I have a friend who is a brilliant writer, but she was struggling with a particular manuscript. After reading a few dozen pages, I immediately recognized the problem: while a lot of things happened to the character, and they moved the story forward, none of them actually mattered.
This is the main difference between plot and story, and it’s a distinction that trips up writers of all levels, from beginners to expert. In order for your plot points to create a story, they must do one of two things: move the main character toward a goal or move him away from it. That push/pull between a character’s desire and their current situation is what creates conflict, and conflict is what makes a story forward.
So a character might stroll through the center of town, saying hello to her neighbors and buying a bunch of daisies at the local flower shop. You’ve got some plot there. But it doesn’t tell us anything about what she wants or why any of these things matter to her.
But wait. What if she’s just gone through an ugly divorce–with the town’s mayor? The easiest thing would be to move away to a new town where she can start over. But this is her town, too, and she refuses to be driven out when the divorce is as much his fault as it is hers. Now that stroll through town takes on a new meaning and every interaction–positive or negative–moves her either closer to or further from her goal of staking her claim to life in town. Now we’ve got conflict, and consequently, we’ve got story.
[bctt tweet=”In order for your plot points to create a story, they must do one of two things: move the main character toward a goal or move him away from it. #2MinWritingTip #WritingTips”]