Updated: Nov 3

Have you ever been told your story is lacking? Perhaps the one telling you something is missing is the voice inside your head. You know something isn’t quite right, but you’re just not sure what.

Well, if so, pull back the covers and expose the inner workings of your story. Ask yourself if you’re missing one of these four absolutely, positively must-have story elements.

Surprisingly, it’s quite simple to break it all down once you think about it because no story is complete without answering four basic questions.

1) Who is telling the story, or who is it about? CHARACTER(S)

2) When and where does the story take place? SETTING

3) What happens in this story? PLOT

4) Why did all this happen? THEME


Whether your story is character-driven or plot-driven doesn’t matter, and whether fiction or non-fiction, whoever’s voice is telling this story must be believable. It must be a character the readers will want to follow, a voice they will want to listen to and hear what they have to say.

If the readers can’t identify with your characters, if they don’t feel some connection and get the sense that the characters and the story are real, they’re unlikely to get pulled into the pages of your book. It doesn’t matter if it’s a short story or an epic novel; if the main character does not draw the reader to them in some way, that reader is not going to bother to keep turning the page.

Whether hero/heroine or villain, protagonist or antagonist or even simply the narrator, that character’s voice must be compelling in a way that calls to the reader.

If a hero/heroine/protagonist is your MC, are they relatable? Are they likable? If not, you’ve got a problem because if we don’t care if the MC succeeds in their goal (and they must have an ultimate goal), then we aren’t going to bother following their story.

If the MC in your story is the villain/antagonist, the author’s goal shifts slightly, but not as much as you might think. There should still be something about the MC that the reader can relate to, although they don’t have to be likable.

Think Silence of the Lambs. Dr. Hannibal Lecter was by no means a likable character. But he sure was one who had the reader turning the pages. He was compelling, and we wanted to see Clarice Starling (his opposition) break him. The author gave us a reason to keep turning those pages.

There’s so much more to say on this subject, but I’ll end with this:

Whatever role your main character(s) plays, be sure they are a fully developed, four-dimensional character who fits the story you’re building around them.

And again, even if your story is considered plot-driven, your character’s voice, even if it’s simply a narrator, must have a compelling voice that pulls the reader through from beginning to end.


Where and when is your story taking place? Do your readers even care or need to know?