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What Does It Take To Be A Writer?

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

 

 

What Does It Take To Be A Writer?
There are two rules to writing:

The first rule is that there are no rules.

The second rule is that just because of rule number one, that doesn’t mean you can do anything you want.

Like art or music, there are no rules as to how you approach your work, but an understanding of the subject is still important, and usually necessary to produce the greatest works. If you break the rules, you should at least know what they are.

So what does it take to be a writer?
You need three things: PASSION, PRACTICE, and STUDY.

Passion
The most important trait that a writer needs is zest, gusto, passion. Although it’s important to understand things like story structure, point of view and how to write a scene, it can be easy to forget about the fire which causes a story to be told in the first place. Ray Bradbury has said that he wasn’t born with natural talent in writing. Instead, he was born with a passion for writing itself. His enthusiasm was the fuel that forced him to develop his skill as a writer. Think of it this way; if you want to fly to the stars you need a rocket ship full of fire. How do you know if you have the passion to write? How do you know an artist has passion for drawing? An artist draws all the time, simply for the fun of it. Writers write all the time.

Practice
“Write a thousand words a day and in three years you will be a writer.”
– Ray Bradbury

If you want to succeed as a writer, you need to write at least a thousand words a day. Ray Bradbury wrote a thousand words a day for ten years before he sold something. That’s three and a half million words worth of stories. Like a musician or a professional ball player, you need to practice every day to succeed.

An art teacher of mine (Gary Faigin, who teaches classical realism) once told me that he could tell how many hours someone has been drawing just by looking at his artwork. He said that every profession has a certain number of hours you need to put into it before you are proficient. Airline pilots need a certain number of hours of flying time before they are qualified to pilot planes safely. Music, art, sports and writing all require “X” number of hours of practice before you are good enough to work professionally. The number of hours required depends on your natural talent, how quick you learn the techniques of your craft and on how much passion you have for what you’re doing.

Everyone writes terribly at first, but after six months or a year of practice (or more), the bad stuff will tend to go away. Another way to think of it is like an athlete lifting weights. You shouldn’t try to lift heavy weights until you’ve developed the muscles. If you write all the time, things like your individual voice and style will develop naturally over time.
So if you want to be a writer, you need to write at least a thousand words a day.

Study
Imagine seeing a bridge or a skyscraper or an automobile and deciding that you’re going to go build one too. Without acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to build that bridge or skyscraper or automobile, you won’t get anywhere. Yet this is the approach people take when they want to become a writer. They think they can do better than what’s gone before. They dream up an idea and just start writing, refusing to learn anything about how stories are put together. Fiercely independent, they never study the craft of writing. This kind of nonsense is the reason so many people fail.

Art is complex too. The principles and elements of design are: Line, shape, direction, proportion, texture, balance, harmony, contrast, unity, emphasis, space, and time. Without learning these things, you won’t go far as an artist, no matter how many hours you put in practicing. Artists need to learn how to mix paint, they need to learn how to prepare a canvas, and they need an understanding of color theory. Artists have no problem going to art school.

Imagine an artist saying something like, “If I go to art school, I’ll learn the FORMULA and all of my art will look exactly like everybody else’s.” This kind of thinking is nonsense, and yet this is precisely the reason why aspiring writers refuse to study writing techniques. It’s true that the best artists spend most of their time practicing, but they also need to develop the skills needed to be an artist. Michelangelo didn’t just spend time practicing. He studied his subject.

Study is one of the most important things you can do as a writer. Without study, it can take you ten or twenty years to succeed. With study, you can do it ten times faster. There are hundreds of great books on writing. Here’s my list of the top five books:

  1. “The Anatomy of Story,” by John Truby.
  2. “Zen and the Art of Writing,” by Ray Bradbury.
  3. “Writing the Breakout Novel,” by Donald Maass.
  4. “Writing a Great Movie,” by Jeff Kitchen.
  5. “The Scene Book,” by Sandra Scofield.

