So you want to write a story. Or maybe you need to write a story. Perhaps you’ve been tasked with writing a story for school, work, or branding. Or maybe you have a personal story inside you that is burning to get out. You have something that needs to be said.
If you’re looking to increase your income and your impact, you need to get good at telling your stories.
I know what you’re thinking, “Great, I get it, but where do I even start?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this question. Many people feel they lack the clarity and confidence they need to tell their stories. Or maybe it’s hard to find the story idea.
But you should know that your story matters. It needs to be heard.
And rest assured – this article will serve as a step by step guide to crafting a story – your story. It will also include tips and a few key ingredients to making sure your story sticks. Let’s dive in.
How to Write a Story
Storytelling is a Skill
By now, you’ve probably heard that Storytelling is one of the essential skills of the future. And if you haven’t, now you have. Don’t just take it from me – Forbes named Storytelling the #1 Most Important Career Skill of the Future.
Stories are one of the most effective forms of communication available. It all comes down to brain science. Human beings are physically hardwired to connect to stories – it’s in our DNA. A story takes an abstract business, product, mission, or message and makes it personal. It is a show, not a tell form of communication.
And, the good news is, whether you believe it or not, you already have a story worth telling. Storytelling isn’t just for those born with the gift of gab or a golden keyboard – story a skill you can learn. The best place to start is understanding how to structure your story.
You may have aspirations of writing a novel. And that’s wonderful. As the saying goes, walk before you run. Consider starting with a short story. Short stories attract a lot of readers. Social media has changed our reading habits.
Don’t give up on that novel just yet. Story writing, like many skills, takes practice. Great characters and great dialogue make for great reading. Think about that as you begin.
Start with the Structure
Since childhood, we have been conditioned to expect a particular structure from stories. Knowing the basic story structure will help you start to formulate a story that connects well with your audience. Good writers use some version of the following process.
The best analogy to understand the structure is to look at stories as a play that has several acts. Here’s an example of how that might look.
Most stories take place in three acts.
Act one – The Set-Up > Act two – The Confrontation > Act three – The Resolution
Act One – The Set-Up
Act one is where the audience learns the who, what, where, and why. First, you would introduce the character, the setting, and paint a picture of “normalcy.” Act One is also where you present an inciting incident, a.k.a. the hook that gets the audience interested in a story and sets the main action in motion.
Act Two – The Confrontation
The confrontation is where rising action occurs. Act Two is the part of the story where the goals and struggles get communicated. What conflicts, obstacles, risks, and dangers does your character experience? How does the tension build over time? The confrontation creates suspense. The spicier the struggle and juicer the goal, the better the story. We will talk more about that later.
Act Three – The Resolution
The resolution is where the climax occurs. All the action that has been building throughout the story comes to the big moment.
Explain what finally happened and demonstrate the resolution as the action starts to slow. Here you will want to show the audience what changed as a result of the events of the story. What lessons were learned, or what circumstances got shifted? In essence, you need to tell them what the point of the story was. Give the audience a clear takeaway or message that will help ensure their satisfaction with your story.
In other words, create a satisfying ending.
The Writing Process
Before you put pen to paper, it’s essential to establish what the writing process looks like so you can set yourself up for the greatest success.
You may have learned the writing process in elementary school – but I’m guessing it’s been a minute. Whenever you are writing your stories, whether it be for a book, for a speech, for a blog, or a Facebook post, you will go through the following five steps.
1. Before You Write
Pre-writing is the brain dump. This step is so vital because getting all of your thoughts out of your head and onto paper will help you feel less overwhelmed.
Once you can start visualizing your story, it will help you know which direction to go with it. Many people get tripped up with writing their stories before they even begin because they feel too bogged down with ideas and freeze up when trying to sort them out. Set a timer and start writing down ideas. Get it all out, and don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, flow, grammar, or any of the details. Just write ideas.
2. The First Draft
Here’s the part where you start writing your first rough draft. Start to put some structure to your thoughts. Again, don’t worry about perfection. Perfection inhibits progress. This is still a preliminary part of the process.
Don’t worry about word count, headings and subheadings, and the like. Get your thoughts on paper. Organizing comes in steps three and four. Keep this in mind as you start. All writers suffer from writer’s block at some point. Don’t get discouraged. The best way to get over writer’s block is to keep writing.
Now that you have your story written, you can go back and edit. What parts do you want to stay? What parts don’t serve the story? Is there a part you want to re-write? You can start to get more critical here to ensure quality.
However, a word of caution, don’t let your need to be perfect keep you from completing your story. You will never feel completely “ready.” Remember, the goals and intentions you have for your story. Try to write your story from a place of service. Doing this will help you relieve some of the pressure of perfectionism.
Now you can get picky. You can do punctuation, spelling, sentence structure yourself. Or outsource this part if you feel more comfortable – especially with a book.
Grammarly is a tool that can be incredibly helpful. There is a free and paid version. The free version is robust. As you get more experience and you find your writing continues, you can always upgrade to the paid version.
Now it’s time to share your work! Determine which platforms and methods you would like to use to share your story. Via page? Via stage? Facebook? E-book? The opportunities are truly endless in this day in age. Consider who your ideal audience is and the best way to reach them by doing some market research.
Set and Stick to a Schedule
The number one thing that keeps people from completing their stories isn’t a lack of talent – it’s a lack of discipline. Now that you know the five steps set a time-frame for yourself. Set prearranged deadlines for each step of the writing process. Time-frames hold you accountable.
