Writing a Story: Three Things Every Great Story Has

Luke from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Episode V)–Great Hook, Great character, Twist and Turns with a Surprise Ending.  Image Source: GamesRadar (Click for more Info Warning: SPOILERS)
  • Project Paradise Word Count: 113
  • Project Skye Word Count: 485
  • Project Independence Word Count: 1723 (+635 words)

So, this morning a watched a YouTube video (well, I actually watched several as I woke up earlier than normal–I went to be on time last night and now I feel refreshed, imagine that) that was on the channel Film Courage.  While there are quite a few useful videos on the channel, this one caught my eye and I watched it.  It was called Writing a Story: Three Things Every Great Story Has.  I’m linking it below if you want to watch it for yourself, but I wanted to quickly touch on each of the three points in terms of my own writing.


A Great Hook

This is where I feel that I’m the strongest.  All my stories, written and unwritten, have a great “hook” (in my mind at least).  As a matter of fact, I think this is probably my strength as a writer (now, this is from an internal assessment–to know if this is true, I’d need people to read my writing and corroborate this) as I love coming up with ideas and new projects.  I’m still working on my follow through–I could make it a full-time job of just coming up with new speculative ideas, if there was a living to be made from it, but alas, there isn’t.  I have manilla folder after manilla folder of projects that I’d like to develop into short stories, graphic novels, screenplays, and novels (well over a hundred) and at least 5 or 6 notebooks filled front to back with ideas for even more projects, so this part (again, in my mind, not sure if it is true in reality) is something that I consider a strength.

Strong Characters

If having a good hook is my strongest area, then I think creating strong characters would be my weakest area.  I’ve mentioned in a previous blog that the reason for this, I believe, is that I’m a fairly reserved person.  I don’t tend to joke around or be the social butterfly who is the life of the party.  I’m an introvert through and through.  Give me a choice between a loud raucous party and a nice quiet tree with shade and a good book and I’ll take reading under the shady tree every time.  However, I’m learning to try to expand my characters.  Just because I’m reserved doesn’t mean my characters have to be.  I’m trying to expand my characters–Project Skye and Project Independence both feature (what I think are two no-nonsense female protagonists, although again, that’s my perception writing them), while Project Paradise features two characters who are polar opposites.  I’m really working on trying to upgrade my characters and make them more emotive than they have been in previous stories.

Twists and Turns with a Surprise Ending

So this is one area that I’m not sure about–I thought I was doing well with this, but two editors that I submit to regularly, keep giving me contradictory feedback.  Well, the feedback isn’t contradictory–it’s always negative.  They keep finding “flaws” in the story.  Why did X person do this?  Why did Y thing work this way?  Etcetera.  Yet, it is always “nitpicky” things, you know, small things that could be fixed in editing/getting the story ready for “print” if you were going to publish it.  For instance, here is a partial critique from a rejection “letter” for “Silence Will Fall“:

The story is well written and the alien conquerers of Earth are well conceived, and the necessary silence ads texture. However the alien weakness seems like something that should have been found and exploited when humanity still had all its resources. After such a long time it will be a long battle to get all the aliens to die at an electricity generating plant. It also defies belief that the hydro plant would get back into to operation so easily. When Eckhart talked (signed) to Victor, how did Victor see what he was saying if he had to half-turn after to look at him after? Sorry it didn’t quite work for me.

So, here I can’t tell what’s wrong with the story (at least, what’s wrong enough to keep it from going to print).  These, to me, look like “nitpicking” rather than substantive story problems (in terms of “twists and turns”).  The only one that seems substantive is the one that I bolded–“It also defies belief that the hydro plant . . .” as I had a longer, more fleshed out version of him getting the plant back online in an earlier draft, but condensed it for pacing (the one in the earlier draft was longer, slower, and other rejections noted it as a problem, so I changed it for the revision).  The word also implies that the editor didn’t believe humanity wouldn’t have been able to stop the alien threat before it got so far out of hand.  Yet, that’s exactly what happens in pretty much all of the “zombie apocalypse” stories out there right now (and quite a few “alien invasion” stories)–humanity is overwhelmed in the first few days, hours, weeks, and it is the survivors who have to deal with the threat (Independence DayThe Last of Us, and The Division are all media that I’ve watched or played that has this same set-up, not to mention the perennial powerhouse in the “room,” The Walking Dead), so is it me not understanding/doing something that these writers are understanding/doing or is it the editors just not wanting to publish the story and are nitpicking flaws to justify their decision?  This is why I’m unsure if my twists and turns are a strength or weakness because there are examples (published) that I can point to that have similar set-ups/constructions, but I’m told via editorial feedback that my twists and turns have unpublishable flaws, I’m at a loss at who to believe.

Anyway, I found this YouTube video extremely helpful in helping me to think about my writing in terms of strengths and weaknesses and will continue to try to refine my strengths and raise the level of my weaknesses until they are strengths as well.

Have a good day! 🙂


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