The Secret to Powerful Stories

by Rachel Hauck, @RachelHauck 

This secret will change the way you craft stories. I’m not kidding. What I’m about to tell you will impact your writing all the way to the core and maybe even get you published.

I’ve been judging a contest. I feel like I could cut and paste the same comments in each one.


  • What does the hero/heroine want?
  • What is the story question?
  • What journey are they going on?
  • Author’s inciting incident has nothing to do with the opening scene.
  • What is his/her fears? Desire? Give a hint of these in the opening.
  • What is the dark moment from her past?
  • Show some sort of competence. Meaning, a superpower (what he/she does well.) Good at his/her job.
  • Show confidence in the midst of failings and weaknesses.
  • What is the black moment?
  • What can the hero/heroine do at the end they can’t do in the beginning?

But all these things boil down to two big questions:

  • What is the story ABOUT?
  • What is the moral of the story? (What truth does your character learn?)

I was recently reading a budding author’s work where the heroine is called upon for a dangerous task. But there was no leading up to how this would impact her own life. Sure, it’s challenging and exciting to be on a dangerous adventure, but at the end of the day, all of that is just busyness if it doesn’t bring about change in the protagonist.

The author’s writing was fine. She knew how to show and not tell. She employed good pacing. An even balance of dialog and prose. I didn’t agree with some of the character’s motivations but the author used motivation to justify the events on the page.

However, even after two chapters, I still didn’t know what the protagonist wanted. There was no HINT at what her epiphany might be at the end of the book.

Thus, I didn’t care about her as much as I could have.

Even for a simple romance, the story must be about something. A life lesson. A moral. A spiritual truth.

Yes, the story on the surface in about falling in love, but really it’s about coming to some life understand. An epiphany.

In the movie, The Proposal, Margaret fell in love with Drew but only after they both fought through their fears, lies and hang ups. That’s what the movie was about. Coming to some truth that changed them.

The same principle applies to suspense or thrillers. The story isn’t about how John McClane stops a bunch of terrorist. It’s about realizing what’s important in life. His wife. His family.

The conflict of the story is how coming to truth through the book’s events, also known as the plot, bring light and life to the protagonists. This becomes the moral of the story – as seen through the characters.

Answering the questions posed here also deepens your connection with the characters. The dialog becomes about more than conversation to get the characters from point A to point B. It becomes about telling the story. About the little reveals of the characters inner self.

Remember: All stories are about people. Go through your story and see if by the end of the first chapter, there isn’t some hint at what the protagonist wants. A hint of a want or fear.

Note: I’ve seen books that hint at the want and fear, but alas, it they nothing to do with the story. If the protagonist wants to be a big time lawyer, and gets fired from his job, but the story is about him rescuing his kidnapped kid, then what he wants in the story is to be a good father, not a good lawyer.

Simple questions create powerful stories. What does your character want? Why? What stands in His/Her way? What Truth will your character learn? What is the moral of your story?

Keep it simple, that’s the secret.

 
TWEETABLES
 
 
 
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Tenley Roth’s first book was a runaway bestseller. Now that her second book is due, she’s locked in fear. Can she repeat her earlier success or is she a fraud who has run out of inspiration?With pressure mounting from her publisher, Tenley is weighted with writer’s block. But when her estranged mother calls asking Tenley to help her through chemotherapy, she packs up for Florida where she meets handsome furniture designer Jonas Sullivan and discovers the story her heart’s been missing.

A century earlier, another woman wrote at the same desk with hopes and fears of her own. Born during the Gilded Age, Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of the old money Knickerbockers. Under the strict control of her mother, her every move is decided ahead of time, even whom she’ll marry. But Birdie has dreams she doesn’t know how to realize. She wants to tell stories, write novels, make an impact on the world. When she discovers her mother has taken extreme measures to manipulate her future, she must choose between submission and security or forging a brand new way all on her own.Tenley and Birdie are from two very different worlds, but fate has bound them together in a way time cannot erase.


New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a past ACFW mentor of the year. A worship leader and Buckeye football fan, Rachel lives in Florida with her husband and ornery cat, Hepzibah. Read more about Rachel at www.rachelhauck.com.