From Soup to Nuts…”Parts of a Story” by Mary Deal

Parts of a Story

by

Mary Deal

Parts of a story can be seen as action scenes or major scenes tied together with other action. They can also be seen simply as beginning, middle, and ending.

Tips for writing a story are many and varied. I’ve put together some suggestions that will help you analyze your own story plot. Or you may finally be able to get your story started. You’ll be writing a book before you know it!

These suggestions apply to any stories of any length. The only difference is in genre.

In fiction, you may lead your characters to do whatever the story dictates.

In nonfiction, you will have the usual beginning, middle, and ending, but you cannot manipulate occurrences since they actually happened.

Paying attention to the details given below can help you put your own story together. Other articles on this site will cover many more aspects of building a short story or novel.

The suggestions below apply to plot action and holding a reader’s interest. Building characters, a scene, or settings will be covered in other articles.

Here then, discussing parts of a story, are some valuable tips for writing a story, or for writing a book.

Beginnings

Always, that’s ALWAYS; remember to include the five senses in all parts of a story.

Most always, you will write the story from the point of view of your main character’s five senses. If any other character must say something about the heat that’s about to make them faint, this is a great way to have a person other than the main character contribute to the description of a setting.

If your reader’s five senses are stimulated, you are more likely to immerse that reader in your story.

The very first word or two should grab the reader’s attention.

In books written ages ago, it might have been okay to begin “The weather was temperate. I was feeling good.” Today, this is a waste of eight first words. Today’s readers want action or something to grab their attention to entice them to read further.

One of the most important tips for writing a story is to make sure you realize the value of your very first words. They must grab the reader’s attention.

The beginnings are the most crucial parts of a story.

All the main characters should be revealed early on.

Oftentimes, when writing a book of some length, new characters are introduced late in a story or plot. This seems only a crutch to get out of a dead-end plot situation to get the story moving again. There can be no saviors dropping into a story, only characters interacting together from near the beginning and carrying the plot toward conclusion.

In multi-genre writing, characters might pop up anywhere. Still, in order to make them credible, they must have a reason for being included.

Important characteristics of each character should be exposed.

Not important is a visual run-down of what each character may look like. Most important is to build each character’s personality.

It’s okay to state a few facts about their physical appearances, but it’s best done when describing them in action. If some information doesn’t help the reader visualize the character, or doesn’t apply to action to take place deeper in the story, leave it out.

An example: If a man never ties his shoelaces, only include something like that to emphasize his lackadaisical attitude (that you’ve already established) and if, deeper into the story, it’s what causes him to fall and break his neck. Otherwise, leave it out. Every act, every word, must have a reason for being included in parts of a story.

The main dilemma of the entire story line should be introduced in the first chapter.

Of all the parts of a story, this one is crucial.

The main dilemma can also simply be strongly hinted at as long as it’s immediately and progressively developed as the story moves along. The reader must see the succession of events moving along as it reveals more and more of the dilemma.

I don’t advise stringing the reader along. Let them know the dilemma as soon as possible. Otherwise, the reader may ask, “What’s the point.” They will put your book down and may not pick it up again.

When writing a short story, unlike writing a book, the dilemma must be revealed as soon as possible.

Almost everything in the first chapter should be considered foreshadowing.

All the plot action and character traits are set-up to propel the rest of the story. I have written a great article titled Foreshadowing, which deals with exactly that – better than I can explain here in few words.

Keep in mind that all parts of a story must lead to another, must hint at the next event. A future event should cause the reader to remember something that was said or done a few pages or chapters back.

Middles

Give your characters tough situations to face that make the readers wonder how things could possibly be resolved.

Make it seem there is no resolution. The situations are what flesh out the story.

Readers know that most situations get worse before they get better. This should determine exactly where you step into the action of the dilemma. Yes, step into it. Do not try to build the dilemma. You will be building back-story.

Have the situation already happening when your story jumps into it.

If you want to have your characters having a fun picnic in a park, and then a shooter comes along and ruins the day, that’s okay too. Just don’t waste too many words setting up how nice the day turned out to be.

Think of this example as if watching a movie. We see the family having fun in the park. We SEE everything immediately. Ten seconds after the film begins, the shooter comes along. If you think of the scene this way, you will know how quickly you must start the action in your written work. You will know how much to include in the first few sentences and how much to omit.

Thinking of your opening as a movie is good practice for including only that which applies and then getting on with your story.

Back-story is information that helps show why the characters have a dilemma.

Use back-story sparingly. Introduce it in snippets of conversation, or in your characters’ memories. Use it only if it enhances the present action. Too much back-story and the plot will stall instead of plunging your reader head first into the bramble bush.