How To Become A Writer
Becoming a successful author is like becoming a successful athlete, or an engineer, or a musician, or an artist. All of these things require dedication and daily practice. You can’t just sit down and start playing the piano and expect to produce anything great. You can’t simply choose to start drawing and produce a work of art at the first try. Yes, some are born with great talent, but most people with talent rarely go anywhere without an equal measure of passion. Mozart was a virtuoso, but even Mozart needed to learn his craft. He was full of passion for music, he practiced all the time, and he studied.

 

– Mark O’Bannon

 

How To Analyze A Story

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

How To Analyze A Story
Gold prospectors spend hours sifting through sand out of a river, looking for little bits of gold. Finding gold nuggets is a matter of patience and luck. But it isn’t as easy for a writer to spot a story made out of gold.

How do you know if your writing is any good? After all, you may have spent years developing your craft through daily practice. You know that you have a great idea that hasn’t been done before and you think you’ve written a great story. But how do you really, REALLY know if its any good?

Is My Story Any Good?
One of the chief problems a writer faces is the fact that its nearly impossible to analyze one’s own work. If you were to give a beautiful painting to a man who is color blind, he wouldn’t be able to see beyond his limited value system. Writing is the same way. When you write, you do so at the peak of your ability, so how can you really tell if there are any problems with it? Give a child a box of crayons and he’ll go to town, drawing the best he can, but would it hold up to a real painting by a master artist? (Hint: Look at the tools you’re using).

Are Good Stories Just A Matter Of Opinion?
Take a look at the typical book on the store shelf, or watch the latest movie. How many times have you said to yourself, “The author blew it! This story could have been so much more than it is!” or “Why can’t they make a decent movie?”

Most people think that being able to spot a great story is subjective. After all, one person may like a story while the next may think its terrible, right? If this were true, then there would be no best sellers. There would be no box offic hits. The public knows how to spot a great story.

The fundamental reason for so many problems with being able to tell if a story is any good is that almost no one knows how to analyze a story properly.

Use Better Writing Tools
In order to analyze a story, you need a good understanding of how a story works. Most people are still using obsolete techniques like the Three Act Strucure System, which was designed for theater and is too vague to be of any use to a writer.

Look For The Deep Sequence Of Your Story
Also, too many writers use Event Sequencing instead of an organic plot which uncovers the deep sequence of the story. When you rely on event sequencing, you are guaranteed to have a surface, boring story. The deep sequence of the story comes out of the character’s need.

Theme is not Good vs. Evil
Poor understanding of how theme works in a story causes bad writing too.If your opponents are cardboard villains, then your hero will be too. Give your opponents a reason for what they’re doing and express it through a Moral Argument Scene.

Look At The Story Structure
The best way to analyze a story is to look at the structure. Changes in the story structure will have a huge impact on the quality of the story. In fact, these are the most important kinds of changes you can make.

Action Steps
Being able to tell if a story is any good is not a subjective matter. FIrst, go out and learn how stories work. Get the best book on writing: “The Anatomy of Story.” Recognize that story analyzis is a separate skill that you will need to develop. Ask yourself these questions:

1. Premise: Is your idea believable? Is it a single idea? Is it difficult to figure out what the premise is? Is there a larger theme that comes out of the premise? Theme is how a premise grows.

2. Backstory: Do you have an event from the past that is haunting the hero? Is it painful? Does it lead to a need? Is it the cause of whatever is missing in the hero’s life? Is the backstory present in some form throughout the story?

3. Your Hero: Is the hero likable? Is the hero too passive? Is your hero too reactive? The hero must drive the action of the story.

4. The Antagonist: Is your opponent the best person to attack the hero’s character flaw? Do you have more than one opponent to broaden the story? Have you (mistakenly) made your opponent evil? Is the opponent mysterious in some way?

5. The Heart Of The Story: Does your hero have a main character flaw which is ruining his life? How is this weakness hurting him? Is it a moral weakness? How does this weakness hurt others?

