See more Let’s Write tips in Andi’s Attic >>
Every once in a while, I will offer hints and helps for those writers interested in entering the various story-writing contest offered on Andi’s Blog. Contests >>
I’ve also started an online course and it’s fun to share a little bit (to drum up interest in the class. I have a nice waiting list going for this winter 2022). I won’t share all of my writing secrets, but for those of you interested in writing for contests or fan fiction, this first tip is the very basic.
The Five [Fiction] Story Elements
I’ve copied and pasted some good information from my writing workbook Writers Roundup >> This is a repost from the old blog. Since the comments can’t be transferred, after the lesson I have included a couple of brave souls who responded. I’d love to see more sharing the five elements for any story you are working on, whether you are writing for fun or for publication.
A story is not simply a collection of words tossed down on paper. A whole story is made up of smaller pieces, or “elements,” just like a jigsaw puzzle. When you put the individual puzzle pieces together, you get a satisfying picture when you’re finished. The same holds true for a story. Each element is a writing skill that you can learn one at a time, practice, and then put together to create a satisfying story.
If one or more pieces are missing from a jigsaw puzzle, it’s no good. A fiction story with one or more missing elements is no good, either. The reader feels cheated or disappointed. Something is missing. The reader isn’t sure what it is, but they know the story is not quite right.
Every good character-problem-solution story needs five essential elements. Without all five elements, the story falls flat. Memorize these five elements. Think about them before you plan your story. Every part of creating your story falls within these five elements.
Digging into the Five Elements
Characters are the most important of the five story elements. They drive the story. Learning how to create appealing characters is a skill that can make or break your story. The main character doesn’t always need to be a person. It can be an animal, or even a gold nugget. Your main character does need to be someone with whom the reader can relate. Your readers should care about your characters and what happens to them.
Setting Put your main character (and the supporting characters, both heroes and villains) in an interesting or unusual setting. You should have a place (like the dark side of the moon, an old castle, or the Old West) as well as a time (the 1880s, World War 2, or even the year 2525). Readers want to know where and when they are.
Story Problem Once you put your characters into a setting, give them an intriguing problem to solve. Not like a math problem, but a quest, an exciting adventure, or a mystery. Then make the problem worse! No problem = no story = boring. A workshop leader once taught me, “Create the most appealing characters you can, and then think up the worst kinds of problems for them to overcome.” Your character needs a chance to grow and change as a result of the story problem.
Plot Events are the good and bad things that take place in the story while the character is trying to solve the problem—however large or small the story problem may be. A lot of “ups” and “downs” (conflict) happen along the way. The plot is the element where you ask yourself “what if?” What if my character falls off a cliff? What if my character gets into an argument with her best friend?” Asking “what if?” is a great way to think up story problems for your characters.
Solution The ending of the story must be satisfying to the reader. When your character has solved the problem (or come to grips with it, or even unwillingly learned a hard lesson), then finish your story with an ending that leaves the reader saying, “Ah, that was a good story.”
Modeling the Five Elements
It is helpful to the budding young author to see how another author uses the five elements to create a successful story. Once the five elements are firmly planted in your mind, you should be able to read any character-problem-solution book, watch any movie, or listen to any audio drama and identify the five elements of the story the creator is telling. The more you practice, the better off you will be when it comes to using the five elements for your own story. Here are the five story elements for the book Andrea Carter and the Long Ride Home.
- Main character: Andrea “Andi” Carter, age 12; Other characters: Andi’s family, horse Taffy, Rosa, Felicity, Felicity’s father
- Setting: Places: Circle C ranch; Livingston Flats, Lazy L ranch; Time: 1880
- Story problem: Lately, Andi is always in trouble. When she leaves the ranch, a thief steals Taffy. Andi must find and recover Taffy before she returns home.
- Plot events: Andi gets in trouble for going near Chad’s wild horse. Andi leaves the ranch. Taffy is stolen, and Andi is knocked out. A Mexican migrant family finds her. Andi works in the fields with her new friends. She finds a clue to Taffy’s whereabouts in the livery stable. Andi encounters a mean girl, Felicity. Andi stops Felicity from whipping Taffy. Andi is locked in a shed. (There are many other plot events, which all have to do with Andi solving the problem of finding and recovering her horse.)
- Solution: Andi eventually finds Taffy and returns home. The solution must always relate back to the original story problem. Since the story problem in Long Ride Home is “Andi must find and recover Taffy before she returns home,” Andi must be reunited with Taffy, or she must come to grips with a believable reason why she will never see her horse again.
Readers’ Five Elements
Here are responses from the comments on the old blog. Anonymous wrote: I’m writing a story called “Rebekah and Pearl.”
- The main characters are a 15 year old girl named Rebekah and her albino mare Pearl. Both love doing equine Cross Country.
- The setting is Modern Day VA.
- The story problem is that when Pearl goes blind due to a disease called Equine Recurrent Uveitis, Rebekah has trouble trusting that this can be for her good and that God really does have plans for her to prosper.
- The plot events are that Pearl is able to adjust to being blind. Rebekah begins re-training Pearl to voice commands. Pearl is able to begin doing some basic things again, and soon Rebekah is able to do slow rides with her. When Rebekah meets a young girl who begins taking lessons at their farm, Rebekah isn’t sure how to witness to her. Rebekah still struggles with trusting God, but she’s leaning on Him more.
- Solution: Rebekah completely trusts in Jesus and Pearl does better. The girl that Rebekah witnesses to doesn’t become a Christian (yet) but she becomes intrigued in Christianity and wants to know more. I might make her become a Christian in another book in the series.
Emily wrote: This is a story I’ve been working on a little recently.
- Characters: Graham & Juliet
- Setting: Regency era England (so think 1814/Jane Austen time frame)
- Story Problem: Creating a lasting relationship in the face of critical society, a very jealous ex-best friend, the difficulty of communicating clearly.
- Plot Events: Graham & Juliet meet at a ball and defend a poorer young woman from being bullied. Graham invites her and her brother to a party. Graham’s horse accidentally tramples Juliet’s shawl and he buys her a new one (the shawl ends up being symbolic of their relationship as it progresses). Juliet likes Graham, but isn’t good at expressing her feelings (at first she doesn’t wear the shawl). The evil ex-best friend shows up to the party and starts saying nasty things about Juliet. Everybody at the party thinks Juliet is a bad person. Juliet decides to leave the party.
- Solution: The former best friend has an accident and Juliet chooses to show compassion & forgiveness, which frees her to be herself and have more confidence. Juliet finally wears the shawl Graham bought her and he proposes.
What about you? We’d love to read your story plans using the five fiction elements.