By Susan May Warren, author ofThe Way of the Brave (Released 1/7/20)
There are 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone. Yes, that’s a lot. But you don’t need that number to blow your mind…simply walk into a Barnes and Noble and notice the shelves and shelves of books…
Why should someone pick up your story? Because you have heroic characters? Maybe an edge-of-your-seat plot? Perhaps a heart-wrenching situation?
A great story has all of the above. But really, the reason a reader picks up and stays with a story has to do with something much more…personal.
It’s about the question in your reader’s heart and how your story reaches in and answers it. Or, at least empathizes with it.
It’s called the Story Question and every book has one. It’s the theme of the story turned into a personal question.
· Can you overcome heartbreak and love again?
· Do you have the courage to fight back?
· Is there hope after grief?
The Story Question is that question your character is asking as the book opens, ignited by the inciting incident and lingering in their mind throughout the story. All the tidbits of truth your character discovers along the way contribute to the answer they discover at the epiphany moment of the story.
Consider one of the classics – Casablanca. Rick is a broken-hearted soul who can’t forgive the woman he loves for abandoning him. He’s become apathetic and refuses to get involved in the lives of those who come to his bar. Then, one day, his lost love, Elsa walks into his gin joint and suddenly the story question ignites. Can Rick love again? And, if he does, will it change him into a better man?
This question is at the heart of countless stories through the ages. One of my favorites is The Count of Monte Cristo. A man, wrongfully imprisoned, vows revenge on the man who stole his life. The external journey is his quest to enact revenge. However, his inner journey is about forgiveness. The story question asks, can a man so wrongly aggrieved, forgive? And could it finally set him free? Ironically, this is also the story question in my current release, The Way of the Brave. My hero has been betrayed…and now he’s called to rescue the very person who betrayed him.
The external plot only causes the character to grapple with the big question of the story. One might say that the entire purpose of the external plot is only to cause the hero to confront the big story question and find an answer, with the hope that because of it, he changes and becomes a better man.
Frankly, isn’t that what life is about?
If you build your story correctly – creating a character we like, who has a real problem, and wants something for a good reason, someone who has something to lose and who goes on a quest to find that solution, you have a solid plot. But it’s the why of the journey that differentiates your book from others. What is the question the character—and the reader—is asking?
Your story gives them at least a glimpse at an answer. And if it’s one they like, they just might pass the book along.
Susan May Warren is the USA Today bestselling, Christy, Carol and RITA award–winning author of more than seventy-five novels whose compelling plots and unforgettable characters have won acclaim with readers and reviewers alike. In addition to her writing, Susan is an internationally acclaimed writing teacher and runs an academy for writers, Novel.Academy. She’s taught at conferences around the world and helped many novelists onto the bestseller list.