Here are a few of the story “Musts” that I present in my writer’s workshops:
One: Action! Hero in action, ruthlessly pursuing a meaningful goal; antagonists actively standing in the way of the onrushing hero; writer in action, channeling the story, staying out of head and experiencing from the heart; prose in action, show the reader; reader in action, receiving and experiencing the story.
Two: Bloody Knuckles! Also known as “skin in the game” or “a dog in this fight.” To write a story that allows readers/viewers to fully experience the hero’s journey can only be done if you write from your heart, move out of your head, trust your gut—and risk falling on your face!
Three: Shitty First Drafts! Anne Lamott’s memorable phrase sums up what many forget: books are written in drafts. When you commit to exploring the life of your characters, while keeping your story antennae up and attuned to discovering those vital events and turning points we can call story markers, you are likely to avoid getting locked into a limiting idea of your story.
Four: Tension – Think about it, all tension is unmet need. When a need is met, the tension breaks, and the story ends. Still not sure? Think sex.
Five: “Houston we have a problem.” No, make that a dilemma! No matter how many problems your hero encounters, she must face a dilemma. There’s a dilemma at the heart of every memorable story. Story mentor Al Watt says, “A problem can be solved, a dilemma can only be resolved through a shift in perception.”
Six: Transformation! It is what happens to the hero (and often the reader) when she faces her dilemma and surrenders what she wants to the truth of what she needs.
Seven: Want it bad! Desire drives story. You want to write your story, and your protagonist must want to achieve a goal. This connects to action. A hero driven to pursue a goal is a hero in action!
Eight: Dancing in the Dark. Put your characters together and let them struggle (to lead). Don’t wait until you’ve ‘figured it all out’ because you will never get there. Let your characters and story channel through you and to live and breathe on the page.
Nine: Conflict! Let the battle begin! If you’re a person who avoids conflict, think of your story conflict as a soup pot on a stove: it warms, it bubbles, it boils, it burns!
Sarah Lovett is an award-winning author and bestselling novelist. She is the co-author with outed CIA covert operative Valerie Plame Wilson of two spy thrillers, Blowback and Burned, both optioned for film development. She’s also the solo author of Dantes’ Inferno and four more thrillers in her highly acclaimed series featuring forensic psychologist Dr. Sylvia Strange. Sarah is writing a new mystery series set in New Mexico, a coming of age mystery set in the California Delta, and also a “how-to” book for writers of full length narrative, fiction and memoir. For more, visit SarahLovett.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter.