How do you write a story? Writing a story is like telling a joke: The best stories have a beginning, middle, and an end. They have conflict, and they evoke an emotion in the reader.
Storytelling is a powerful way to connect with people. It’s how we learn about each other and exchange ideas, and it’s been around since the beginning of time. But with all the stories out there, how do you make yours stand out?
Here are some tips for writing better stories.
1. How to get started writing your story
Getting started is always the hardest part. When you’re in the middle of writing a story, it’s easy to keep going. But when you’re sitting there staring at a blank screen or page, it’s hard to know where to begin.
It’s natural to feel this way — but you can get past it. There are lots of ways to start a story, and they all work. The key is to find one that works for you.
You can start writing at any point in the process.
If you don’t know where to begin, try writing a few scenes from the middle of your story. That will help you figure out what’s going to happen and give you an idea of where to start.
Or you can write what you already know—the ending—and work backward, filling in the plot by figuring out how things got there and why. When you’re stuck or need inspiration, just write whatever comes into your head. Don’t worry about whether it makes sense or fits your plot outline; just get something down on paper and worry about editing later.
2. Decide on a central idea
If you’re writing a story, you already know what your central idea is: the plot. You can’t tell a story without a plot, so it’s important to have a good idea of what your plot will be before you start.
Think about what your message is. What are you trying to say with this story? Are you trying to make a point? How is this story going to play out? Who’s in it? What happens in the beginning, middle, and end? These are all things that need to be considered before starting any type of writing.
3. Choose your plot
Before you begin writing, decide what type of plot will work best for your story.
If you are writing a novel or novella, then your plot should be complex enough to hold the reader’s interest over several hundred pages. If the plot is too simple, it may get boring pretty fast.
However, if your story has too many twists and turns, it might be hard for readers to follow along and understand what is happening in the plot (this can be especially true if they are unfamiliar with certain aspects of the world you’ve created).
A good rule of thumb when choosing the complexity of your plot is that it should be similar in complexity to that of an average movie script or short story (for example, if your work would fit into one act of Hamlet, then it’s probably too small).
4. Establish the setting
The first step to getting started on your story is to establish the setting. Whether you choose an original setting or a familiar one, you need to describe it in as much detail as possible. If a reader can visualize your story’s setting, they will be that much more likely to get lost in it.
You don’t necessarily have to write out the whole history of this world in great detail, but you do need to establish the time and place—and create a mood—as soon as possible. A sense of place is important because it makes your story feel real and helps immerse readers into the world you have created. Try thinking about what sounds and smells might emerge from this setting? What facts are worth mentioning?
The best way to create an alluring sense of place is through specificity: instead of writing “she walked down a street,” try something like “she turned off of Grand Street and onto 2nd Avenue.” Rather than writing “the room was lit by fluorescent lights,” try something more along the lines of “the room was lit by two flickering fluorescent lights which buzzed loudly enough for Mary to hear over her headphones.”
A good setting can make all the difference between an average story and an unforgettable one. A great setting will help readers feel like they’re right there in it with your characters — like they’re walking down those same streets or sitting at that same bar or looking out those same windows as they read your story!
5. Create the main character of the story
The next step in writing a story is to figure out who you want to write about. This is usually your main character, or protagonist. You may have more than one protagonist (or hero), but this is the main character who will be most affected by the events of your story. If you’re writing a novel, then this will also be the character that drives the plot forward by making decisions and taking action.
Your main character should be someone who is interesting, complex and dynamic. Don’t make them too perfect or too flawed — give them strengths and weaknesses that make them interesting enough for readers to care about what happens to them.
Choose an occupation or lifestyle that will give you lots of opportunities for conflict — something where there’s likely to be a conflict with other characters or situations (or both). For example, if you choose a doctor as your main character, you can expect plenty of conflict from patients who don’t like their diagnosis or treatment plan; if you choose an artist as your main character, there could be a conflict between him/her and other artists who don’t appreciate their work.
6. Give your main character a goal
Every good story needs a central conflict to build the plot around. A common structure looks like this:
- The character has a problem (conflict)
- The character makes an active attempt to fix the problem (action)
- Character succeeds, or fails, in fixing the problem (conclusion)
This means that your story should start with a clear goal for your main character. The goal can be as simple as “get home” or more complex like “become a knight”—it should be something that is difficult and meaningful enough to make it worth working towards. Your character should have no guarantee of success in achieving their goal. As you continue writing, you’ll be saying “yes” or “no” to whether your character can actually reach their goal.
