Written by Ann Castro on May 18, 2020

It’s not a formula, but it is a foundation to build on:

character-driven plot structure = desire, setbacks, raised stakes, and final outcome.

A story is birthed from unmet desire and what a protagonist goes through to attain that desire (or not). It’s the thing driving the bus—every thought, every choice along the way.

Know and embrace the protagonist’s hunger that hasn’t been quenched. The desire that can’t wait another minute.

Next, determine how that will push the right sequence of events to shift things into overdrive. Into action. Into story.

The key to all this is to make sure you’ve consistently shown what’s at stake every step of the way—with every decision, every action. The consequences of those choices/actions must either push the protagonist toward the goal or pull her/him further away. It’s the tension of that dance that keeps pages turning and readers caring about the protagonist and the overall outcome.

Factor in the why-now angle. What flipped the switch? Raised the stakes, instigating change, action, reactions?

Become a seasoned detective: Track down the credible motives of your protagonist and other characters. What’s stirring in the crevices, those hidden places that only certain situations can expose? Is it revenge, greed, jealousy, fear, past lies, guilt, shame, pride, money, misplaced passion, self-righteousness, survival, good vs. evil, etc.? Does something have to stay under wraps, or does someone use it for leverage?

And don’t stop with the protagonist. Build a cast of well-rounded characters. Life is complex. People’s motivations, hidden agendas, good intentions, and fractured states fuel choices that rub up against everyone else’s lives.

Especially the antagonist. What’s swirling within an archenemy that might delay, disrupt, destroy any chance the protagonist has for attaining that unmet desire?

Puppet-kangaroo photo by Charles Deluvio on