Hidden Ingredients of a Fiction Story

Writing a story is not that easy. It requires a lot of planning if you want it to flow well and make sense with all the events occurring in your story. I’m no expert on writing, I’m just a fourteen-year-old aspiring author, but I love to read. And apart from enjoying the story, I “studied” ways the author wrote their story. Why did I like this story so much? What part of the book allowed me to relate? What kept me engaged? What details were added to make this story more interesting? What message was the author trying to send?

Some of the books I’ve read include Keeper of the Lost Cities, Harry Potter, Book Scavenger, Land of Stories, Series of Unfortunate Events, Because of Winn-Dixie, and a lot more (I recommend reading all of these if you haven’t already!!!). We’re taught in school that the ingredients to a fiction story are exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. But. There were three other things that I noticed all, or most books have in common. I’ll go over what they are, as well as give some examples from the books I’ve read and from the stories I’ve written (check out my works here: https://www.dharwadkar.com/author/nandini/).

Theme/Central Idea

You may already be familiar with the concept of a theme, but in the case of fiction writing, it tends to be a broader subject. The theme can be an idea, an emotion, or a topic, such as music, love, good vs. evil, friendship, power, or talent. The theme can be a tangible object as well, such as an heirloom, or a person, or a prized possession. Whatever you choose as your theme, it must be the hub of the story. It should serve as the main purpose behind the characters’ actions. What are the characters fighting for? What is the purpose behind their adventure? What are they trying to save? What do they love the most? The theme is the driving force of any story.

For example, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series by Shannon Messenger, the main theme of the books is power. There are two secret (well, not that secret) organizations, one good and one evil. Both are trying to make peace in their world, but the evil organization keeps trying to take power and control the whole world because they believe that is the way to make things right. How does this serve as the purpose of the series? The main characters are constantly trying to figure out the evil organization’s plans and try to stop them (it’s more complicated than it sounds).

In my next story (will be posted soon!), I chose the theme to be memories. This theme serves as the hub of the story because in the end, all of the characters’ actions, thoughts, and feelings connect back to making memories with loved ones. After all, memories are what keep us connected. But that’s enough spoilers for now!

Side Stories

Side stories are a small part of the story and may or may not relate to the larger theme of the entire story. Side stories are often used to show the main character’s personal life or other problems that affect their actions. These types of side stories give readers insight into the character’s personality, such as who they really are, what are they dealing with. For added effect, authors add personal side stories as a turning point in the main story to surprise the reader; at this point, they connect to the entire theme of the story. They are also included to show another event happening simultaneously, but it is used to cause dramatic irony because the main characters do not know it is happening. Side stories can also be small, insignificant snippets that are just meant for entertainment. In general, side stories make the whole story seem more realistic and relatable. If a story just included parts where the characters make progress in their journey, the story itself would be bland and just a series of chronological events; this happened, then that happened, then this, then that, and so forth. Side stories help readers connect with the characters and make the story more complex because they are considering multiple aspects of the entire story.

In the Land of Stories series, the author, Chris Colfer, adds side stories for dramatic irony. While Alex and Connor (the main characters) are off on an adventure, he adds a side story that shows how the villains of the book are planning something that the main characters do not know about. Colfer also writes about Alex and Connor’s personal lives, such as their mother’s second marriage. This type of side story is insignificant but helps the reader empathize with the characters.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling contains side-stories such as Harry’s love life, Ron and Hermione’s bickering, and Quidditch matches. And don’t forget Professor Snape being horrible to Harry and his friends! These side stories show Harry’s personal life, that of a typical teenager. It wouldn’t exactly be realistic or entertaining if he was a teenager who only thought of ways to defeat Volde — sorry, You-Know-Who.

Very Detailed Details

Details. The wonderful words that bring a story to life. Like a theme, details are a vast subject. Many things are classified as details. The tiniest, most insignificant part of a story can prove to be a major detail in the story later on. Dialogue is considered detail. The color of the characters’ shirts is a detail. The hand on which someone wears a ring is also a detail. Authors put in multiple details in their stories so that it is easier to visualize what is happening and keep track of the events. We tend to think of details as just what something looks like, but it actually includes much more than that. Much, much more. To write a really good story, describe the scene using more than just sight. What does the place feel like? What does it smell like? What sounds can be heard? Using all or most of our 5 basic senses, you can make the reader feel like they are actually inside the book, experiencing all these things, and it makes reading much more enjoyable. It also helps to explain what the characters in the book feel in this setting. Does it make them uncomfortable? Is it pleasant, but eerie at the same time? Does the character feel depressed? Describing the characters’ reactions, thoughts, and feelings in the story helps readers understand the story and the characters’ situations better.

Another way of explaining details to allow the readers to understand the action in the story and the purpose of these actions is to include narration, or live-action details. Live-action narration includes what the characters are doing at the moment (use verbs, adverbs, adjectives), what they are saying (dialogue, in other words), at what time the characters are doing something, and you can also include their emotions. In my experience of reading books, readers are more likely to stay engaged if they know what is going on and can clearly visualize the scene in their minds. Stories can become bland and boring if those juicy details aren’t included. Think about it like this:

Which of the following examples can you imagine? Which one keeps you engaged?

A. After practicing for hours, the team was finally ready. They played their best in the final match, closely beating the opponent with a score of 3-2. They had finally won.

B. Carlos bent his knees, staring at his opponent. His red uniform was green from sliding, but he didn’t care. His heart was beating faster than a humming bird’s wings. Beads of sweat ran down his face. His team had to win. He had to win. There was only a minute left in the game, and both teams were tied, 2 to 2. If he could score that last goal, they would win the championship. He took a deep breath and kicked the ball under his opponent’s legs as soon as the whistle blew.

Carlos dribbled the ball across the field, left, right, left, right. He willed his legs not to lose control of the ball. His only focus was the goal.

“Carlos, pass!” cried a teammate to his right.
“Carlos, I’m open!” another teammate called.
“Carlos, pass to your teammates!” he heard his coach say.

He ignored their voices and only focused on the feel of the ball on his feet, his brow scrunched in concentration. Focused on the wind rushing past his face. Focused on his feet gliding across the grass, only kicking the ball. 15 seconds left.

Dodging the defenders, he sprinted in front of the goal and gave it his best shot.

Everything went silent.

It felt as if at that moment, everything went slow-motion. The goalkeeper’s mouth open, eyes wide as he outstretched his arms toward the ball, all of the players turning their heads around to watch the ball, and the ball itself rolling slowly, slowly in midair toward the goal, just about to hit the goal…


In a split second, everything was back to normal. Carlos was attacked by a horde of players, his own teammates. His eardrums were about to burst from all the yelling and screaming coming from his team and the stadium. Carlos grinned, and he felt like the happiest person on Earth. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, his uniform was covered in grass, and they had won the game.

Have you chosen yet? Good. So, I’m assuming you chose B. But why? Both examples describe the same event. However, example B included so many aspects of the scene that it made it more intense and engaging, while example A was just a summary and didn’t generate as much excitement. As long as you don’t overuse them, details can be wonderful and very useful things.

Voilà!

Once you have chosen a theme and decided on the side stories that will reflect your characters’ personalities, you can combine it with your plot and write a smashing story, along with a lot of details. Theme, side stories, and details are really important to your story because it gives your story content, and it makes it more interesting, rather than just a cause and effect.

The next time you sit down to write a fictional story, think about how you will incorporate theme, side stories, and details to enhance all aspects of the story.

Check back later to find a worksheet that I made to help you plan your story and think about how it will flow. It will really get you thinking about each aspect of the story, including the three hidden ingredients.

Happy writing!