Secret Story Design Hack Of Bestsellers (#2)


Bestselling authors use story design hacks to virtually guarantee their stories evolve into potent, emotionally-gripping narratives. We looked at one such hack in the last post. If you haven’t read that one yet, I highly recommend that you do so. These two hacks work really well together.

In this post, I want to cover a hack that accomplishes the literary juggernaut of both simplifying AND complicating a story all at the same time. Any technique with this double hocus-pocus affect is one that you may want to keep close by.

Like the hack in the last post, this second hack also involves a napkin (at least my version of the technique does).

The Napkin Test #2: Cut or Combine the characters into your story until they fit on a single, regular-sized napkin. 

Here’s an example from my novel series, Past Lives, about a man who discovers under hypnosis that he is a reincarnated serial killer.

Napkin Test 2

The essence of this hack is that the fewer characters in your story, the more important those characters must become to resolving the central conflict/question of the story.  Each character plays a pivotal role that alters the direction and outcome of the narrative. Of course, the protagonist and antagonist shape the story the most fundamentally.

A second benefit of fewer characters is the law of story connection. There seems to be  direct correlation between the number of characters and the strength of connection between those characters, the plot and overarching story design. Simply put, the fewer characters, the higher scope of connections; and a connected story is a good story.

For example: the cop is also the lover, or the killer is Luke’s father (wait, that last one is probably too specific 😉

The reverse is also true: the more characters, the less important each character tends to be to the story (Note: I say “tends” because of exceptions in some mega fantasy or historical fiction).  A good rule of thumb is “less is best”.

2 Pro Tips on How to Cut or Combine Characters

  • Consider cutting any character who does not significantly alter the story.
  • Consider combining any and all characters. Be creative. Force yourself to consider all kinds of combinations,

Bestselling Authors Ask These Two Questions of EVERY Character

  1. Is this character essential?
  2. How can I combine this character with another character?

I’d love to hear your comments below.

Happy Writing! 



Christopher Kokoski is a speaker, trainer and author of Wicker Hollow and the Past Lives novel series.

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