If you’ve been exploring the craft of writing any time at all, you’ve most likely heard of the necessity of establishing a strong GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) that will carry your story through from beginning to end. You’ve heard about the importance of inciting incident, building tension, black moment, climax, and resolution—and know GMC is evident both internally and externally.
These are all story structure essentials (and you’ll find a number of helpful blog posts in the Seekerville archives on all these topics). These form the parameters of a story puzzle--the border that holds it all together--as well as the critical focal points within the story. Most boxed puzzles have a primary “what’s it about” focus. A person, place or thing. You’ve seen them—with a picture on the front of the finished product.
But writers don’t have the advantage of “seeing” the story in all its gloried detail from beginning to end when they first think of an idea. At best, they may envision a shadowy character, situation, scene, setting or resolution. They have to not only decide on GMC and other structural requisites, but on other essential parts surrounding those primary pieces--vast stretches of story that logically link the focal pieces together. In a physical puzzle these might include foregrounds, sky, water, trees or mountains. Even though the basics may be pieced together and you can “see” the borders and focal point, the whole picture isn’t complete until the supporting peripheral pieces have been strategically placed to fill the gaps.
I find, when preparing a proposal (first 3 chapters and a full-blown synopsis) that I, as the author, need more than the bare bones basics, more than the GMC, focal point and structure. There are many questions I have to ask myself about the “linking” pieces that hold the story puzzle together. While all the ideas bubbling in my head won’t fit into a proposal, I need to know far more than the basics to bring the story to life.
I keep a 1-inch-wide, 3-ring binder that is labeled “From Start to Finish” – a distillation of years of writing craft tips I’ve accumulated from conferences, on-line classes, blogs, professional journals, newsletter articles, wisdom shared by my editor and agent--and just plain old personal experience. I have everything in it from checklists for character building and revision-stage processes to prompts to help me find my way out of the maze of a muddled middle.
While the list of questions I’m sharing today is not by any means intended to be comprehensive (after all, my binder has over 50 clear-top-loading sheets in it!), these are some of the things I ask myself in order to help connect all the story puzzle pieces. The answers can often take a story in one direction or another. A single choice can have a reverberating impact that enriches the chapters.
Have you ever read a book and actually stopped to analyze HOW MANY DECISIONS the writer had to make that went far, far beyond establishing basic GMC, inciting incident, black moment, climax and resolution? How, if they’d chosen a seemingly minor A, B or C rather than D, the story couldn’t have convincingly ended in Z?
Answering some of these questions will also help you build the GMC foundation as well as connect the puzzle pieces.
- What is this story REALLY about? (The premise that inspires, the “take away”)
- What is the “first impression” I want the reader to have of the hero/heroine? What should be included in the opening to quickly elicit reader empathy for hero/heroine?
- What is the greatest fear of my hero/heroine? Their biggest dream? Biggest regret? What makes them most angry with others--with themselves?
- What strengths/flaws does my hero/heroine have and how will they impact the story?
- How will my hero/heroine’s character/spiritual depth change and grow by the end of the story?
- What’s my hero’s/heroine’s background (personal experiences/family legacy) that drives their thinking, speech and behaviors? What secret do they harbor?
-Are my characters actions/thoughts consistent with their goals and motivation?
- What is keeping my hero/heroine from just walking away from the conflict—and each other? What is keeping them together—apart?
- Who are the necessary secondary “players” and how will they impact the story?
Illustrating the answers to these questions in my manuscript will add dimension, continuity and perspective to my final story puzzle. I return to my list periodically to see if I’m adequately capturing the answers in my manuscript or if I need to layer in better clarification.
Please share with us today what questions YOU ask yourself when you begin to flesh out your story puzzle!
If you’d like to be entered in a drawing for a September release set of Seeker Glynna-Ruthy-Debby books, please mention it in the comments section, then check our Weekend Edition for the winner announcement!
Glynna Kaye's debut book “Dreaming of Home” was a finalist in the ACFW Carol and Maggie awards, as well as a first place winner of the “Booksellers Best” and “Beacon” awards. Her 4 1/2 star “At Home In His Heart” was chosen as a Reviewers Choice finalist by national magazine RT Book Reviews. “A Canyon Springs Courtship,” her sixth Love Inspired book (and the fifth set in the mountain country of Arizona), released in September 2013--with two more contracted for 2014!