There are 13 dissatisfactions in every story. Know them, exploit them, master them. They often determine if a story is written, read and remembered.
How to Exploit the 13 Most Unusual Dissatisfactions of Story
Story is about dissatisfaction. Does that surprise you? It would me. Actually, more specifically, story is about the progression from dissatisfaction to satisfaction.
For our purposes, the following “story equation” might be useful:
Story = Dissatisfaction → Satisfaction
There are three clusters of dissatisfaction in every story: author, reader and character. Each cluster incorporates several different subgroups or shades of dissatisfaction.
Dissatisfactions of Author
- Dissatisfaction with premise – The story idea isn’t good enough.
- Dissatisfaction with process – Writing is hard.
- Dissatisfaction with execution – I suck. This is the worst story ever.
I’ve been there, grueling over the page, bleeding adverbs and misplaced modifiers. In those instances, every word is agony. Worse, the final product reads as well as any kindergartner’s treatise on toilet paper.
But the author dissatisfactions are good. Good? Yes, because they prompt you toward clarity and focus with a premise. They winnow the competition because, darn it, writing IS hard. And, they keep you humble, motivated and hungry to get better. Author dissatisfactions make for bestselling stories.
How to Exploit Author Dissatisfactions
- Realize that every author has doubts, fears and misgivings – it’s normal. YOU are normal. Your dark moments proceed the most blinding brilliance.
- Spend time crafting a bestselling premise. Don’t rush this part. Don’t settle for less than an idea that ignites your passion and keeps you up at night. Whittle the idea down to a short, punchy sentence or two. Share it with others to get their instant reaction. If they say, “I have to read that,” you might be a redneck. Just kidding. You might have a solid story idea.
- Commit to the craft of writing. Like any other craft, it takes time to master. Heck, it takes time to apprentice. Consider it an apprenticeship. New carpenters don’t expect to build the Taj Mahal overnight. But they just might some day.
Want to know more about story design? Check out this post on The Napkin Test.
Then, there are…
Dissatisfactions of Reader
- Dissatisfaction with beginning – I will stop reading.
- Dissatisfaction with curiosity/suspense – Too little or too much.
- Dissatisfaction with threat – Who cares?
- Dissatisfaction with drama – This story is boring.
- Dissatisfaction with ending – Come on, that’s perposterous!
Just as authors feel dissatisfied, so do readers. The problem is that when readers feel dissatisfied, they stop reading. They might never pick up the story again or read anything else by that author. The price for ignoring these dissatisfactions is high!
How to Exploit Reader Dissatisfactions
- Awareness: As with most things in life, awareness is the first crucial lurch forward.
- Fulfill Reader Needs: (not those kinds of needs, get your minds out of the gutter!) Once you realize these dissatisfactions exist, you can override them with openings that punch readers in the literary (not literal, thank you very much Sheldon Cooper) face, engage them with a unique story brimming with anticipation and conflict, and leave them wanting more.
- Remember: Satisfy their deepest dissatisfactions and you win the hearts and souls of your readers.
Dissatisfaction of Character
- Dissatisfaction with character – I don’t like myself (my current flaws)
- Dissatisfaction with condition – I don’t like what’s happening.
- Dissatisfaction with course – I don’t like the trajectory of my life or plan.
- Dissatisfaction with choices – I don’t like my decisions, often because…
- Dissatisfaction with consequences – I don’t like the results of my actions or the threats by others.
How to Exploit Character Dissatisfaction
- Tattoo on your forehead (or write down, whatever): story is all about change and transformation, about the movement from I NEED to I HAVE or I AM.
- Launch the Story: Begin your story with an incomplete character whose world has been rocked with internal (character flaw) and external (circumstance) dissatisfaction.
- Crash Course with Disaster: As the character moves to solve his or her problem, put them on a crash course with disaster. Allow their choices to shape their journey into expanding trouble that results in ever more damage, hurt, pain, loss – i.e. dissatisfaction.
- Crescendo: The dissatisfactions should mount as the story advances until the internal and external dissatisfactions are so painful that they all but force a transformation. Character dissatisfaction creates a compelling story.
Ironically, by focusing on dissatisfaction, you can most deeply and profoundly satisfy readers. And that makes readers very, very happy.