As much as authors want to write unique, exciting fiction and impress readers with their creativity and writing prowess, writing a book requires following a few rules and guidelines. There are certain parameters that all books must follow because 1. They wouldn’t be books otherwise and 2. Readers expect it. Writing a book is all about satisfying a reader with a great story, so let’s look at the five things every fiction story needs in order to be a solid book.
The way you start your story is very important—and often tricky to get just right. Your first scene or chapter must balance between easing your reader into the story with background information and getting them into the action and conflict as quickly as possible. Without a good inciting incident, a reader will likely begin your book feeling confused or uninterested.
So how do you write a good inciting incident? First, it should set the tone of the story. Let the reader know how they should feel. Scared? Angry? Excited? Next, it should let readers know whom the story is about. Introducing your main character and making the reader care about them and their goal is an important thing to make clear right at the beginning. Third, it should raise enough questions to keep the reader wanting more. Make sure you have a good enough hook where readers can’t help but want to keep reading.
Every story needs to have at least one main character that is driving the story. This character or characters should be believable and their actions and motivations should make sense based on their personality. When it comes to creating captivating characters—especially your protagonist—consistency is key. A reader should feel like the understand the protagonist and know what they’re going to do before they do it.
The reader should also have a reason to care about your protagonist. No one will finish your book if they have no reason to root for their success. You can do this by ensuring your protagonist has a clear purpose or goal that he or she is working toward throughout the book, and that the stakes are high enough to cause some tension. Your protagonist should also have some flaws that make him or her more interesting and relatable to readers.
Just like you can’t have a story without a main character, you also can’t have a good story without someone or something around to keep the protagonist from reaching his or her goal. If your antagonist is another character, follow the same rules for character as the protagonist. They should be believable, consistent, and have their own motives that are causing them to create conflict with the protagonist.
But your antagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be another character. Sometimes it’s a setting, an entity (government, family, the weather), and sometimes your main character will encounter multiple antagonists throughout a story. What matters most is that 1. Your main character doesn’t have an easy time reaching his or her goal and 2. You give as much thought and detail to your antagonist as you have your protagonist.
Conflict is what brings tension into your story, creates trouble for the protagonist, and develops your story’s plot to create a more engaging story. Over the course of your book, your story should have multiple points of conflict that get more intense as your story progresses and your protagonist gets closer to his or her goal.
There are many different types of conflict, but the main ones are internal and external. Internal conflict takes place within the mind of a character, such as a fear of failure or anger toward a family member. External conflict is what happens to the character based on outside forces, such as a tragic accident or a fight started by another character. Your story should probably include instances of both internal and external tension.
You can also include smaller moments of conflict throughout that maybe don’t affect the plot as a whole, but reveal character or cause tension between two characters. Regardless, some degree of conflict should be present at all times, otherwise you may need to rethink moments of your story.
No matter what, your story needs to have some sort of satisfying conclusion. Even if you don’t want to wrap everything up—maybe you want to leave room for a sequel, for example—at least most of the conflict and questions you introduced should be resolved by the end of your book.
Hopefully your protagonist will have gotten closer to or reached their goal and undergone some changes since the beginning of the story. You don’t have to tie up every loose end—it’s okay to leave your readers wanting more from you—but if your story doesn’t have at least somewhat of a resolution, you are more likely leave your readers incredibly frustrated.
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