager job is hers. But she applies hard-nosed tactics to get her reports to listen to her.

In the next events, conflicts and disasters surge as her reports avoid her, and production and quality decrease. Abby’s internal and external goals are at risk.

Then new events arise when a mentor explains to her what good management is: using her expertise to help her reports be their best, to obtain what they need to do their jobs, and to lead them with firmness, not meanness.

Then the crisis event occurs when the manager returns. Abby is a peer again, and the manager scraps her design.

More events carry her to a satisfying ending. Possibly, her peers back her, and the manager reinstates the design. Then, upper management recognizes her leadership and sends her to management training.

Unlike in the beginning, Abby now knows how to get people to listen to her, is a noteworthy leader, and is on the road to management.

Case 4 could flow with similar events.

Replace interesting story events with events meaningful to your protagonist’s goals. Click to tweet.

What system, such as the Hero’s Journey, do you use to map out events?

What Your Conference Blunders Teach You About Novel Writing

“There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons.” —Denis Waitley

Oops! Road Sign

Do you need to go to a writers’ conference to learn to write?

Yes. How else will you experience blunders that teach you about conflict; the hero’s greatest fears; obstacles, disasters, and ticking time bombs; and ramping up tension?

In going to the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Indianapolis, my goofs showed me in my deep point of view* everything I needed to know about these writing principles.

* Deep Point of View is a writer’s technique to make readers feel they’re living inside a character’s mind.

Ramping Up Tension

Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The night before I left for conference, I still had packing to do. I needed to finish my pitch to editors. And I needed a golf glove to complete my costume for the dress-up-like-your-character dinner.

Adding to that, I’d scheduled to attend a board meeting and regular meeting that night. I left for the meetings with barely enough time to stop and purchase a golf glove.

With all I had to do, I sensed a meltdown coming on just short of hives. Now, I knew how to write my characters’ emotions under escalating tension.

Obstacles, Disasters, and Ticking Time Bombs

mage courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
mage courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

On the second leg of our drive from Virginia, my sister and I left with enough time to make it to the Conference’s Early Bird session. While we yakked, something felt wrong. Then realization slammed me. I’d tapped on the wrong hotel address in my GPS. We’d traveled twenty-one minutes back toward home! Panic set in. Could we make up forty-two minutes of lost time?

A second realization hit me when the low-gas light appeared. The trip meter said I had twenty miles of gas left. On all horizons lay miles of Ohio cornfields. My heart jumped to my tonsils. I prayed frantically as the miles of gas kept dropping and we passed exits without gas stations. Would we find a station before stranded with only corn to survive?

I pumped gas with six miles of gas to spare. And we arrived on time for the Early Bird session. Thank you, Lord.

Now, I knew how to write my characters’ emotions while disasters created a ticking time bomb.

The Hero’s Greatest Fears

Image courtesy of hyena reality at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of hyena reality at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The conference parking information I received ahead of time was confusing. The info mentioned twelve-hour parking when I needed twenty-four. Rates would increase during the Colt’s game unless I moved my car. But move it to where? I feared I’d have no place to park.

When we arrived, parking was a breeze.

My greatest fears were unrealized. That was good, but how boring for you!

Conflict

Image courtesy of Liz Noffsinger at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Liz Noffsinger at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

During the conference, I left an interesting session to attend a mentor appointment. A writer was pitching her story to an editor at the mentor’s table. Bummed, I told a volunteer the mentor hadn’t shown up. The volunteer interrupted the editor and writer, thinking the writer was the mentor.

Embarrassed at her faux pas, the volunteer checked the schedule. My appointment was for the next day. The volunteer was unhappy with me. I could’ve crawled under a rock.

Now, I knew how to write my characters’ emotions when they were in conflict with other characters.

I’m thankful (now) for these events that showed me how to write emotions in deep point of view.

What situations have taught you something you could include in your creative work?