If you want to WRITE A STORY, or say something significant about someone else’s story, there are 3 IMPORTANT QUESTIONS to ask about what happens between p.1 and the end:
(1) WHAT IF? (Suppose a, b, c, d, and e exist or happen….)
(2) THEN WHAT? (What does it lead to?)
(3) SO WHAT? (What difference does it make?)
If your story can’t satisfactorily answer these 3, Mom or your best friend may like it, but the story itself is doomed.
Want to flesh this out a bit? Go through the DOOR.
You have to have more than a detailed scene that a person can picture, or a page of clever dialogue (although that helps). A story has to go somewhere. Of the “dozen” (there’s our word) or so factors good writers need to consider, here are three at the top.
These 3 questions can be dropped (hopefully gently) upon even the beginning writers as they try to catch another’s interest in stories they’re making. Or, preferably, discussed in some detail beforehand. [Special useful terms like character, plot, point of view, and climax–to be discussed in the future–may be used though that’s not necessary.]
In #1, the writer hopes to create interesting characters and an interesting sequence of events (plot) that readers can visualize, identify with, or care about. It must be emphasized that all the reader has to see what’s happening are the typed words in one’s hands. There’s no special whispering voice at the ear to explain what those words mean.
In #2, some “problem” or “issue” that has arisen—and there almost always has to be one—must be addressed and “resolved,” or at least partially so with at least a flicker of light glimpsed at the end of the tunnel. Do the consequences of what might happen make sense? Does the story take the reader far enough?
#3 is crucial. The world is filled with problems that range from “Will I made it home in time for supper?” to saving the life of a person who falls overboard. And the changing of an attitude or disposition, even without slapdash action, can also be powerful. Is my story worth the reader’s time? (There all sorts of technical issues in plot development that are helpful–and I’m ignoring–but just this can help a writer begin.)
This is the big picture, and can even start off a group discussion of a particular book or short story—as well as give direction to one’s individual writing. As I said, there are at least a “dozen” (our magic word) other technical issues that also matter, but this is enough for a start. You’d be surprised how just looking into a book, or story, with these three questions can open a window on the world of writing.
[♠] As an exercise, have students who want to write a story prepare 3 paragraphs–on one page only–that address how their story will addresses the 3 questions posed above. They are not looking at the words of the story itself. Not yet. Words, phrases are all that’s necessary here, not complete sentences. These are working notes (not to be evaluated as a “finished” paper). Have students discuss these in pairs or small groups.
(These 3 questions have been used in various ways by other writing teachers and are not original with me. The old book from which I heavily adapted these is on a shelf a thousand miles away. Name & author will be added here later. The ramble about the questions is my own.)