The dramatic movement of Fiction can be summarized in three words: want, obstacle, action.
Without them, there’s no story. Working properly, your story will have the right elements that will begin and end happily. The character needs to want something, but something or someone else gets in the way and that leads to some type of action that gets him from scene one to the end. You’d prefer a happy ending, but for fiction to work it just needs to have a strong ending. That’s a fact. Here are some others…
Fiction writing may not be easy, but it can be easy if you follow those critical elements.
Want. Obstacle. Action.
Fiction is about exploring the forces at work in us, and what happens when those forces collide. Good and evil. Jealousy and generosity. Pride and humility. Some stories fail because the author didn’t have the courage to have his or her characters come in contact with themselves or with each other. Remember to analyze your story, chapter by chapter with:
Want—Who wants what? How much does the character want it?
Obstacle—What’s the obstacle? Who’s the obstacle? Where does it first appear? Why is it threatening? How can he/she overcome the obstacle?
Action—Is the character taking direct action against his obstacle to defeat and get what he wants? Can he do more? Can someone else help him? How?
Fiction also needs to have authentic dialogue to be believable. Listen to how people talk; how they express themselves in certain situations, or interrupt one another at the best and worst of times.
Creating fictional stories is a craft, and as such it can be learned. You need to learn how to use the right technique, including character development, dialogue, setting, and plot structure. With fiction, you can’t just take a piece of reality from a newspaper or magazine and make it into a fiction novel. It won’t work. You need to take it apart and put it all together again, scene by scene. Fiction is concentrated and heightened reality. You, the author, must create it, even if the story is based on actual truth. And though you have the material, you still need to mold and intensify that reality.
Fiction is not just a story. It’s a process that connects us to one another. The author and the reader, or the scriptwriter and the audience. If your friend told you, “I got my teeth cleaned this morning,” you’d look at him waiting for more, or say, “Yes, and?”
What’s the point of this conversation? You’d wondered. And even if he added, “I brushed my teeth this morning with a special toothpaste and I cleaned my teeth so well I could hardly believe it. I did this special treatment,” you still wouldn’t be connected—unless you were wondering if your friend had lost it.
The fact is, you didn’t care about what he was telling you because his story didn’t get to you. It didn’t move you one way or the other. Your emotions were not involved. You didn’t think, “How do I really feel about this person? Do I love him or her or not?” You were not swept away, scared, overwhelmed with sympathy, or taken to another galaxy far, far away! Good stories involve that kind of process, and good fiction goes straight to the heart. The core of our senses.
Now, if the same friend came knocking at your door incessantly, and after you opened it, he came in breathless with a black eye and said, “I just got mugged in the corner!” he’d get to you instantly. You’d be reacting with some kind of emotion and certainly wouldn’t be asking, “Yes, and?” And your friend would tell his story giving every detail because he experienced it. The difference between the two examples is the story process. There’s indifference in one story and craft in the other.
Stories are the most basic form of communication we have. So much so, that even God communicates with us through His story—the Bible, the best stories ever told. No wonder, after centuries this book still is the number one best-seller.
For a fiction story to work you must have the need to talk about it, and have someone experience what you have. It’s almost like the author can’t contain himself from telling it. We live by stories; it’s how we relate and stay connected with one another. It is our need to communicate that makes us an active player in life’s storytelling.
Now in fiction, how deep is that need? Let me take you to the world of drama—a couple just received an eviction notice, the wife is a school elementary teacher and recently had a miscarriage, the husband is an out of work carpenter who inherited a house in London but can’t keep up with the renovations so they might lose that too—for the answer. Life sucks.
Except, one night they find their tenant, who lived in the basement of their tiny rental apartment, dead. Then, after a while they find a bag full of money. They’re pulled in different directions. Should they keep the money or tell the police? In a series of events, they find out that the money belongs to some mobsters and they want their money back. Now, there’s an obstacle!
Let me ask you, if you were in that situation, what would you do? Would you keep the money and spend it like this careless couple did? Or, would you tell the police? Regardless of your answer, you are already hooked! I know you are, cause I was when I saw that movie called, “Good People,” starring Kate Hudson and James Franco. That was the plot of the story.
So, why do we tell stories? Why is fiction so appealing to us?
Because we need them to express who we are and why we are here.
Fiction can be used to craft those stories—drama, fantasy, science fiction, romance, comedy, adventure, and crime stories… but for a story to work it needs to get to us. What happens when you see a good movie? You walk out of the theater wanting more. You want to continue that journey or relationship with the characters you fell in love with in the story. It’s the connection between you and them that captured your heart.
And that’s fiction at its best.