When do you want your first story to be done? Do you have a presentation on the horizon, do you want to publish a book? Do you want to have more stories to post on social ASAP?
Must-Haves for a Good Story
There are several key ingredients to concocting an irresistible story. What we say, how we say it, and when we say it will determine how memorable or impactful your message will be to your audience.
All good stories need the following compelling components.
As mentioned, first and foremost, the story needs a main character. For most of you reading this, the person should be you. But, think far and wide about who could make for a compelling character in the story you’re telling. Why would using that particular character help convey your message best? Does the character have the most exciting account? Does the character have the most noticeable change from beginning to end? Is the person the most relatable to the audience? Character development is a vital part of creative writing. Create relatable characters.
The best way to do that is to think about people you’ve come across in your walk. Writing dialogue helps develop those characters and can bring them to life. Let people see your characters’ thoughts. Let the reader feel what the characters feel. Emotions bring characters (and us) to life.
Here are some thoughts on character development that may help.
If It’s You
Introduce yourself. Help your audience visualize you. If the story is taking place at another time in your life, I suggest describing something different about you THEN vs. NOW.
Did you have glasses, braces, longer hair, bell-bottom jeans, or choker necklaces? Tell the audience how you were deep into your rap phase or a die-hard N*SYNC fan at the time… Speckle in a few fun facts to help the audience feel like they know you better.
If Someone Else
If the character is someone else, describe their physical features or accent. Perhaps you could tell the audience something unique about the character’s likes, dislikes, or hobbies. Only spend a sentence or two on this. But adding some “flavor” will make your character more interesting. Be sure to get the character’s permission first if you want to use their name.
A Common Denominator – Connect to Your Audience
To tell a good story, you must find the common denominator. For my creative readers, I’m not talking about math. I’m talking about the definition of a common denominator – a feature shared by all members of a group. The common denominators find common ground between the character and the consumer of the story. They help create a better bond.
How can you make a story irresistibly relative to your audience? The more you can connect your characters, or yourself, to the audience, the better they will be able to picture themselves in the scenario.
As human beings, we connect based on likes, dislikes, experiences, tastes, and emotions. That is where the details of a story come into play.
Do you like coffee or chocolate? Mention that. Do you listen to Coldplay in the office but Tupac in the car on the way home? Mention that. Do you flush whenever someone brings up your closet addiction to The Bachelor? Mention that. Think about how you can incorporate some of those details. Again, only spend a sentence or two doing this. Be careful not to over-do it and distract from the main point.
Humanize yourself and try to connect to the audience. Most people love chocolate (not everyone, but you’ve got a 90% chance of winning over hearts if you bring it up), and most people have a guilty pleasure or two.
Towards the beginning of the story, you need to introduce the right hook. The hook is what grabs the attention of the audience. Create suspense with the hook. Keep them guessing. Introduce the audience to the action or the goal of the story.
The hook could be:
- An enticing question.
- A teaser of a later event.
- A dramatic statement.
Remember, stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Think about every book, movie, or television show you’ve ever watched. It starts, a bunch of stuff happens in the middle, and then there is a resolution, right? While a good hook is critical, it’s the “bunch of stuff” in the middle that matters.
A High Stakes Goal
When setting the scene, the main objective is to unite the audience. A high-stakes goal needs to be communicated. Communicate this by emphasizing how crucial the goal is to the story or to the character.
Questions to answer:
What will achieving the goal mean? Is it a life or death situation? Is the goal to land the new job that will elevate the character out of a financial crisis? Is it a goal that translates to fame and legacy, such as nailing the audition for the New York City Ballet?
If you can convince your audience the goal is essential, they will be invested in it and rooting for the character. Establish this early in the story.
If you have no struggle, you have no story. There needs to be an apparent conflict that is working against the character and the goal. Frankly, if the story is predictable, it’s boring, maybe even annoying.
However, if you can pepper in some struggle (the more, the better, make it spicy), people will sit up, pay attention, and want to know how things turn out. They start to put themselves into the story and begin to think about how they would handle or respond to the conflict.
The struggles in the stories formulate the rising action. What are the conflicts the character faces?
Some examples might be:
- character against nature
- character against another character (i.e., relationships)
- character against society
- character against self (self-sabotage)
- character against health
- character against technology
- character against time
The Lesson in the Story
Again, this goes back to Act 3, or the resolution. After you have built up tension and excitement by communicating struggle, it is vital to bring it all to a conclusion. The climax is the moment that the character “defeats the dragon.” It’s the highest point of interest in a story.
From that point on, the story will start to wind down and provide the audience with answers and tie up loose ends. For a resolution to be most effective, it needs to incorporate some change to the character or the circumstance.
How did the journey the character (you) went through cause them to grow or evolve?
Maybe the character didn’t achieve the initial goal, but the challenges and struggles caused them to reevaluate life’s priorities or what matters. How did the meat of the story result in a change to income, impact, environment, or situation? For the audience to feel satisfied, there needs to be a clear outcome; a purpose for all that happened.
By using the 3 Act Story Structure, the 5 Step Writing Process, and the Must-Haves, you will be well on your way to crafting a story that sticks. Who knows, maybe one day your fiction writing will turn into that novel you dreamed of writing. And your great short stories will get published.
It happened to me. It can happen to you too.
Story on, friends.
Originally published on Your Money Geek.