Don’t Start Your Story Unless You Know These 5 Things

What? Five things?

“Rachel, I’m a pantser, I don’t like to plan.”

I hear you! I’m not asking you to plan. I’m asking you to know 5 things

Even for the plotters, these 5 Things will make a difference in your story. 

So let’s get to it.

A story has to be about someone ordinary doing something extraordinary. 

I can’t design scenes, develop characters or even answer, “What’s the story about?” without knowing WHO I’m dealing with — internally.

I design my character with these 5 critical elements:

Dark wound of the past.
The Lie he believes.
The greatest fear.
The secret desire.
What can they do in the end they couldn’t do in the beginning?

Once I know the answer to these five elements, I can answer, “What’s the story about?”

Granted, these elements are fluid. They should adjust and deepen as you write BUT putting these stepping stones in place before you write the first line will aid help your journey.

Think of it like this: You’re going to at least look at the road map before pulling out of the drive.

There’s still plenty of time to take a side road and veer off the beaten path to keep things interesting.

But knowing the wound –> lie –> fear will keep you focused. 

We use this structure over on My Book Therapy to help struggling authors get to the next level.

Let’s break it down a bit:

The Dark Wound. Something from the past that will be dealt with and healed during the story. The epiphany derives from this dark wound. Be specific. If your protagonist grew up in a rough household, design an event that told him, “Life is hard and love is not worth it.” 

The dark wound forms a Lie. This is the lie the protagonist believes about himself, God, others. The more detailed the better. And the more personal, the better. If the protagonist dark wound is his parents harrowing divorce, then the lie he believes is that marriage doesn’t work, love is painful and not worth the effort. Even more specific, our hero might have been told that when he was born the family fell apart. He was one kid too many. So he believes he’s not wanted. 

See how it works?

On to the fear. 

Growing up our hero’s lie becomes a Fear. He fears he’ll never be wanted. That whatever he touches is destroyed. The more specific you are about the wound, the more specific you can be about the lie and fear. But remember almost all fears come from the lies we believe. 

Your story is about overcoming the fear, replacing the lie with truth and healing the dark wound. 

What makes the protagonist face these issues? What gives him the courage. 

The Secret Desire. This desire contrast the fear.  It tells the hero, “I am worth something. I’m really good at teaching. I’d be a great teacher. I can help kids.” Or, “Love is worth pursuing.” 

The secret desire is always about overcoming the fear. The desire cannot be separate from the wound –> lie –> fear equation. 

Once I have this sketched out, I asked, “So, what will he be able to do in the end he couldn’t do int he beginning?”

Perhaps forgive his parents. Maybe quit his job and go back to school. Fall in love. Whatever the case, it must come from healing the wound, embracing truth and conquering fear! 

This becomes my story spine to which the plot and all other aspects will connect. If the plot or story lines are not ultimately about healing the protagonist and getting them to a grand epiphany, I realign where I’m going.

The scenes in the middle of the book are about confronting the lie, facing the fear, and eventually winning. 😉 

Stories are about a slice of life where the protagonist is launched on a specific journey by external events that reach the internal fears and dreams. 

Make sense? 

From the movie, The Patriot:

Benjamin Martin’s dark wound is his past war crimes. His fear is going to war again. When war comes to his front yard, and takes his sons, must decide if he’s
going to fight. But the lie he believes is that he’s barbaric  not honorable. If he goes to war, will it be Ft. Wilderness all over again? 
But when Gabriel is taken, Benjamin must fight. He must retrieve his son. Protecting his family is his desire… I think how intently he feels about them is somewhat of a secret desire. I also think he wants to redeem himself in his own mind about the kind of man he is.
He’s launched on the journey of healing — the inciting incident — when he goes after his son. 
What can he do in the end he couldn’t do in the beginning? Fight with honor. Believe in himself. 
Now, go write something brilliant!