3 Critical Elements Every Story Needs

3 Critical Elements

Every fiction story-no matter the genre-must contain the essential elements of good story-telling. These elements are timeless and easy to identify so that your story will appeal to and satisfy your reader. There are three critical elements: Goal, Motivation, & Conflict.

Characters have GOALS they are motivated to accomplish.

Their MOTIVATIONS fall into one or more of three categories: money, love or revenge. Around these goals and motivations swirls conflict. Your character wants to acheive a goal and is motivated to get it, but something stands in his way.  And just when he thinks he’s close to reaching his goal something greater stands in his way.

Without conflict, there is no story.

Who wants to read a story about a guy who got up in the morning, shaved, took the bus to work, came home, ate dinner, watched TV and went to bed? Daily conflicts that happen will shape and question the outcome of a story. You want your reader to think, “OMG, how will she overcome that?”

Conflict has also been referred to as “the hero’s journey.” The story of the hero on a quest, facing danger and adversity along the way, is timeless.

There are three different kinds of conflict: inner conflict, personal conflict between people, and  a universal conflict, that is, conflict between you and everyone else.  Does your story contain one-or more-of these three kinds of conflict?

New York literary agent Donald Maass, wrote Writing the Breakout Novel, has described conflict as, “Someone wants something, and there’s an obstacle.” In one of his workshops he emphasized that he wants to see “conflict on every page.” He said, “It’s the single most important thing you can do to take your novel to break-out level.”

The obstacle in your conflict can be as simple as your protagonist looks forward to dining in his favorite restaurant and finds it closed, or as complicated as your protagonist having to choose between saving the life of his mother or the life of his child. In your story, are the hero’s goal, motivation, and the conflict he faces clear?

Great conflict can happen when two of your main characters want opposite things. They both can’t win. Will one win, or will there be a compromise? If you want to know more about this subject I suggest Donald Maass’ book and Story, by Robert McKee. These books should be on every fiction writer’s bookshelf.

The next time you take pen to paper think “Conflict”.  If you find this article helpful please share it on facebook or twitter with your friends.


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