Planning and organizing a whole story in your head or on paper may seem like an unnecessary bother. Many new writers feel it is easier just to sit down and start writing with a few characters in mind, then let these paper people take the story where they will. Isn’t that a far more creative way of storytelling? No!
Without some forethought on the part of the author, plots tend to play naughty tricks. They can wander, wind up at dead ends and become vague and/or confusing. They can even fail in resolving the problems and conflicts they set.
There are many different types of story form and styles—but each may be described as consisting of the unified sequence of events having a beginning, middle and an ending. By creating a road map by outlining your plots, you maintain control over what happens in your story. You can use a lose outline or a very detailed outline. The main thing is to have a very good sense how the story should play out. For example, a typical magazine length for a middle-grade story is 1,200 words. Since we know an average typed page is 250 words per page, using double spacing, that means a manuscript can be no more than five pages long.
By visualizing that limited space, you will see the affect it has on your plot. You will see right away how the story needs to jump right into the action and quickly as possible identify the conflict/problem of your main character, etc.
Let’s briefly consider three elements common to storytelling.
Characters—It’s important to make your characters life-like. Whether they are human, animal or completely imagined, they are the lifeblood of your story. Main characters need to have more detail and a background/history. Note: When you create character for your own stories, remember that what a character thinks, feels, says and does is often more important than what they look like.
Setting—Denotes a story’s timeline and place. A setting may be merely a backdrop, such as a home, school, park, office building, spaceship, courtroom, etc. Another kind of setting is the action setting that either creates or is directly related to the story’s conflict, like the storm in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Theme—This is the point of the story. It’s important not to have your story be devoid of ethical or moral content (even in adult lit). By adding this element, you will have a more satisfying story and some degree of healthy growth or change in the main character(s)—about themselves, others, their world, and perhaps about the larger world beyond.
Children’s Authors: Young readers do not want to feel a moral is being taught while reading. The primary purpose of a story is to entertain…not point to an explicit moral. Let me say this again another way…stories entertain while hiding the moral being taught to the young readers.
It’s important to note a good story’s form will seem natural and organic to the reader. The opening paragraph leads logically into the second and then third; the middle, climax and resolution all seem part of the natural flow. Nothing feels added in as an afterthought or just there for the mere purpose of detail.
It’s also important to remember the main character(s) resolve the problem and must go through some type of effort—a crucial action or decision that constitutes the story’s climax before the problem is resolved. A common term you’ll hear is the “Rule of 3”. This means your main character must go through at least three challenges (each one bigger than the first) before resolving the problem/conflict. This helps build climax and keeps the pacing of the story engaging for readers.
Many factors may determine the climax and resolution of your story from a lucky chance to a surprising turn of events. No matter the problem (which can take form as an urgent conflict, puzzle, question or challenge) the plot structure is the strongest and most compelling when it generates suspense for the reader. Master this classical story style first and then you can apply its lesson to other kinds of stories.