The essence of your story is this:
A man with a problem is having an okay life, when suddenly he something and needs something. The villain plans to stop him. Everything the hero tries does not succeed until with one last ditch effort, it happens, the villain is defeated, and he lives happily ever after.
What does this boil down to?
Someone wants, needs to do or needs to prevent something.
Your job is to stop them from getting it for as long as possible. In essence, you, the author, are the real villain. You’re just foisting it off onto some dude.
There’s two essential frameworks – Event trigger, or time trigger. A time trigger means you have a deadline. 3 Days of the Condor was a movie like this, based upon Seven Days of the Condor, the book. There was a real deadline. If this is your first time on this blog, you’ll find out this is literally one of my favorite movies!
Event triggers could be, I skipped school, and someone saw me. Now I have to get home before they do, so I can tell my mom first it’s not true.
Then you throw every last thing in the way, your character grows and matures through all the nonsense, gets home seconds before the other person and says… mom, I skipped school today.
A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan shows that you can write one that literally is a combination of both. It starts with needing to capture all the bridges in Holland in three days. Quickly the framework changes from deadline to plot trigger, as the 3rd SS Panzercorps under Bittrich and Model begin to surround the British forces on day 8.
Yes, day 8. The frightening thing about the book is – it’s nonfiction! By the way, let me get on a soapbox now and say that putting American troops under British command is the wrong approach. Put everything under American command, and you win the day! Pay attention to the scene where Field Marshal Von Rundsted and Model are talking, and Model predicts Patton will be the general to attack Holland. Von Rundsted agrees, saying, “I would prefer Montgomery, but even Eisenhower is not that stupid.”
Montgomery led the attack.
Conflict is story. No conflict, no story. My Countdown to Armageddon story is both plot Trigger and deadline. It’s mostly deadline, as there’s a looming 7 years until the end, and that deadlines creeps and creeps and creeps… every day…
And it’s plot driven, as drastic events such as plague, earthquakes, genocides, etc. Begin to decimate the population of the earth.
Let’s talk about character. Story framework is fine. Set up your conflicts, figure it out to the nth degree. But if you don’t have the right character, it falls apart.
Last Man On Earth with Vincent Price featured a Vincent Price character as the last man on earth, among people who are driven to kill him, because he’s alive and they’re dead.
Change the character to a Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry type character, and you have the Omega Man. Same story. Just a change of the lead character.
You have your story. Characters drive the story. If your story is not going, you haven’t defined your character.
Some people believe in writing out 60 page analysis of who your character is, where they grew up, etc. I’ve found one or two of those that are good, but I end up having to edit them, because morals in todays society seem to be nonexistent, and not everything needs to be analyzed in your character. If you have to delve into that in your novels, then you don’t have much of a story.
Take the high road in your story morally, at all times. As an author, you subtly influence lives and thinking.Much of my values growing up were imparted by Robert Heinlein, a man with little in the way of moral structure (his pre-1960’s books were good – something happened in the 60’s to change Heinlein, sadly)
Make your character strong, Make them memorable. Make them someone people want to be or emulate or love.
Then make them flawed.
Carpenter in my first draft of my novels was strong, a Clint Eastwood type. Aggressive, blunt, a leader.
As I re-wrote the books, something happened. He became flawed. Devastated by the loss of his wife, he is a haunted man, struggling to find things to fill his empty life, desperate to not break down sobbing every night over the loss.
Suddenly he’s real.
Essentially, I put myself in Carpenter’s predicament – what would happen to me in that situation?
I’d end up going through the motions, unwilling to talk to people, just trying to find things to keep me going minute by minute, paralyzed by bouts of grief that nobody else knows exists. So, that’s what I did to Carpenter.
Your characters drive your stories. If they’re not driving it, they’re the wrong characters.