6. The Spine Of The Story: Is the story goal a clear single desire line? Is it specific? The more specific the better. Does it build in intensity? Do you have a second desire line that doesn’t come into conflict with the first goal? Does the story goal come from the main character?

7. Conflict: Does the conflict build over the course of the story? Do your hero and opponent both become more and more obsessive at winning? Do you hit the same story beats (boring) or is each conflict different in some way? Do you have some form of conflict on every page of the story?

8. Climax: Is there a battle at the end of the story which involves the hero and opponent? Is it the biggest fight in the story? Is there a conflict of values?

9. Self-Revelation: Is the character’s revelation a surprise in some way? Is it a moral revelation about how the hero harms others?

10. Exposition: Do you have too much exposition in the early parts of the story? Have you spread out the exposition throughout the story in a way that turns each bit of information into a revelation that will drive the story forward?

What to do now
Think about story analysis as a separate skill that you need to develop. Look at your story structure and improve it. Take the answers to the above questions and make changes. When asking someone’s oppinion of your story, its best to find a person that knows how a story works.

The seven most important elements of a story are:
Premise, Structure, Theme, Desire, Need, Conflict and Self-Revelation.

For more information on this subject, get John Truby’s audio course, Story Development.

 

– Mark O’Bannon

The Title

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

The Title
Ray Bradbury wrote a thousand words a day for ten years before he sold anything.

One day, he had an idea, born out of a pair of words: “The Lake.”

These words blossomed into a truly beautiful story, which was, “…about love, time remembrance, and drowning.”

After finishing this tale, Ray Bradbury went back to writing the way he had been doing before, always striving to create something great but never succeeding. It took several years of writing average stories before he rediscovered this simple technique, which transformed ordinary stories into something great.

You may know how to write. You might even know how to write well. But can you truly say that you can write stories that are above the rest? Do you really know how to create something that is truly beautiful? Do you characters occupy chairs besides the great heroes of all time? Homer, Huck Finn, Hercule Poirot, Frodo Baggins, Sherlock Holmes, Conan, Sam Spade?

The Title
Most writers don’t pay too much attention to the title of their story. Its just something they use to describe their tale. Most writers never really appreciate the power that a great title has over their story.

The dictionary has a dry description for the word: “TITLE: the distinctive name of a work of art, musical or literary composition, etc.”

Words evoke images within the mind. When someone is reading a story you’ve written, every word makes a difference. Before you can learn to evoke dreams in the minds of your audience, you must first learn how to dredge up the truly great things within your own mind. How is this done?

Lists
Ray Bradbury has a simple method for creating truly great stories. Write down lists of NOUNS.

Take a look at Ray’s list: THE LAKE, THE NIGHT, THE CRICKETS, THE RAVINE, THE ATTIC, THE BASEMENT, THE TRAPDOOR, THE BABY, THE CROWD, THE NIGHT TRAIN, THE FOG HORN, THE SCYTHE, THE CARNIVAL, THE CAROUSEL, THE DWARF, THE MIRROR MAZE, THE SKELETON.

Each of these nouns contains the seed of a fantastic story, hidden within the subconscious mind. Take a word out of your mind and let it simmer in your subconscious. These magic words contain an entire story, rolled up inside of them.

Do not simply give your story a title, tacked on after the fact like perfume sprayed on a filthy dog. Your titles are where your stories come from. You should be able to look at a title and imagine the entire story inside of it. One person might look at a list of nouns and see nothing except a bunch of words, lying like a pile of leaves on a forest floor. But a true writer will see an entire forest of trees behind those leaves.

Ever since I started using this technique, my stories have turned into something great, far better than anything I could have written before.
Do not underestimate the power of the simple words that come out of your own subconscious mind.

What Kinds of Lists?
When creating a list of words to use for stories, ask yourself these questions:

1. What do you love?

2. What do you hate?

3. What are you in awe of?

4. What gets your blood boiling?

5. What terrifies you?

6. What makes you laugh?

What to do now
Sit down and write out a list of words. Use these as the seeds of all the stories you write. When you’re creating a story, every chapter, every scene should contain a title that evokes images and dreams from your subconscous mind. This is how to bring your dreams out of the world where stories come from. This is how you can turn an average writer into a great writer.

