#5 What Makes a Good Story?

It comes down to three simple words really

Conflict. Or so they say. But conflict isn’t something you can manufacture easily. It has to come from a sense of tension and from something real in the world. Big or small.

I had a writing teacher who helped me get to the heart of tension years ago and I want to share her simple approach for infusing tension into your stories. She explained to me that every story and every scene in every story needed to have three elements in order to produce conflict and therefore interest.

Those three things: Want, Because, But.

When we’re talking about stories, this usually refers to your heroine. They need to want something; they need a reason for wanting it; and there needs to be an obstacle that makes achieving it difficult and therefore interesting.

Here’s an example from my novel: Melanie only wants one thing, for her brother to be happy. Because that’s all that’s ever made her happy in life. But now he’s dead and she can’t figure out how to be in the world without him.

I’ll never forget learning those three words. It changed my approach to writing and editing my work. It helped me diagnose scenes that weren’t working simply by asking what she wants, why and what’s stopping her? If those things aren’t apparent, I rework and revise until they are.

I like it because it’s simple and easy to apply.

This is a concept that can work in developing your business or organization’s story too. Method cleaning company wants every person to be able to clean their homes safely and effectively without harming the planet, because happy homes mean happy people and a safer planet. But harsh chemicals that are bad for us and the environment have become the norm in household cleaning. OR Black Lives Matter wants to achieve freedom, liberation, and justice for Black people, because it is our right as human beings to have a fair shot at equal existence. But the sometimes subtle, though often overt, structures of white supremacy make it hard for people who aren’t Black to see and help change the world for the better.

Want. Because. But.

If I’ve worked with you to build a brand you might recognize the components of a strong brand foundation—a vision, a reason for being and a monster or injustice in the world that your organization is here to address. Those are not all the elements, but they’re the important ones for a strong brand and they create a cohesive story for your business. If telling your businesses story is new to you, start here it’ll give you a solid base to work from.

You can do it with your personal story too. What do you want? Why do you want it? What’s made it hard to achieve? The answers to that will unlock a pretty compelling story you can tell your followers, fans or future bosses about your experience of the world.

What you do, the next steps you take in response to the “But,” well that’s the heart story.

I hope this was helpful. If you know someone who might be able to use the concept please share and encourage them to subscribe. If you have questions for me or if you want to apply this in new ways, leave a comment on the post—developing new frameworks is one of my favourite things.

Finally, John Lewis died a few week ago. I’m sure you’ve heard. He left an important message for us. It’s short, but essential for us to receive as we move through what is a social and cultural crisis sparked by the pandemic and everything that lead up to it. I love love love the idea of good trouble. I’m okay with trouble trouble, but good trouble—that’s inspiring to me. Imagine the stories it likely leads to.


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