On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Core of the Story

Like dog breeds, stories come in such a wide variety that it doesn't seem that it can be simple. One of my favorite descriptions of a story comes from How to Tell a Story: The Secrets of Writing Captivating Tales, by Peter Rubie and Gary Provost. Here it is (page 61):

Once upon a time, something happened to someone, and he decided that he would pursue a goal. So he devised a plan of action, and even though there were forces trying to stop him, he moved forward because there was a lot at stake. And just as things seemed as bad as they could get, he learned an important lesson, and when offered the prize he had sought so strenuously , he had to decide whether or not to take it, and in making that decision he satisfied a need that had been created by something in his past.

I love this! Often while coaching writers, I come across someone who wants to tell a PREMISE and not a STORY. The premise can be described as a really cool story world/character/plot twist, but there is no narrative or throughline. A story, on the other hand, has the following characteristics:


OBSTACLES to the goal including preferably a main antagonist

STAKES or bad things that will happen if the story goal is not achieved

The Story Goal must be something that is pursued throughout the story, and answered clearly at the end with a yes or no answer.

Usually there is also a HIDDEN NEED in which the protagonist learns an important emotional lesson that will help him proceed in life after the story is over.


If you're familiar with the Story Template, you'll notice that the STORY is one of the four story pillars that build a narrative. The other three are Character, Story World, and Moral. All four of the plot pillars are important, but not having the story is the quickest way to flop your idea.

The good news is that there are specific developmental stages in a story that are *always* present, and developing a story can be a step-by-step process. Over the next few entries I'll go over questions and exercises to help you develop a story throughline that ties your boffo premise ideas together.


  1. Good one Amy,
    Important points to keep in mind.
    I'm reading "The Story Template" and getting some good pointers there too. In fact it's becoming one of my favorite texts of fiction/story/novel writing, really.

    And that's saying something since I have read probably a good 20-30 books on fiction writing, most of them very good, and studied a lot of them too.

    I like your casual, conversational style. And you have a way of making your points not only clearly but insightfully. That is, you tie the important points together--the pieces of the picture puzzle together make the picture more understandable.

    I absolutely agree that story structure is key, really the foundation to good story telling. I've been working on my main novel for at least over 20 years off and on. I keep getting to the point where I know I've made it as good as I can but it's not really up to publishable quality. So I put it away and come back to it. But now, thanks to story structure (Larry Brooks, John Truby, etc.) I think it's getting fairly close to being ready. By the way, I discovered my main premise and goals for it only within that past couple years.

    Well done.

  2. Bill, wow, thank you for such kind words :-) My first novel just about killed me to finish, and I didn't want to go through the frustration again until I had figured out how to organize a story. Since I couldn't find a book like this, I decided to research and then write it.

    Congratulations on persistence with your novel! This is the frustrating aggravating part of writing. I've been there and I know many others have also. It's true bravery, especially when others say things like, why bother.

    I love John Truby. Another author who is one of my very favorites is Blake Snyder (Save the Cat and series).

    Good luck with the writing -- I'll look forward to hearing more about your story, if you want to tell anything.