Get Ray Bradbury’s book, “Zen And The Art Of Writing” for more of these great techniques.

 

– Mark O’Bannon

 

Start At The End

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Start At The End
Have you ever read a story with an intriguing plot, compelling characters and great action, but when it came down to the end of the story, the author dropped the ball?  Rather than being unsatisfying, it was irritating.  So annoying that you ended up hating the story?

This happens all the time in movies, where it seems like they had a great idea at first, but then messed up the story so badly that it killed the entire tale.  This is all because the writer failed to do one of the most important things with the story:  Start at the end.
Know Where You Are Going
When thinking about how to begin a story, most writers don’t think to start at the end. But if you want to take a trip, if you want to build a bridge, if you want to paint a masterpiece, if you want to write a symphony, or if you want to cook a good meal, you need to start with the ending.  You must know where you are going.  You must know what you are making.  You must know what you want.  Do you have a strong picture in your mind of what you’re story is about?  Start at the end of the story to know what its about.
But I don’t write that way. . .
Some writers can’t write like this.   They’re the kind of person that just likes to sit down and start typing, letting their story take them where it wants to go.  This is actually a great way to unearth the diamonds of great stories from the subconscious mind.  So if you’re like this, just keep in mind that you may need to fix the ending in a re-write.  After you finish a story written this way, go back to the beginning and see if you can find a hint of the ending there.
How do you create a satisfying ending?
Defeating the bad guy or accomplishing the goal isn’t the only thing that’s important.  You need to make it emotionally satisfying as well.  To do this, you’ll need to set up a character arc in your story.  The way you set up character change is by designing your characters so that they have a main character flaw which is demonstrated throughout the story.

As the story progresses, the character will be confronted with emotional tension related to their weakness, and this will draw out their need.  The character’s need will determine what will change after the climax of the story.

So, create a character flaw in the form of a weakness, set up the opponent so that the opponent draws out that flaw and then have it revealed to the character near the end of the story.  Character change is what your audience is looking for in a story.
Action Steps
The end of the story is made possible by what happens in the beginning.  You need to address two things:  The hero’s desire, which forms the spine of the story, and the hero’s need, which forms the heart of the story.  To make sure that your readers will always love your stories, ask yourself these questions:

1. What is your story about? What is the purpose of your story?

2. What is the main character’s goal? The desire forms the spine of the story.

3. How does the opponent come in conflict with the hero’s goal?
It is better to think of it as the hero and opponent competing for the same goal, rather than the opponent interfering with the character’s goal.

4. Will the hero or the opponent win? Not all heroes succeed in their quest. The opponent sometimes wins.

5. What is the hero’s main character flaw? The weakness will form the heart of the story.

6. How can you demonstrate this weakness in the beginning of the story? Show how the character flaw is ruining the hero’s life.

7. How does the opponent come in conflict with the hero’s character flaw? For instance, if the hero is ambitious, the opponent might appeal to the character’s pride.

8. How will the hero overcome his character flaw and realize his need? The weakness is gradually revealed over the course of the story, and it becomes obvious to the hero near the end.
This is called the self-revelation.

What to do now
Sit down and write out the answers to the above questions.  Once you have an idea of the spine and the heart of your story, you’re ready to begin.  These techniques work.  When you know how your story will end, you’ll be able to create a better ending that will keep your audience happy.

– Mark O’Bannon

The Blank Page

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

The Blank Page
Ever writer is familiar with it: An ocean of whiteness staring back at them – the blank page.  Writer’s block.

Just where do you begin when you want to tell a story?

Every writer seems to have their own unique method, developed over countless hours in front of a computer (or a typewriter for those old enough to remember what they are).   If you don’t know where to begin your story, you could waste hours of time, while your deadline creeps forward.

