Story Formula

Every writer has their "way." This is mine.

Start with the character’s name, age, family, and basic details.

Now think of a memory – one that epitomizes “normal” to that character – A time when everything seemed good to them. There was nothing wrong in “their world”:

Your story begins on “the day that’s different.” It’s probably the day when “normal” was disrupted or ruined OR it could be the day the character was given an opportunity to reclaim or find normal:

“Normal” is your character’s GOAL – it’s what they want. Behind every goal is a MOTIVATION. Motivation is why they want it. Typically, characters try to reclaim or find normal because normal is comfortable. A good story usually starts with the character wanting something and realizing later that what they want and what they need are two different things.

            External Goal (Want):

            External Motivation:

            Internal Goal (Need):

            Internal Motivation:

How to build a story:

Start with the day that’s different. Your character is faced with a challenge – something that makes them uncomfortable. The story progresses as they make choices to try and right what went wrong in that opening scene or reach for that carrot dangled before them in that scene. 

*If you like, Google search “character chart.” I use them sometimes (there are dozens of templates out there), but the above is my formula.


Start by filling in the blanks…

(character’s name) _________ is a (defining characteristic) __________ who wants (goal) __________ BUT (conflict – what will get in their way?) ____________

This is a basic formula where you can establish who your character is, what they want and what is keeping them from getting it – it’s what they have to overcome, learn or accomplish.

Not all villains are actual people. There are several different kinds of conflict.



CHARACTER vs. WORLD (social construct or physical disaster)

Character vs. self is the most common – the character believes something and is challenged to reevaluate their beliefs, either holding firm in the face of pressure, or drawing new conclusions.

The climax is also referred to as the “Black Moment” Where the original goal seems to be all for naught. All hope seems to be lost. Then the character chooses to make a change that ultimately leads to their success. That change should be something they have been unwilling, or struggling to do in preceding events, but the black moment gives them the motivation they need to finally try.

Once you’ve got your story concept figured out, it’s time to do some writing. When you format your manuscript, this is a pretty standard…

This is your title page:

This is your first page: