Writing: What’s a Story Chain?

If you are writing a NaNoWriMo novel, you’ll still need the six elements of a Story Chain.

Writing Tip for Today: What’s a Story Chain and how do you create one?

Character + Desire

Most novels start out as a character the writer envisions. When you create a character, you imbue them with personality, values, a past and a present. If your character has strong beliefs and values, readers can more easily identify with that character—or at least be fascinated enough to follow them.

By examining your character’s values (what they prize most), you can find your way to what the character desires in the story. Ask yourself, “What does my character want more than anything?” In some stories, the character doesn’t realize he/she wants something until it’s thrust upon him/her. I’m thinking of the anti-hero who must fight to save a world he didn’t know was imperiled, such as the Star Wars franchise.

When you assign this desire to your character, don’t wait to let the readers know what it is. You may not spell it out on page one, but by the Inciting Incident (the event that sets the character on the path to attain the goal), readers must understand why they’re reading and what the character is trying to achieve, be it love, honor, belonging or to thwart an evil.

Stakes + Obstacles

When you assign a goal to your character, you’ll want that desire to matter as much as possible. A goal that is pursued for self-satisfaction is good. But a goal that ripples out to larger communities will have more impact.

Be sure your goal passes the So What? Test. This means that if your character wins or loses, who cares? We all want love, belonging, good, redemption to triumph. Give your goal high stakes, so readers will be anxious to see the goal realized.

Give your character worthy obstacles. You needn’t be melodramatic, but the forces that your character must overcome can’t be too easy. A worthy antagonist or obstacle forces your character to work hard to overcome them. And your stakes will matter even more if the obstacles have implications for more than only your character. Think of concentric rings—a person, the family, the community, the nation, the world (or galaxy).

Climax + Resolutions

You may be a dedicated pantster not a plotter. That’s fine—I like to discover things as I write too. Yet by thinking about what the character is willing to do in order to overcome obstacles and achieve the goal, you’ll prepare yourself to write scenes that build up tension all the way to the story’s climax.

The climax scene must be the highest point of tension in the entire story, so don’t write a competing scene before you get there. I’ve been asked if there can be more than one climax. I say not usually—although I’ve felt that certain authors can pull it off (Thinking Lord of the Rings). When you get to the climax scene, you’ll want to let it be the pinnacle of tension.

Your story will have a resolution after the climax is over. Think ahead and decide if your character will be happy they won, happy they didn’t win, unhappy they won or didn’t win. Most novels have a redemptive quality to the resolution—that is, the character has grown wiser or changed in some way. Think about your six-step Story Chain as you plunge into your NaNo novel for 2023.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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