Since this blog is geared toward new authors, let’s start at the beginning. You have an idea for a story, but now you need to write it. If you are like me, you will sit down and start writing without a lot of plotting beforehand—after all, you read books so you should be able to write them. This method works, but it often requires some structural attention when you get to the editing phase.
After writing my first book and reorganizing it for ages, I learned some of the basic ideas behind storytelling that has improved my ability to build a story in a logical fashion without being so restrictive that my creativity is snuffed out. Today, I am going to go over how a story is traditionally built.
Most stories (books, movies, tv shows, plays, etc) are told in a classic narrative structure. The story starts with an inciting incident/exposition then there is rising action to the climax which leads into a short phase of falling action and the resolution.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to get too technical on you. The only part of this that I think isn’t necessarily intuitive is inciting incident. Stories begin with something happening. It is fine to introduce your characters and start world building, but if you don’t introduce the central conflict soon enough, your readers will start dropping like flies (forgive the cliché). Like in the picture below, where is this girl going? What happened? Is she meeting someone. If you were to write her story perhaps this scene of her walking away shoeless would be the inciting incident, the piece of action that propels the main character (and the reader) into the story.
Think of the TV show Castle. Every episode starts with a dead body before the first commercial break. That is the inciting incident. That is the reason people keep watching long enough to fall a little bit in love with the characters. As a writer you already love your characters, but the reader is just getting to know them. They need a reason to stick around and that reason is the hook of your story.
Once you know the hook, then the story becomes that much easier. You don’t find yourself 30,000 words in thinking, “what is this even about.” The hook is what you will later build your book blurb around; it is also what you will build an agent or publisher pitch around. When you scrape everything else away from the story (the characters, the subplots, the red herrings, etc) you are left with the most basic idea of the story and the inciting incident should reflect that. This core plot should always be simple enough to explain in one to two sentences.
Dark Corners is about a woman finding who killed her husband.
Secrets is about making your own destiny. (It applies to all the central characters)
The inciting incident is a central element to storytelling. You have to have it. Don’t wait until the 5th chapter to tell the reader what it is.