Author Lisa Cron explains how to use theme, protagonist's inner issue, and plot to make sure your story has a point that will appeal to the reader and keep them reading.
- All stories make a point, beginning on page one, which means the reader needs to have an idea of what that point is from the get go. It's like when your friend is rambling on about something that happened yesterday, and you nod and smile politely while a little voice in your head screams okay, okay, but what's your point? Same with a story. If you zero in on your point before you begin writing, not only will your story be easier to craft, but you'll spend less time rewriting. If you know what your story's point is, it allows you to filter out everything that's irrelevant.
This is crucial because as far as the reader's concerned, everything in a story is there strictly on a need to know basis. If they didn't need to know it, you wouldn't bother telling them about it. They assume that everything you tell them will have a story consequence. So if you include things they don't need to know, they're going to read meaning into it anyway. And it'll inherently be the wrong meaning since there isn't a right one. Which means, pretty soon your story will stop making sense. That's why knowing your story's point is one of the most important things to pin down before you begin writing.
Without a point a story isn't about anything. It's just a bunch of things that happen. I can't tell you how many manuscripts I've read where if someone asked me, what's it about? I'd say, it's about 300 pages. I have no idea. So how do you zero in on your point? By focusing on three essential elements that together are the foundation that a story is built on. First, the theme. Theme I know can seem intimidating, but it actually boils down to something very simple.
What are you saying about human nature? In other words, the theme defines how the characters will treat each other. It's interesting to note that the theme sets the story's tone, and the tone sets the reader's mood. For instance, in a lighthearted romantic comedy, tone is bright and sunny, and we know that love not only can save the day but it actually will. In a more realistic universe the tone is a little grittier, and although there'll be genuine misunderstandings between the characters, love'll be worth it, probably.
Second, your protagonist's inner issue, which is an internal conflict or belief that's holding him back and that he must deal with and overcome in order to achieve his goal. Is the plot. That is the escalating cause and effect progression of external events constructed to force your protagonist to deal with this inner issue if he wants to solve the story problem. Once you've pinpointed your story's theme and your protagonist's inner issue, you can craft a plot that will make your story's point.
Let's explore this a little further by seeing how it works in action in the next movie.
- What is a story?
- Hooking your reader
- Feeling what the protagonist feels
- Being specific
- Creating suspense and conflict
- Writing flashbacks and subplots