Building a Story from an Issue

Nearly all of us at some point in our lives have encountered someone who values success (however he or she defines it) more highly than personal relationships. And even those who generally oppose that point of view are likely to face a decision at some juncture that requires them to weigh the two and pick a short-term path that sacrifices one for the sake of the other.

So let's use that as a jumping-off point for a story.

In terms of Discovering the Soul of Your Story, such value judgments lie in the realm of issues—that is to say, central topics of concern about how to live. And since the theme of any story can be seen as a passionate argument for or against an issue, they make good starting points for stories. (For an example, see "Finding Stories in Aphorisms [Fashionable Belief].")

In this case, the issue can be stated simply as:

  • Sacrificing relationships to gain success

and the challenge of this writing prompt is to use that issue to spark a story into life.

Think of an instance in which someone you know was faced with a choice between "success" and "relationship."

Part Three of Discovering the Soul of Your Story outlines a four-step procedure for creating a story based on an issue. In a nutshell, that procedure involves: inventing a main character and developing her course of action and endeavor, creating the proposition, and building the story from there. But even without the details of the procedure (or the nomenclature, which you can find in the Academy glossary), you can use this issue to spawn a story. Here's how.

First, harvest the groundwork material.

  1. Think of an instance from your own experience in which you or someone you know was faced with a choice that could be classified as "success vs. relationship." Did the choice take the form of a do-or-die moment—or did it manifest as an ongoing action or behavior that opened an ever-widening chasm between the two?
  2. Identify the circumstances that led to the choice? How did the person involved define "success" in this instance? What was the nature and importance of the relationship at stake?
  3. What was the inciting incident that started the person on a path toward having to make the choice? What twists and turns did the path make on the way to the choice? What was the person attempting to do (that made the choice relevant)?
  4. Which choice won out in the end? Or if the person discovered a third way that honored both choices, what was it? Do you agree with how the situation resolved?

Then fictionalize the scenario.

  1. Imagine a fictional scenario that mirrors the instance you described above. Remove it as far as you can from the actual instance by changing the setting and natures of the characters. Incorporate dragons and magic or make it as realistic as you like.
  2. Create a sketch of a story based on the scenario, including the introduction of the main character, the playing out of the inciting incident, the navigation of the twists and turns that lead to a do-or-die choice, and the ultimate succeed or fail conclusion of the story.
  3. Synopsize the story in fewer than 300 words, and post the synopsis as a comment on this article.

Ready. Set.


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For More Information

For details regarding these concepts and terms, see the Discovering the Soul of Your Story—Overview video and the glossary. For more exercises like this, visit the Exercises category.

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