Having written several short stories and novels, I imagine I have a good idea of what comprises a story. Many others think the same thing, regardless of their level of writing proficiency. All you need to a story is a beginning, middle, and an end, right?
Perhaps on the basic level, yes. In practice, though, not every story
that has a beginning, middle, and end will be worth reading.
So, what else is there?
In a nutshell, a story is all about the characters, their goals, and the
obstacles they have to overcome to get there. As an example, I'll use
my second novel, Friends in Deed (and for those who don't want spoilers, close your eyes until we reach the end of this post)..
This story is about a character (Aston West).
Now, to work on Aston's goals requires us to dive into some additional
details. More so with novels than with short stories (which in general
are going to be too short to add too many goals into), your character is
going to need a major goal spanning the entire book. But in the
meantime, Aston is also going to need some smaller goals that pop up
throughout the book. Without these intermediate goals, the reader is
going to get bored and when that happens, they tend to set books down
and not pick them back up (better known as the author's death knell).
Aston's major goal here is to escape from the Cassus twins. This goal
starts off very early in the book, spans the entire story and once it
happens, it's time for The End.
As far as minor goals, there are several that pop up throughout the
book. Some are larger than others, and some are quickly solved. Some are
goals that he sets for himself, and others are ones imposed upon him by
others. For example, Elijah Cassus (one of the main antagonists) forces
Aston to help mount a rescue from the prison planet they once both
inhabited. This goal takes place during the first portion of the book (I
won't bother going into what the goal is for the second part of the
book, to avoid spoiling it all for you). As another example of a
slightly smaller goal, a native of the planet captures them all and he
needs to convince their (mentally ill) captor into releasing them.
Within these minor goals, you can somewhat see where we're going in
terms of setting up obstacles that your character needs to overcome.
Aston needs to escape from the Cassus twins (major goal), but Elijah
forces him to help mount a rescue by threatening to turn him in for a
mandatory death penalty for past crimes. He can't easily mount an escape
without overcoming this threat, so he's going to have to figure out a
way to negate this threat.
Aston has to mount a rescue from the prison planet (minor goal). Many
obstacles began throwing themselves in his path to prevent him achieving
this goal. First off, he and the team leader are at odds with each
other (conflict). Then, they discover that the team member they want to
rescue has been captured by some of the planet's inhabitants. After they
overcome this obstacle, the team's ship is destroyed by the planet's
overseers and they end up captured by the mentally ill inmate (setting
up another minor goal to achieve, escape from this inmate). Once they achieve this goal, they
have to find a way to make it off the planet (another obstacle to
achieving the original minor goal of having a successful rescue). And even after that, Aston discovers that the team member they want to rescue also wants to escape the twins, setting up another minor goal (helping her escape) that goes hand in hand with the original major goal for Aston.
So, as you can see, goals and their obstacles can (and should often)
overlap each other. This is part of what makes an interesting story that
people want to read. So, to recap, take one of your stories/novels and
ask yourself the following questions:
Who is my main character?
What do they want to achieve? What is their major goal for the book/story?
What's standing in their way of achieving this goal?
(in the case of novels, also ask the following)
What else happens during the story that my main character is going to have to address? What are their minor goals?
What's standing in their way of achieving these minor goals?
(and this doesn't even begin to dive into all of your minor characters
and what their goals and obstacles might be...another blog post
If you're having trouble answering any of these questions, I
wholeheartedly suggest that you start brainstorming answers and begin
rewrites to incorporate them. Your story/novel will be greatly improved