new file: chapter5.txt

Steven Laidlaw authored
revision f09209c58ffdbecc37d3124bf7ff11297af205d1
> These files will be included in your book:

# Story Skeletons

Writing a structurally sound story is simple.

But it isn't easy.

"Huh?" you say. "What do you mean, simple not easy?"

A *lot* of things are really simple. Hauling an engine block out of your car is simple--but it sure as hell isn't easy. There's a lot of work to be done, and you have to go about it the right way or the simple task can go all to hell in a hurry. Building a solid story as an aspiring writer is the same way. What I can hand you here is not going to look very complicated--but for newbie novelists, it's going to be difficult to handle. At least it was for me.

The story skeleton is a description of the main plot of your book, broken down into its simplest elements. It's two sentences long. Neither sentence is particularly long. Your plot needs to fit into that framework, or it's going to be too complicated for the average newbie writer to handle well.

"Impossible," I said to myself when Debbie told us that in class. "There's no way you can break down a story as epic as mine into two sentences. You can't possibly do that." As it turned out, I could. If I hadn't been able to do it, it would have been way too much story for me.

The story skeleton (also called a story question) consists of a simple format:


For instance, look at Storm Front. (Yes, I'll use my own books as examples, because I'm just that way. ;) Also, I'm more familiar with them than I am with almost any other writer.) Storm Front's story question:

When a series of grisly supernatural murders tears through Chicago, wizard Harry Dresden sets out to find the killer. But will he succeed when he finds himself pitted against a dark wizard, a Warden of the White Council, a vicious gang war, and the Chicago Police Department?

See! It's oh-so-simple! Almost to the point of looking ridiculous--and I have no doubt that some of the people reading this article will think that it *is* ridiculous. They're wrong. :) This is a fundamental description of the core conflict in your tale--and stories are all about conflict.

Not only that, but by getting your story broken down into its basic elements, you'll help yourself focus on the most important portion of the novel and avoid dumping lots of extra words into it. Always write a story as lean as you possibly can (and still be happy with it). Every scene and every sequel should be planned to move your story forward--and you should have the purpose of the scene in mind as you write it.

You want to write your story like a racehorse, not an elephant. It is SO much easier to flesh out a story that's too lean than it is to trim down a story that's too bulky.

This doesn't mean that you don't plan a book with subplots. Even newbie writers like I was can usually handle a couple of them, and with enough planning usually more. But the main plot is the skeleton that everything else builds upon. Before you get rolling on your next novel, make yourself a little form and fill it out. I know, I know, it seems corny as hell.

But trust me. It will help you in the long run.