Remember those wondrous questions your high school English teacher wrote on the blackboard? Who? Where? How? Why? When?
For at least one semester, I allowed those questions to dominate my essays, and then without ever realizing the impact of a single punctuation mark, the questions began to ooze into my everyday world. And then for a while, they came back to me like a boomerang when I walked into the world of fiction.
The basic rules don’t change when we create a fantasy. I got caught up in creating a mood and setting, so much so that my writing received reviews that waxed on about my lyrical sentences, comparing it to poetic expression. I was a success right? I moved readers—didn’t I? Wrong.
Without a plot, a beginning, middle and ending, it doesn’t matter how witty or charming my characters were. I had nothing to say, and offered absolutely no entertainment value to readers.
The components of a story encompass the essential questions. In order to capture one’s quarry, a writer needs to bait his hook, create something very early to attract the fish and get him interested. Once the reader begins to pay attention, a writer needs to make her feel safe. Introducing descriptive language to flush out the scene, the character and the plot make up the middle of a story.
Ah, the essential plot. During the ambling walk a writer traipses through during the middle of the story, he must heighten the reader’s tension, add drama to the crisis if it was introduced at the beginning, or clarify the reason the story was written in the first place.
Without crisis, a writer’s output is just a vignette or a scene. And finally, a writer’s obligation to complete the story is to allow the reader a reaction to her invested time. It does not need to be a happy ending, although good-news stories do far better in the marketplace, but a resolution must take place in order to complete the silent contract between writer and reader.
The juggling act of drawing all the components into a story is an innate talent with some writers, but even those on a learning curve need to be aware of reader expectations. As writers, we have an addictive quality to our craft, but we can’t survive without readers, and that requires earning their respect by giving them what they need and want.
Writer Jenny Harp is a New Zealander grandmother who lives in the United States with her husband and loves God, life and family.