What drives a story? More importantly, what is driving you while you’re putting the story together, piece by piece? It’s not something that you really have to focus on or worry about while you’re writing…but it’s something that you will begin to notice more and more as you gain experience with your craft. If used right, you can structure your story in a much more effective way before your fingers ever touch the keyboard. It’s something to think about while plotting out the events of your story or series, and it might help you to concentrate on what you’re trying to do with it, as well as keep you from going astray with the overall feel of your project in general.
So let’s get started, shall we?
There are three major ways that can drive your story from its beginning to its end. It can be ‘character’ driven, ‘plot’ driven, or ‘theme’ driven. And while these three things have a bunch of similarities, they’re really pretty different in terms of telling the story you want to tell. So pay close attention…
I would say that this category is probably what most of my own stories fall into. Growing up with comic books as a kid, this was my very first experience with handling multiple characters and having them be the focus of the story while building an experience around them that could (potentially) last forever if I wanted it to. The best example of this would be “The Secret Life Of Billy Chase”. Billy is a closeted gay teen in high school, who keeps a diary that documents his day to day adventures with his friends, crushes, parents, and everything that is going on around him. With this story, there are a bunch of different characters, a variety of different storylines, and a series of obstacles and problems that Billy has to face from one chapter to the next. However, “Billy” is the glue that holds the whole thing together. Everything is told from his point of view. Everything that happens is happening to him. He is the character that is going to carry this whole series through thick and thin. So even if the storylines change, or older characters leave and newer characters enter the scene…everything revolves around the protagonist. This is why that series can have 400+ chapters and not really get tired or exhausting. You’re following one character through his life. The problems he faces can change. He can evolve with every mistake he makes. And there doesn’t need to be a definitive ‘goal’ for him to reach, because living alongside the character himself is the point of the whole story. Even when one storyline ends, another one can begin. And as long as the audience stays connected to Billy himself…that’s ok. This can make for a very strong connection with the main character, and can give your audience more of a ‘friend’ than some guy they just happen to be reading about.
While characters are important in every story that you plan to write, some stories are meant to be more plot-driven, and work better that way. A lot of my shorter, ‘one shot’, stories fall into this category. These stories are based on an idea that I had and wanted to express in story form with a particular agenda in mind. While “Billy Chase” can have a TON of different story plots that rise and fall over time, these short stories have a specific goal in mind and work best when I have a smaller arc and a determined point to make. Some good examples of this would be “Between The Lines” or “Save Or Sacrifice”. These stories were written with the intention of tackling a certain event or series of events that would lead to a definitive outcome. In these two series, the problem was introduced, and the storytelling was all focused on solving that problem to reach the end. As I said, the characters are still important, but the plot of the story is what takes center stage this time. If I were to take these characters and put them into different situations…it might make for a good ‘side’ story or a sequel…but it wouldn’t be a part of the original story that I was trying to tell. That one moment in time has been addressed, that one problem has been solved, and the story has been told. The plot-driven story isn’t as limitless as the character-driven story…but sometimes it’s better to just be short and sweet and to the point. Don’t let yourself get too ‘out of bounds’. Say what you have to say, and then let it go. If you try to drag it out, people will be able to tell. Never a good thing.
And then we have stories that are…
Theme-driven stories can give you a ton of freedom, but it can be really easy to get lost in that freedom, causing you to go off on tangent and lose your focus if you’re not careful. ‘Theme’ is a really direct, but also a really vague, way to create a story. A theme can be anything. A theme can be, say…drug abuse. If you want to build a project around that theme, you can write a story that takes place in a rehab center. You can have multiple characters involved, and each character can have their own plot-driven stories going on, independent of one another. But the main ‘theme’ is what connects them all, and as long as you keep that as the main reason for all of these people to be interacting at all…then it’ll work. As far as my own stories are concerned, the best example for this would be “Skylight”. It takes place in a high school, many different students who all have different backgrounds and different obstacles that they have to face. Some of them aren’t related to one another at all. Some have never even met. However, when ‘disaster’ strikes the school…that disaster becomes the theme driving the story. Even though I’m, technically, telling many stories at once, involving characters who may not even know one another…the theme is the glue holding it all together. The theme is what makes the story cohesive for the readers, and they can follow along, seeing how each story grows and changes depending on how they all deal with the same tragedy.
So, taking a look at the story that you want to write…keep these three things in mind:
1. Character driven stories can have multiple plots and can go on and on until you decide you want to bring them to a close. Just make sure your character is likable enough for your readers to want to keep following him on his many adventures.
2. Plot-driven stories are clear, concise, and straight to the point. Decide what you want to say with this type of story, and say it. Address a single problem, situation, or idea…and then present a solution. It’s used to capture a single moment in time. Start the story, build the story, then end the story. One, two, three…done and done.
3. Theme-driven stories can get messy if you don’t focus. Figure out what your theme is. An Earthquake, an alien invasion, a hostage situation…whatever. Populate that event with your main characters and all of the individual stories that might define them…and see how they all react differently to the same event. Just make sure that the main theme remains center stage, and your readers won’t get lost in the chaos.
Alright…that’s all there is to it. If you get a chance, go back and look at some of your older stories and see what category they fit into. A lot of writers feel most at home with one variation or another, and if that’s where you’re comfortable, then that’s awesome. But if you’re ever looking to reach out or jump into something new, keep these three categories in mind, and let them help you build a structure that you might want to play around with. You never know how much you might enjoy doing something different every once in a while.
That’s it for now! I hope this helps! And I’ll be back next issue with more! Happy writing, you guys!