The Journal: The Essential Elements of a Story

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Topic: The Essential Elements of a Story
* Hit another minor snag
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism.” Wole Soyinka (the first African writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature)

How very apt. Thanks to PG for the quote.

Topic: The Essential Elements of a Story


1. In the following, when you see “story,” know that the advice applies to a short story, novella, or novel. A short story is about one event. A novella or novel is about more than one event. That’s the only difference.

2. When you read “he,” “him,” or “his,” know that those pronouns are meant to be inclusive of both genders. If you allow yourself to get wrapped around the “he or she” wheel, you will miss the point.

3. This is an awareness article. You don’t have to study this structure or even refer back to it, though you can if you want to. You should only read and understand it, ask me any questions to gain clarity, and then put the whole thing out of your mind as you’re writing. The elements will come to the fore as necessary if you trust your creative subconscious.

4. Though this is designed as a primer to writing into the dark, you will use the same structure if you use an outline and plot everything in advance. You’ll just have to do it at least twice.

Want to try writing into the dark? Here you go.

In the beginning,

1. You must have a character.

2. The character must have a problem. (This can be anything from an untied shoelace to an ice-covered walk to having forgotten his car keys. It doesn’t have to be [and usually isn’t] “the” problem of the story.)

3.And the character must exist within a setting.

This is not the story. This isn’t even the opening of the story. This is only a starter to get you to the keyboard to write an opening for the story.

Once you have a character with a problem in a setting, Sit down, put your fingers on the keyboard, and Go.

After that, all stories have an amazingly small number of essential elements, but they are essential regardless of what genre you’re writing:


* Hook
* Setting description (all five senses filtered through the POV character and delivered with his opinions of the setting)
* The micro-story of the opening
* Action
* Cliffhanger

Every Major Scene or Chapter

* Hook
* Describe the setting to pull the reader into the scene
* The micro-story of the major scene or chapter
* Action (in action/adventure, thriller, crime etc. genres, each successive action scene should be for higher stakes)
* Cliffhanger


* Hook
* Describe the setting to pull the reader into the scene
* The micro-story leading to and including the final major climax
* Denoument (tells the reader subliminally the story is over. For a series, the denoument of each story can contain a cliffhanger, hinting that the story continues.)

Notice the repetition? That’s because these are essential elements: the hook, description of the setting, the micro-story of the scene or chapter, and the cliffhanger.


1. Any description (and in fact, every word of the story) must come through the physical and emotional senses of the POV character. The description is delivered with the POV character’s opinion of the setting.

a. By “the physical senses of the POV character” I mean what he sees, hears, smells, tastes and physically feels.

b. By “the emotional senses of the POV character” I mean what he senses or how he feels mentally and emotionally.

c. By “the POV character’s opinion” I mean this: If you and your significant other walk into a setting, you will each have a different opinion. To you, perhaps, the lighting is dim and warm. To YSO, it’s forboding. To you, the room is cold; to YSO, it’s comfortable or warm. To you, it smells of a sweet aroma; to YSO, it reeks of a stench. Etc. Every POV character will likewise have an opinion of the setting. In the story, the POV charater’s opinion matters. Yours or YSO’s does not.

2. Use all five of the POV character’s physical senses at least once in every major scene (again, delivered with his opinion). This alone will improve your writing dramatically. (Most writers use only the sense of sight.)

3. The hook pulls the reader into the story or major scene/chapter. The cliffhanger propels him to the next one.

4. Yes, to add suspense you can make the reader wait. For example, you can write a cliffhanger at the end of Chapter 2, then switch gears and not write the hook it leads to until Chapter 4 (or 5 or 6, etc.) But every intervening major scene or chapter should also have its own hook and cliffhanger.

5. As a general rule, always introduce a character (complete with name and physical description) the first time you introduce him. (No, withholding a character’s name strictly to build suspense and absent of any necessary reason is not a good idea. All it will do is alienate the reader.)

That’s it. Go forth and write.

If you feel I’ve omitted anything important, please read the article again to be sure the omission isn’t actually included but in different words. And please remember these are bare-bones “essential” elements. However, they are also everything you need.

Hit another minor snag in my writing. I like facts to make sense, but I had the personnel quarters (basically an efficiency apartment) originally set at 10 x 10. But when I started adding furniture I quickly realized that was too small.

So I went up to the house and took some measurements of furniture. Then I platted out a room. I ended up with 300 square feet (20 x 15), so now the folks living on The Ark are a lot more comfortable. (grin) And then I took the afternoon off because of the birthday. (grin)

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “How to Start Off a Story” at

See “Emotional Truth and Storytelling: Why It Works and How” at (Thanks to PG for the link.)

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1020 words

Writing of The Ark (novel)

Day 10… 4361 words. Total words to date…… 31495
Day 11… 3312 words. Total words to date…… 34807
Day 12… 2142 words. Total words to date…… 36949
Day 13… 1344 words. Total words to date…… 38293
Day 14… 2355 words. Total words to date…… 40648

Total fiction words for November……… 16979
Total fiction words for the year………… 380257
Total nonfiction words for November… 5020
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 170860
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 551117

Calendar Year 2020 Novels to Date…………………… 5
Calendar Year 2020 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2020 Short Stories to Date… 13
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 50
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 214
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31