It takes more than two-by-fours or bricks to build a house. Just as it takes more than a dictionary full of words to build a story. Before a house can be built, someone has a plan for what it will look like and what it will contain. Before a story can be told, a writer has a plan for a world he can build with words.
Imagine you are the construction boss for the story that will rise from your words.
Build a Foundation
Just as in building a house, you want to plant your story on solid ground. There has to be solid footings dug deep into the soil to provide support for the weight of the structure.
Your plot is the foundation of your story. All the words in the world won’t make a reader keep turning pages if there is no rhyme or reason for the sentences and paragraphs. The placement and meaning of those words have to build something unique and entertaining to keep the reader’s attention.
If nothing happens, if no one feels anything, or does anything… you don’t have a story. You only have a bagful of meaningless words.
Build a Framework
Once the foundation of your house is in place, your construction boss is going to bring in the framing crew. The framework starts with the sole plate, which bolts directly to the foundation. Then the verticals rise from that system of support.
The sole plate of your story is the arc of each chapter. Separate mini plots that tie into the main plot, strengthening the journey of the story as it moves toward some conclusion.
The vertical studs are the characters. You have to have something, or in the case of writing, someone, to move the plot from Point A to Point B. Unless you’re writing a documentary about the effect of a butterfly flapping its wings inUruguayhas on the weather inAntarctica, people do the moving. To make your story stronger and more yawn resistant, they will be people who do things they’re not supposed to do, people who try to do the right thing, and there will probably be a clash between the values of those people.
The ceiling joists and rafters are the issues and challenges each character brings to the story. When you study the structure of your house, you see how the top plate ties into the vertical studs, and then the ceiling joists and roof rafters rest on that top plate. The one thing in common between the vertical framing and the top framing is the top plate, which touches the main pieces of that upper construction.
Like the top plate tying all those components together, those issues and challenges of your characters affect not only their own lives, but also the lives and actions of everyone in the framework of your story. Whether it is a prejudice that impacts the main character’s decision at a crucial moment, or a pattern of behavior by a secondary character that allows a situation to blow up, these are the human frailties that hold lives together, or force them to fall apart, through the agencies of love and hate. It is never apathy that creates change or movement. It is the passions of our lives that make things happen.
Build a Roof
The roof finishes off all the loose ends. Tied into the top plate, the roof further stabilizes the entire structure. It provides shelter and separates the interior of the house from the environment. The contractor promises the homeowner to construct a building that will weather storm and time. The placement of the roof signals the end of the homeowner’s space. All she requires is contained within the walls sheltered by this roof.
The conclusion of your story arcs as they fold into the main plot is the roof on your story. You’ve completed all that you promised your reader. “Here within these pages you will find a solid premise to hold your interest, characters that interact with each other to affect the direction of their lives, and a resolution for all the questions raised in their journey through this story.”
Build a Sparkling Interior
Most homeowners hold a certain pride, not just in the construction of their home, but also in the details that make it special. They will spend small fortunes to find the right tile for the entry, a special lamp for the study, or an exquisite silk for the windows. Great attention is paid to those personal touches that define and celebrate the existence of the home. It’s about the care with which the walls are sanded and painted. The soothing colors selected to make you relax as you enter the room. It’s about making this home a pleasant experience for the visitor, and a comfort for the homeowner.
So too, does the writer celebrate the art of his creation, by applying special attention to the finishing touches. He spends time making his writing as clear as possible through the exacting selection of each word. He polishes and gilds those perfect words through exhaustive editing and re-editing.
Finally, when he is sure his foundation is sound, his framework strong and reliable, and his roof solid and tight… he entrusts the reader with the story he has built from nothing but a plan.