You’re not going to guess it, so you might as well read this blog post.
When you sit down to write a story, you’re probably a planner or a pantster.
If you’re a planner, you spend a significant time outlining each chapter and sketching out your character arcs. You find it easier to know the roadmap before you start writing.
If you’re a pantster (here’s where the term originates), then you jump right into the writing of the story. You like the thrill of making important plot choices in real time.
But I’m not writing this blog post to discuss these two kinds of writers. Because the only writer we all care about being is this kind: The Successful Writer.
Seems like it should be capitalized. It is, indeed, an aspiring title.
There are a lot of things The Successful Writer (can’t help myself) does. The Successful Writer (there I go again) can create a strong story arc blindfolded. The Successful Writer (isn’t it catchy?) seamlessly conveys character motivations within the action and thoughts of the story. The Successful Writer (can’t stop, won’t stop) knows just how to keep your attention from start to finish.
But before writing down the first word, a successful story must have something else. It’s so obvious that we don’t even see it. Yet it’s something that we writers often leave out of our writing process.
Here’s What Your Story is Probably Missing
A philosophy. Duh.
I don’t mean anything too deep. You don’t have to define the meaning of life or what is the whatness of what.
(I once knew a person who had to define that in order to earn a master’s degree.)
What every story needs before it even starts is a moral code. What is right? What is wrong? What is good? What is evil?
Defining the difference between light and dark is important. Especially when your story has a protagonist and an antagonist.
Wait, doesn’t every story have one of those?
In a story, a protagonist embodies the essence of morality or strives to achieve that good conscience. An antagonist either embodies all that is wrong with the world or quickly falls closer towards immorality through one’s choices.
Herein lies the choice we must make as writers: What makes a good action good and a bad action bad?
I Swear This Isn’t a Waste of Time
Didn’t we learn the difference between right and wrong when we were kids? Shouldn’t it be inherent within us to convey?
Just look at how riled we all get during election season. We all have different opinions on what is right to do and what is wrong to do. We claim candidates as the pinnacle of good or evil, depending on our leanings.
No, this is not an invitation to comment on your political stances.
If we take the time to defend or argue against a hot button issue, why don’t we take the same amount of time crafting what is right and wrong for our characters?
I’m definitely not saying that your story should go overboard in emphasizing good and evil. It should be picked up on by your readers naturally, not spoon-fed from word to word.
Your story should be driven by what is right and wrong. Your story shouldn’t read like propaganda with an overwhelming agenda. I mean, you don’t want your story to play out like an SNL skit.
Morality needs to be as fluid as your story arc. So it deserves as much attention when you’re writing.
Planners need to define good vs evil before the outline drafts begin. Pantsters need to define right vs wrong before writing the first word of the story.
How can you decide what actions a character should take next if you don’t understand what action strives for goodness and what action strives away from goodness?
After all, aren’t our favorite stories just about that principle?