“Stories are about conflict.” Did someone teach you that in a high school English class? I think we’ve all heard it. Rising conflict, falling conflict, sideways conflict...
The problem with this statement is that writers can take it to mean stories are about arguments. I say yes, you say no. That's conflict, sure. But where’s the story?
You’ve already heard me say that stories are about transformation. Something’s got to change. And change is not easy. People and systems resist change. Call it Newton’s first law of storytelling: Objects in motion tend to stay at motion, objects at rest tend to stay at rest.
To overcome this inertia takes a ton of energy. Your hero’s deep need for change is the source, but your hero’s goal (or mission) is what focuses that diffuse glow into the laser beam of story.
What do I mean by mission? If you're Meg Murry, your mission is to zip across the universe and rescue your dad from the evil grip of It. If you’re Hamlet, prince of Denmark, your mission is to avenge the murder of your father, the king.
Mistrusting simplicity, writers sometimes resist settling on a clear, high-stakes mission for the hero, but guess what? That’s where the tension in your story comes from. Will Meg succeed? Will Hamlet? Readers keep turning pages to get the answer, but you have to let them in on the question first.
TIP: Keep your reader turning pages by giving the hero a clear mission early in the tale.