An open ending of each chapter, known as the proverbial cliffhanger, encourages the reader to turn the page.

Another invaluable point in the parts of a story is to try to have cliffhangers at the ends of each chapter. Don’t bring all the action to a close just because the chapter is ending. The reader won’t have a reason to read further.

Leave some events open and questions unanswered. All the while, infuse that chapter with all that it can hold for that particular scene.

When writing a book, you will have many chapters in which you can build cliffhangers as well as great endings when the meanings of these are later revealed.

In various parts of a story, when developing the plot and continuing the action, what the characters experience must be a result of the plot dilemma you originally introduced.

Think about what you created. If you have someone robbing a bank, the plot dictates how these people elude the police. In the end, they are caught. A simple trail to follow only made interesting by complications you add.

Another example is if you begin your story with a seamstress sewing clothes, this could lead anywhere. However, you’ve chosen a topic that may be difficult to develop enough to hold a reader’s immediate interest. Your market for such a story would be limited.

The seamstress would then have to create some gorgeous line of clothing, maybe accidentally, that propels her to fashion design stardom. Maybe she comes in contact with the socially elite, while she, herself, lives in squalor. Think how a story like that might end. Her status is either elevated, or she remains an unknown.

Parts of a story such as this might suggest this seamstress is blind to improving her lot though she wants to. The ending must show the reader how the seamstress overlooks her chance at a better life – and is, perhaps, better for it. Or maybe she finds happiness and reason to stay in her own little world.

Endings

Endings make or break your story.

If a reader reads all the way to the ending and the ending falls flat, you will have a greatly disappointed would-be fan. That reader will not suggest her friends read the book. In fact, she may never buy another of your books.

The ending must follow the action. Only one ending would be apropos for any story, with rare exceptions.

The parts of a story must come together so that, with the climax and denouement, the reader feels a degree of satisfaction at having shared the characters lives.

Many stories have more than one ending.

More than one ending would be where the plot contains one or more subplots that, while carrying the main plot, are also nearly stories unto themselves. See my article Forensic Evidence in Plots. In the case of strong subplots, you would then have the main story ending, along with a wrap up of one or more subplots.

Ideally the subplots should wrap up before the main ending. That way, the wrap up of the subplots feed into the climax of the main story line.

When crafting the climax of any story, the actions of the characters will dictate the ending.

You’ve heard the saying Let the story write itself,” haven’t you? Your story will write itself.

Don’t be concerned about the ending till you’ve arrived at the ending. Allow your characters to perform, to achieve greatness in their endeavors or their dastardly deeds. When you finally arrive at the ending, the characters’ actions will dictate the ending.

Then, as I always say, There is always an exception to every rule.

When I wrote my Egyptian novel, The Ka, I had the ending before I began. I also had many other scenes and knew how the story would flow. But I had to massage and manipulate the story line to arrive at the ending I could not change.

The denouement is the lesson learned after the climax has been realized.

Either or both the character and reader understand the result of the action that occurred in all the parts of a story.

For example, let’s say your character bumbles around doing bad things to people. Then he is caught in a situation where he needs help and things look pretty bleak because no one wants to help him. But someone steps forward, sees the good in the kid, and gives him a chance to turn his life around.

The climax to all this would be the kid getting help in the eleventh hour. The denouement would be the realization the kid has about how his actions hurt people and almost ruined his chance for getting help for himself. The kid’s life does a turn around and he now teaches other kids about good and evil.

The denouement is his self-realization, plus what the reader gets from it also.

Parts of a story can be developed on their own.

Often times, my mind is overflowing with the action of a scene that I write the scene without anything leading to it. Later, I go back and bring threads forward into the new action.

As long as you tie the scenes together in a cohesive manner, nothing says you can’t write the parts of a story that come into your mind in a rush. Write it! Catch that spark of creativity as it happens.

Tips for writing a story, as outlined above, are meant to help you understand the creative steps along the way to writing a book or short story; steps a writer must utilize in the beginnings, middles and endings of stories.

The parts of a story are scenes of action. Tie them together. Make one action cause another, and write it one page at a time.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.

About Mike Angley

Mike Angley is the award-winning author of the Child Finder Trilogy. He retired as a Colonel from the Air Force in 2007 following a 25-year career as a Special Agent with the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). He held 13 different assignments throughout the world, among which were five tours as a Commander of various units, to include two Air Force Squadrons and a Wing. He is a seasoned criminal investigator and a counterintelligence and counterterrorism specialist. In his last assignment, he was Commander of OSI Region 8 with responsibility for all of Air Force Space Command. He’s fond of saying, “If it entered or exited Earth’s atmosphere, I had a dog in the fight!”
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