7. Create secondary characters
While you should focus on your main character while writing, it is equally important to create a great cast of secondary characters. Secondary characters can be good or bad, but they must serve a purpose in advancing the story. They should also be well-developed and interesting as people on their own terms.
If you are writing a novel, there is probably more than one central character. If so, try to create several secondary characters that have some dependence on each other without being overly similar or cliched (the ‘mean girl,’ the ‘jock,’ etc.). Give these characters goals and desires that result in real conflict between them.
You can introduce all the characters in your story at once, but don’t spend time describing them all at once. Introduce them one at a time throughout your story. That way, by the time you get to chapter 3 or 4, readers will have met most of the major characters and they’ll know who they are when they come back into the plot later on.
8. Use dialogue
Once you have characters and a goal, it’s time to put them in action. The best way to do this is through dialogue between your characters. As they talk, they reveal who they are and why they want what they want. You don’t need much dialogue at this stage – just enough for readers to understand who these people are and why they matter in relation to each other and their goals.
Dialogue is a great way to develop characters and advance the plot (don’t tell us everything about a character in one long paragraph). We can learn more about people by what they say than by what they do — and this is true for fictional characters as well as real people!
9. Create conflict and tension
For your story to be an exciting read, you need conflict. Conflict is what creates suspense and keeps the reader interested in the story.
There are two types of conflict in a story: internal and external. Internal conflicts take place within the character’s mind, as they have to deal with their emotions. For example, a character could be scared of going into a dark room but has to do it anyway because they left their favorite toy there. External conflicts take place between characters or between characters and situations. This includes things like arguments or fights between people or against weather conditions or other situations that happen around them.
In order to create tension in a scene, you can use both internal or external conflict within the same scene to keep your readers on edge about what might happen next!
Something must happen to cause the conflict that leads to your main character experiencing an emotion. Maybe someone drops something heavy on their foot, or maybe they just find out their favorite restaurant burned down last night while they were sleeping and now they have no food! That’s not necessarily exciting enough to write about though… so what if they get chased by zombies and almost get eaten but just manage to escape at the last moment! That would be good enough for me!
10. Elicit an emotion in your story
You can start with a character, or you can start with an event. But both of those things should be in service of eliciting an emotion in your story. What emotion do you want to elicit in your story? Fear? Joy? Gratitude?
One way to figure out what type of story you want to tell is by looking at the emotion that drives your writing. As an example, let’s say that I’m going to write a story about my cat. What kind of feeling do I want the audience to experience? Do I want them to laugh at my cat’s antics? Do I want them to feel sorry for the poor little thing? Or perhaps it’s just enough for them to smile when they think about their own pets?
I’m going to use “Harry Potter” as an example, because it’s a great example. People have often asked me why I think “Harry Potter” is so successful, and the reason is that it starts with an emotion: Harry’s parents die. And then it goes into this back story that explains exactly why they died, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter, because all that matters is that they died and Harry is left alone at age one, not knowing anything about his past or who he is or what he’s capable of doing.
And then we meet him at age 11 as this young boy who feels like his life is completely hopeless because he doesn’t know what he’s capable of doing. And then through a series of events we see him realize that maybe there was something special about him all along — that maybe he could do magic — but even if he couldn’t do magic, maybe there was something else special about him that would make up for it.
In the end, there is no easy way to learn how to write a story. But hopefully, the above steps will help inspire you to take action instead of simply dreaming about starting a story.
You have to be willing to experiment and make mistakes while you’re learning, and it can be hard to get moving towards that first manuscript when you’ve had so many ideas in the past.
There are many different types of stories to be told, and they all have distinct purposes. Where do yours fit into the grand scheme of things?
Whatever your genre or approach, it’s important at the outset that you understand some of the rules and intricacies involved in crafting a good story.
Be advised: “good story” is subjective, and other people may have very different ideas about what constitutes a good story than you do. That having been said, I think we’ve given you some useful ideas for getting started with your own creations.