The ingredients of Stories and how to shop for them


What would you think if you could just, like, shop for the ingredients of a story? Like, go to a thrift shop with a vague sense of “I’m going to write something!” And leave with all the elements you need in order to make that happen.

That would be cool.

It’s almost true. Not quite, but almost.

There is a formula (another word for recipe) for any story. There are a lot of places to look this stuff up, but who has time for that?

I did, apparently. Here’s me, passing on my researches to you. I will save you some time.

Hold onto your butts.

The Shopping List for the Story Recipe

1. An Idea

Ideas are easy to come by, and in some ways the least useful thing to have when you need to build a story. All writers know this: life is lousy with ideas. It leaks them. We stumble over ideas all day long. People will ask us where our ideas come from, and we know that is the least of what we need to make a story.

But you still need one. The cool thing about an idea is that you really might be able to get one at an antique shop.

In order to really HAVE an idea, though, I recommend this: keep a notebook. Write those ideas down. They become useful elements when they’re written down. Before that, they’re just itches.

2. A Pressing Question

I’m going to give you this stuff in the order I wish it happened to me. It doesn’t. This is an organic (chaotic) and variable process. These elements NEED to be part of it. In my experience, they have no organization. They don’t have to follow anything.

You need a pressing question. You need to interrogate every element of your story that you want to include and make sure that it stands up to that question — or questions. Your story needs meaning, and the way to sweat meaning out of an idea is by forcing it to defend itself from interrogation. If the idea stands up, and all the elements you make up with it stand up, then you might have some meaning there.

3. A Gut Sense

It’s important to follow your sense of where the story needs to go. It ain’t good to try and write, like, a story that you think someone wants to hear. People never want to hear anything you think they want to hear. If you like it, though, and you ensure that’s the motivation behind making a story work, then that’ll translate.

Follow your gut. Big deal. Tell me a story YOU want to hear. I want to hear that story.

4. Write Till it’s Done

People sometimes worry about how long a story ends up. That is the least important thing. Just write till it’s done. That’s the only way to tell a story.

And, bonus thought: Get done. Finishing is the way to learn how to write stories.

5. The Elements

These are the things every story needs. Sort of like the sauce that goes over the top, kind of. So develop them:

  • Characters who want stuff.

  • Junk making them trip and giving them headaches.

  • A place where it happens.

  • A point when they get the stuff they want or they don’t. Whichever it is, there needs must a good reason for it.

That’s how stories work

There’s your shopping list. That’s everything. All stories need those things.

I had short stories in mind here, but the cool bit is it works for novels and stuff too.

Make stuff, guys.

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