Many writers are terrified of the blank page, as if it were some kind of horrible literary monster.  Writers block can be especially painful when your mind is as empty as the page where the story is supposed to appear.

Fortunately, there is an answer.

Where To Begin Your Story
One way to approach a new project is to look at the different elements involved with writing:  Premise, plot, character, setting, theme, genre, dialogue.  Use one of these as the starting point for your story.

Premise – Probably the most common way to begin a story is with the idea.  Many times an idea will simply pop into the mind, and when it does, you need to write it down before it fades away.  Ideas are everywhere, just waiting to be picked up by someone that notices them.

One of the best ways to come up with an idea is to ask lots of questions.  One of the best questions to ask is, “What if . . . ?”  What if an alien spaceship landed in your backyard?  What if the Iranians detonated a nuclear bomb over the United States?  What if a woman discovers that her one true love is a murderer?

Plot – You might have an interesting idea for how a story unfolds.  A good hook, such as the story opening onto the scene of a man dying from a gunshot wound, could be the genesis of an entire story.  Other plot ideas could get your imagination going too.  Do you have a great action scene in your mind?  Can you imagine a great source of conflict for a story?  There are as many plot ideas as there are stories.

Character – Quite often a writer will have a fascinating character in mind.  Coming up with an interesting character is one of the best ways to begin a story.  Remember to make your characters interesting by giving them a weakness, which is a character flaw that causes trouble in their life.

Setting – Unique places can also be great inspiration for a story.  Have you ever been to a desert island?  A hidden monastery?  An old garden?  What kinds of people visit these places?  Another way to look at setting is to choose a time period.  Victorian England, ancient Egypt during the wars against the Hittites, a haunted house, or a place in the future could all be great places to hold a story.

Theme – The idea for your story could also come from the theme, which can best be expressed as the writer’s view of the proper way to live in the world.  A good way to think about thematic writing is to ask, “How will this story change my life?”  When you approach a story from a thematic point of view, it may develop into some of your best writing.  What makes you angry?  What are you afraid of?  What do you love more than anything else?  Whatever gets your blood boiling, whatever makes you sad, whatever fills your heart with emotion can be the seed of a fantastic idea.

Genre – These are different story forms which have become so popular that they are all placed in their own unique category.  Some genres are:  Romance, Mystery, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Thriller, Western, Horror, Action, Crime, and Comedy.  Many writers begin with the genre they want to write in, but sometimes it can be interesting to begin with one genre, and then add another kind of genre and see where it takes you.  For instance, if you want to write a fantasy tale, try adding a bit of romance, or a bit of mystery and see what happens.

Dialogue – Occasionally, a line of dialogue will stick in your mind, and it could even lead to an entire story.  Be careful not to use a line from a popular movie, book or TV show.  One technique is to search through quotations from famous people for an interesting saying, and then developing it into a story.

Action Steps When Facing A Blank Page
Now that you have an idea of where different story ideas come from, here’s what to do when you are facing a blank page:

1. Feed your muse. Read a book.  Watch a movie.  Read poetry every day.  If you want your muse to be happy, you need to feed it with a steady dose of stories, music and poetry.  I learned this technique from Ray Bradbury and it works like a charm!

2. Pick an approach (premise, plot, character, setting, or theme).

3. Ask questions to get ideas. Here are some useful things to ask:

Premise – What if?

Plot – What happens?  What is revealed?

Character – Who is the story about?

Setting – Where does the story take place?  What time period is it?

Theme – What do you hate?  What do you love?  What are you afraid of?

Genre – What genre do you love?

Dialogue – Listen to people.  What are they talking about?  Look at quotes from famous people and write them down.  Listen to music.  What is the song about?

4. Write down the answers. You may want to use more than one approach.

5. Now, write down whatever comes into your mind. Take a look at your list and see if you get any ideas.  Can you combine some of them?

6. Choose a genre. After coming up with an idea for your story, choosing a genre is the most important choice you will make.  The reason for this is that each genre is a unique story form, with its own story goal and plot points.  Match the type of story you want to tell with the genre.  For instance, if you want to explore the question of “What is human and what is not human?” then a horror story is the best form.

