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The Basic Steps of a Story

The Basic Steps of a Story.

Step one: The Protagonist (And his world)

Every time communication occurs, it is grounded in context. If there is no context, then the reader will almost definitely get the wrong idea. For example, observe the sentence, “Here’s my number.” How many different ways could this be taken? Here are a few.

One may read this and assume that it is a comment shared between two single people who are securing a date. “Would you like to get coffee some time?” “I would love to. Here’s my number.”

Then again, perhaps one would assume it was for a business encounter. “Oh, you are a photographer? Could I set up a shoot with you?” “Certainly, here’s my number.”

Or perhaps it is jersey day for a high school basketball team and a boy is searching through the uniforms. “Here’s my number,” he smiles.

The list could go on and on.

Step two: The Protagonist needs

Our needs drive us. I eat, breathe, sleep, and drink water, not only because I want to (and trust me, I do), but because I need to. Some nights, I’m in the middle of a project and I don’t want to stop, but tiredness takes over. I lose clarity, my efficiency drops, and my head hurts. My body is going to make me sleep at some point, or I am going to die. So, I got to sleep. I am driven by a need.

Everybody is driven by their needs. Some people have different needs than others. Some people are confused about what their needs are. Others, have such deep wants that they feel they are needs. All of these kinds of needs collectively drive your story.

Thus, if you have established who you are character is and what their world looks like, we may move to their needs. What does your character need? What does your protagonist think they need? This will drive your character. Below are some powerful needs that may drive a character.

Love. Maybe your character deeply feels the need to be loved. I love implementing this need in my characters. It can be used in a self promoting, arrogant kind of way. However, I much prefer using love to demonstrate the basic we need we all have. What about your character? Do they have a family? Do they have a spouse? Do they have friends? Are they loved?

Good. Your character can be driven by the need to do good. Perhaps they feel their moral compass deeply in their soul and suffer to disobey it.

Physical needs. Maybe the adventure your character is on is not actually about deep wants at all. Maybe they are compelled to act based on their physical needs. Does your character have a place to sleep at night? Do they have food in their belly? Do they have clean water to drink?

Joy. Joy is a need we all have. Most people only find brief happiness. Even Kings and Queens are often left looking for true, lasting joy. Does your main character have joy?

Whatever needs you assign your character, consider how you can make them known to your reader. Showing is often better than telling, so be wise in how you relay the information. However you decide to convey your protagonist’s needs, make sure the reader knows it. One of the worst things a writer can do to his story is not have a clearly defined need for their main character.

A good example of this in my own life is the Lego video games. My wife and I have played many of them to 100% completion. They are a great time. That being said, after you have achieved every task, bought every character, and completed every level, you are allowed to play on. We almost never do. This is because there is nothing more to do. There are no more needs you have within the game. Playing has lost its point. An adventure without a point is boring and meaningless.

Step three: The Protagonist goes and searches

Once your protagonist has a need, the next logical step is for your protagonist to go and search for where he can find it. This will most probably cause tension. That’s a good thing. Tension builds the plot. Your character is both a case study and someone the reader roots for. Tension promotes these qualities. Where will your character search? What will they find? How will this create tension and shake things up? This portion of the journey does not have to be a straight path.

On less of a writing note, and more on a personal note, most of us spend our lives halfway devoted to this portion of our story. I love you. Please don’t let that be you.

Step Four: The Protagonist finds an apparent solution.

In your main character’s search they are going to need to find an apparent solution. If this never happens, then you are probably going to exhaust your reader. The lesson you may end up teaching is learned helplessness.

Instead of doing that, my encouragement to you is to finish the story arc. Press into step four. Let your character find something that might work. Usually, I will only leave a story without a full arc if I am writing a short story.

Is your main character searching for love? Let them find someone who seems to care about them. Is your character hoping to get some cash? Throw a job in front of them.

Step Five: The Protagonist takes

At this point, you are reaching a climax to your story. This can be one of a few, but be careful not to fatigue your readers to greatly.

When a main character takes an apparent solution it does a few things. First, it reinforces your characters need. Second, it provides hope to the reader. They have travelled all this way to find the solution for the need your character has. At this point, they should want it almost as badly as your hero does. Third, it turns the tide of the story.

Step Six: The Protagonist Pays

Step six is the other side of the climax. Here is where things begin to unwind. Tension falls. The reader and your character are left sitting in the consequences of all their actions.

Did your character run away? In this stage, let him feel what it’s like to be alone. Has your character taken the job? What has it done to him? Show us. Let us see what having this need costs.

Step Seven: The Protagonist Evaluates

Here, your character must evaluate whether or not the payment was worth it. Was getting what they needed a help or has it caused further or even different harm? This phase is a phase of reflection. Here is a great place to make a powerful point.

Step Eight: The Protagonist turns (left or right)

Now, your protagonist must make a choice. How will they respond to the apparent solution? How does it change them? Are they better or worse? Will they continue to look to this answer, or will they search for something else?

Step Nine: The protagonist’s needs are fulfilled or are now different. (If the protagonist has the same need, the story probably isn’t over).

The closing of a story should in someway give their reader direction about how they should view the need of the protagonist. Here is a great time to unveil the lesson behind your story. Maybe, your character still needs love, but they no longer believe they need it from bad friends. Maybe your character realizes that his need, was actually and empty pursuit, and that happiness, joy, or whatever they search for must be found elsewhere.

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