Five Essentials for a Successful Story

It has been way too long since my last post. In that time, I’ve had a son, Sage Garnet Smith, and I’ve been working on a novella, editing my novel, To Wield the Stars and renovating a house.

I’m in the third rounds of my novella and I should have it completed by the end of October. If you have been following my writing journey (that’s cool if you haven’t) and thinking, why am I writing a novella when I’m trying to publish my first novel, To Wield the Stars? To build an audience for when my novel is ready.

The title is yet to be confirmed for my dark fantasy novella but if you’re interested, I have a poll running on my twitter account https://twitter.com/DouglasWTSmith

In the process, I have learnt a great deal in regards to story and character structure. In such a space of the novella, it was tough but I really enjoyed it and I’ll probably continue to write novellas.

It made me reflect on my other works in, how do I know if my story goal is good enough to support the entire novel? I don’t know but I guess that’s when my beta readers and editor will tell me.

‘In nearly all good fiction, the basic – all but inescapable – plot form is this: A central character wants something, goes after it despite opposition, perhaps including his own doubts, and so arrives at a win, lose, or draw.’ ~John Gardner


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Before we can start talking about the essential elements for your story, you need to make sure your Characters have a physical story goal.

You should not choose an abstract goal. You must choose a tangible story goal. Characters always have abstract story goals. We are always on journeys of self-discovery where we worry about our feelings. This is a given, but never let these become more important than physical goals with deadlines. If you do choose an abstract story goal, your character will spend too much time alone, thinking and boring your readers.

Once your character has a physical story goal, you use this checklist to see if it’s an essential goal to carry your character through your entire novel.

Below are Five Criteria for Creating Successful Story Goals:

1.  Possession

Your protagonist must try to gain possession of something – an object, a person or information.  Example:  Brad, who is trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter, wants possession of his child.

2.  Relief

Your protagonist must try to gain relief from something tangible – a threat, an object, a person, an animal, or a condition such as oppression or persecution, and relief from something emotional – fear, pain, sadness, despair. Example: Brad needs relief from the kidnapper’s demands and relief from his feelings of pain, fear and despair.

3.  Terrible Consequences

Your protagonist must face terrible consequences if he fails to achieve his story goal. Example: If Brad fails, he will never see his child again.

4.  A Worthy Motivation

Your protagonist must have a worthy motivation for pursuing his goal. These could include duty, freedom, love, honour, justice, dignity, integrity, redemption, self-respect, and survival. Example: Brad is motivated by love, duty, and the survival of his daughter.

Note: Soft emotions like kindness and generosity do not work. Neither do negative emotions like lust, envy, anger, greed, pride, and hatred. Revenge is interesting. Readers have trouble sympathising with a protagonist whose sole goal is to get even. The way to make this work is when the justice system has failed to punish someone who really deserves to be punished.

5.  Tremendous Odds

It should appear impossible for your protagonist to achieve this goal. Example: Brad will have to track a criminal, deal with law enforcement, handle his family’s pain and test his bravery.


If your story goal is a physical goal and if it meets these five criteria, you will have a solid foundation for your novel. I hope you enjoyed this article. If you want to see more and be included in an active writing community, make sure you hit the subscribe button.


#DouglasWTSmith 

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