About Writing

The formula for a successful story

A stereotypical formulaic story:

An ambitious and spunky woman hits a low point in her career, so she leaves the big city to visit her small hometown, where she rekindles an old flame and learns a lesson about what’s really important in life. *cue heartfelt music*

Which basically means that once you’ve read one such story, you’ve read them all. *yawn* Yet a lot of writers keep sticking rigidly to the “basic plot” for whatever their chosen genre is, which ultimately makes them uninteresting to read.

I’ve decided to go ahead and break it down farther, to give you the analysis of the framework, so you know how to write a story without relying on imitating a plot that’s already been done.

I give you, the bare bones:

1.Exposition – Tell us who the story is about, the setting, and anything else that’s relevant to understand the rising action.

From our example above, this would be the description of ambitious and spunky woman, her chosen career, why she’s in a slump, why she chooses to return to her hometown.

To mix it up: An introverted yet successful cake decorator is given the challenge of a lifetime — making a cake to welcome the alien invasion. Describe how she’s successful, and why she was chosen.

2. Rising Action – This is usually the bulk of the story. The conflict has been introduced, and now it’s up to the characters to play it out.

From the example: The spunky woman meets her old flame, swoons over how gorgeous he is, then gets upset that he’s a jerk. Meanwhile, she has several deep conversations with her mom and/or best friend.

To mix it up: The cake decorator is teamed up with some important guy from the government, and together they work out the alien symbology to avoid accidentally offending the invaders. Meanwhile, they discover the aliens are allergic to buttercream, and need to come up with a substitute.

3. Climax – This is the culmination of events, and often the turning point in the story. It’s usually exciting.

From the example: Spunky woman and her old flame are stuck together somehow. They reveal their feelings and begin their relationship.

To mix it up: The cake decorator and government man realize that they were set up as scapegoats, and decide to hijack an alien cruiser to flee to the stars. Earth is doomed.

4. Falling action – This is where the characters work through the consequences of the climax.

From the example: The spunky woman is offered a new job, and she must choose between returning to the big city, or staying in her hometown with her old flame.

To mix it up: The cake decorator and government man discover an established colony of humans on Mars. Turns out, the aliens have been kidnapping people to populate it for years. They settle down together to live inside a dome city.

5. Resolution – The conflict is resolved, and the loose ends are tied up. Basically, it’s the author’s job to bid us a proper farewell so we feel satisfied that the story is over.

From the example: The spunky woman learns an important lesson about life and love, and decides to spend a little less time working, and a little more time living.

To mix it up: The cake decorator opens a new business on Mars, because frosting is her passion in life. Thanks to her knowledge that the aliens are allergic to buttercream, the colony can live in peace as long as they eat cake regularly. She is much happier than she ever was on Earth. She and government man have an unbreakable bond because of their shared experiences.

It’s essential that every story have all five parts. The climax doesn’t necessarily have to be big and dramatic, but there does need to be some pivotal event. Also, if you just end abruptly without a resolution, the story is going to feel unfinished.

If you use the story map as a guide for the events in your fiction, you can come up with new and exciting plots that don’t repeat the same old tropes over and over and over. Branch out, do something new, and still leave your readers feeling satisfied in the end.