7. Structure your story. Figure out the seven steps of classical story structure:

1. Problem/Need
2. Desire
3. Opponent
4. Plan
5. Battle
6. Self-Revelation
7. New Equilibrium.

For more information on story structure, read the best book on writing:
The Anatomy of Story,” by John Truby.

8. Outline the chapters of your book. Give each chapter a name.  Don’t just pick any title.  Choose a title that will stimulate your imagination.  You can evoke an entire story from a good title.  This is another great technique from Ray Bradbury.

9. Write a list of scenes. Every scene has action, emotion, a goal, an opponent, conflict, a setting and a revelation (discovery).

10. Start writing! Now you’re ready to begin your story.

Get Started Now
Now that we’ve explored the various ways to come up with a story, it’s time to get started.  Take out a sheet of paper.  You may notice that it is currently blank.  That’s fine.  Don’t let it scare you.  Now go through the action steps above and write down your ideas.  Pick a genre, write down the basic structure of your story.  Pick titles for some of the chapters of your book.  Outline your first scene and start writing!

Hopefully, you’ll never need to worry about facing a blank page ever again!

 

– Mark O’Bannon

 

The Anatomy of Story – Martinson Interview with John Truby

The Anatomy of Story
– Connie Martinson interviews John Truby.

Part 1 of 5

Part 2 of 5

Part 3 of 5

Part 4 of 5

Part 5 of 5

The Basics of Storytelling

April 10, 2010 Leave a comment

The Basics of Storytelling

By William F. Nolan

William F. Nolan

As a storyteller, you must begin by creating a protagonist who is real, three dimensional, with genuine emotions that play out over the course of your narrative.  Your range is unlimited; anything can happen to your protagonist in any period of history or in any locale in which you choose to place him or her.  Past or future, a real world, or a wholly imagined one.

The basics of storytelling are timeless.  From taletellers on the streets of ancient Baghdad to the modern-day TV episode, the basic structure remains unchanged.

You begin with your protagonist.  Hero or villain.  Male or female.  Young or old.  Your protagonist wants something and he or she is on a quest to find that particular “something” be it the holy grail or a racing trophy… a way to survive a serious illness, or to pay off a gambling debt… to capture a wild stallion or win the heart of a potential lover… to find a hidden treasure, or to conquer the world.

That which your protagonist is seeking can be monumental or trivial, but it forms the heart of your story; it launches the action, sets the narrative in motion.

What happens during this quest, the trials and conflicts that your protagonist faces and either overcomes or fails to overcome (your protagonist need not always win!), these elements form the structure of your story.  A weak man wants to become strong.  A coward wants to become heroic.  A lonely woman seeks a mate to end her loneliness.

There are countless goals that can motivate your characters.
In detective fiction, the goal becomes the solving of the mystery.
In science fiction it may involve reaching a distant galaxy.
In fantasy, it could center on the slaying of a dragon.
Your imagination sets the boundaries.

In my best-known novel, “Logan’s Run,” my protagonist is a future policeman active in an over-populated world – a “sandman” programmed to hunt down and terminate any citizen who runs from a state-decreed death at 21.  When Logan himself turns 21 he elects to run.  His eventual goal: to reach a legendary place, Sanctuary, where people are allowed to live, grow old, have a family.  The conflict in my story occurs as Logan, in company with a female runner he learns to love, faces the multiple trials and dangers of my future world. Thus, the novel is totally goal-oriented.

As I have stated, the protagonist does not always win.  In Hemingway’s, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” his protagonist, Robert Jordan, comes to Spain to blow up an enemy bridge.  However, he dies at the end, holding off advancing enemy troops so that his new love, Maria, can escape capture. Jordan’s basic quest has led to his death.

In Melville’s, “Moby Dick,” Captain Ahab’s quest involves running down the great white whale.  As portrayed in the story, Ahab is a madman, darkly obsessed with his hunt for this massive creature of the sea.  What happens along the way forms the story of Moby Dick.

