Action followed by Reaction – that’s the most basic guideline to keep your story moving forward.
Fiction is telling a story about something that never happened, but you can use “real life” as a reference in some things. Your characters will have “normal” things to do that are probably disrupted by the events that create a story.
Telling that story – any story – is a sequence of ACTION followed by REACTION (for reaction is an action in itself, which will require the next reAction). This continues to the end of the story where the final reaction doesn’t require any further action related to this particular story (though it could lead to another story in another manuscript yet to be written).
Action to Reaction is a simplification of the process of storytelling but it’s also quite a handy way to build a storyline in steps.
Now, let’s add another couple features to this:
To keep a reader reading there must be SUSPENSE. Suspense doesn’t mean danger, though it can. The goal is to supply enough details, and action, excitement, to keep the reader intrigued and wanting to know what happens next. This can be questions with more than a single answer, plus decisions and indecisions on the part of the characters. What the “suspense” is depends on the type of story being written. In a mystery, this is obviously Whodunit? How did they do it? How can the detective prove they did it (find the evidence)? Why did they do it? In an action-adventure it’s a case of staying ahead of whatever danger threatens as well as possibly finding a treasure, rescuing someone, or saving the world! In a romance, it is how will the couple overcome whatever is keeping them apart (as there has to be something doing that or you don’t have a story). Will they find their compromise or find a way to fix or negate the problem? Even will they or won’t they hit the mattress within these pages? With fantasy, you could have a bit of any of the above things going on simply taking place in a pseudo medieval world, on a different planet or in a parallel dimension, in an altered historical landscape or in the future
When it comes down to basics there are only three kinds of genre stories (I consider literary tales to simply be another genre niche): romance, mystery, and adventure. They can be combined and frequently are within a story – it’s how the different genre niches are formed (romantic suspense, paranormal romance, urban fantasy/mystery, etc.). Fantasy and science fiction are nearly always adventure stories in some way (in case you were wondering)
All the major characters in a story must change/grow from page one to the final page of their story (which could be more than a single manuscript away if a trilogy or series is involved). This means they have things to overcome or something in the storyline affects them in such a way that they change their mind about something. If we’re talking megalomaniac villain, the change will be for the worst probably as they think up new ways to get their own way. But maybe not! These changes take place over the course of the story, small bits beginning to show up by the middle but more as the end of the manuscript or story arc finish line gets closer
There need to be dips and rises throughout a story. The dips are rests for the characters to catch their breath, decide on new directions, gird up for battle whatever that battle is (could be in a boardroom!). The dips must never take the character back to square one, where they were as a person on page one, but are merely brief fall backs…like take one step back to re-evaluate things before plunging ahead. Have the suspect they are sure committed the murder suddenly becoming a victim, killed in the same manner, which means nearly back to square one on the investigation. Things like that. Rises situated to be in progress at the close of a chapter and continue on through the opening of the following chapter work well. Sometimes this isn’t possible but most times it is
The story has only one direction -- it rises in suspense, in action, until just before the conclusion when the pinnacle is reached. With the action and suspense wrapped up, “clean up” can be written – clear up any questions a reader might yet harbor about the story or characters. Make sure questions, such as why the uncovered murderer did the deed, how the couple intends to walk into the sunset, what happens now that the treasure has been recovered. You know, The Aftermath of the story
Action/Reaction can take many forms. It can be physical action – a fist fight, a cliff scaled, a runaway carriage, a car chase, a shootout, a near accident, a trip/fall that results in injury, death, or falling into a stranger’s arms. It can be a question asked and the answer given. It can be a discovery or the path to a discovery. It’s the end presented and enlarged upon.
Click on cover to travel to the trade paperback edition. Also available for Kindle and Nook.