Scott Fitzgerald’s celebrated novel, “The Great Gatsby,” centers on the protagonist’s quest for the lost love of his life, the elusive Daisy, his golden girl.  The goal is never reached as he too, like Robert Jordan, dies at the climax.

Sometimes, several characters can have the same goal-as in Hammett’s, “Maltese Falcon.”  Both the villains and the protagonist, Sam Spade, share the same quest for a jeweled black bird.  The fact that the statue turns out to be worthless by the story’s climax has not affected the conflicts the characters faced throughout the narrative.  The basic structure remained intact.

The format of storytelling is fixed – the protagonist, the quest, the trials, and the resolution, positive or negative.  Any number of variations are possible within this format, but the basic structure remains.

We can all relate to a story which takes us on this journey toward triumph or defeat.  You, as the storyteller, must function as the guide, leading us to the dramatic climax.

Now, there are several additional elements that are essential in telling a story – such as the proper use of dialogue, atmosphere, and locale, as well as the realistic creation of other characters who relate, in one way or another, to your protagonist.  Also, your background must be convincing, whether it be another planet, a small sleepy town in the Midwest, or a vast metropolis such as New York or London, humming with life. The rendering must be real.  (In Logan’s Run I was very careful to create my future world on a wholly realistic level; I dealt with all aspects of this future culture to achieve a three dimensional reality.)

Each story, long or short, must contain what I call “the arc of drama.” This arc begins at the point when your protagonist sets out to pursue his or her goal, builds steadily to a mid-point when the protagonist is dealing with conflict, and descends to the climax when his or her goal is realized or thwarted.

Along the way, if you are employing physical conflict, your protagonist may end up badly wounded (the bruised and battered private eye) or deceased (as in Hemingway and Fitzgerald) with the quest fulfilled or unfulfilled.  (King Arthur never found the Holy Grail, but he gave it a helluva try!)

It’s all up to you, to how you choose to tell your story. Does your protagonist win or lose? In either case, the battle must be fought for the arc of drama to pay off.

Of course, you may with to create mental conflict rather than physical. Your protagonist can suffer emotional wounds in overcoming the trials he or she must face to reach a particular goal.

Also, the quest must have changed your protagonist in some manner or degree.

The trials he or she have undergone must affect your character by story’s end. Win or lose, the protagonist is altered by the conflicts faced within the body of your story.

In Bradbury’s “Farenheit 451,” the protagonist, Montag, is changed from book burner to book lover by story’s end.  The quest and the change become one.

In Max Brand’s classic western, “Destry Rides Again,” the protagonist sets out to extract revenge on the men who sent him to prison. By the end, he has been changed, from a character who considers himself to be invincible to one who realizes he is indeed fallible and can be defeated by another, by a better man. This causes him to put away his guns in order to play a non-violent role in society.

In “Shane,” the gunman-hero fulfills his quest by killing the chief bad guy, but is wounded in body and soul; he can never return to the peaceful life he craves.

Changed, each of them.  In one way or another.

I would strongly suggest, to the beginning storyteller, that he or she visit a local library and sift carefully through a dozen or so volumes of stories by Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, John Cheever, Joyce Carol Oates, or any professional author of like caliber.  (Stephen King has much to teach about the art of storytelling.)

Analyze each story in these collections. Break down the basic structure. Find out how the writer created a real protagonist. Note the goal of each character and be aware of the conflicts facing him or her and just how they are resolved by the close of the narrative. Study dialogue and locale. See how the other characters relate to the protagonist.

In doing this, you will be charting the blueprint for your own stories.  You will become aware of how the various elements of a story are brought together to form the arc of drama.

Simply because you can write a fine letter to your grandma does not mean you can tell a proper story. Telling a story is not an easy task, even if one adheres to the basics I’ve laid out in these pages. Hard work and relentless practice are required – but the final results are well worthwhile.

Learn.

Study.

Analyze.

And write, write, write.

– William F. Nolan