How to Make Sure Your Story Lives Up to Its Potential

The first thing I have to tell you today is that I’m going to try really hard not to gush about Guillermo del Toro’s blockbuster Pacific Rim. The second thing I’m going to tell you is that I’m probably going to fail. This is one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. It was plotted perfectly, structured perfectly, set up perfectly. There is not a single thing about this movie I would want to change. We could grab a lot of lessons from this for our own writing, and I will be discussing more takeaways in future posts. Today, I want us to focus on how completely this story lives up to its potential.

How Did This Story Live Up to Its Potential?

In a nutshell, Pacific Rim is a movie that knew exactly what it wanted to be—and aced it. This is a mecha adventure story with a tight plot about robot pilots fighting alien monsters who arrive through a wormhole in the Pacific Ocean. Every choice this story makes—from characters to conflict to music to action sequences is tightly focused on advancing a singular vision. It itself, the story is not a particularly unique take on familiar tropes, but added up, it lives up to its potential fully thanks to an adept execution of cohesion and resonance.

Pacific Rim teaches writers how to deliver foreshadowing in a 1, 2, 3 punch

Pacific Rim (2013), Warner Bros.

So often, we see stories that don’t quite know what they want to be. They try to be bigger, or funnier, or more intimate, or more serious than is really good for them. This happens when writers lose sight of what their stories is really about. Matrix eloaded and Matrix Revolutions comes to mind. Another good (or bad, depending on how you look at it) example would be Chronicles of Riddick. These are particularly obvious examples, since they’re sequels of stories (The Matrix and Pitch Black, respectively) that did know what they were about.

How to Write a Sequel That's BETTER Than the First Book

The Matrix (1999), Warner Bros.

For Your Story to Live Up to Its Potential, You Have to Know What It’s About

When you sit down to write a story, you want it to be awesome. It can be tempting to start throwing in a little of everything. But very few stories are big enough to handle everything. If you add too much disparate stuff to a story, you’re only going to water it down.

For your story to live up to its potential, it’s crazy important to first identify what your story is about.

  • What is your goal in creating this story?
  • Who’s your audience?

The answers to these questions are your mission statement for your book. Write it down and post it above your computer, where you can remind yourself every day that this is the story you’re writing. You won’t please every reader in the world, but for those who like what you’re doing, you’ll smack it clean out of the park.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What is your mission statement for your book? How are you making sure your story lives up to its potential? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. You are so right. I have had to learn this the hard way, and even now I have to constantly remind myself of my “mission” for my book. Hard to do. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Reading this post made me think of what my mission is, and now I have it. I think I’m going to do as you suggested and put it on the wall in front of my desk :))

  3. @faerie: A book is a lengthy undertaking. We’re often working on it for years, and our moods and interests change often over that period of time. If I’m writing a serious story, I often find myself wishing I were writing a funny story – and vice versa. We have to stay the course and remember why we’re writing *this* story.

    @Kati: Awesome! Glad to hear it. 🙂

    • I really need to do this; all too often my novel attempts stray from the original mission, and what was supposed to be a humorous or satirical storyline ends up taking a rather serious or sincere turn. And if I’m disappointed by that, I imagine the reader would be, too.

      • K.M. Weiland says

        The thing about writing a novel (versus reading one or watching a movie) is that it take months or years to finish, and, during that time, our moods and insights change. We may be in the mood for action-adventure one day and social commentary the next, but we can’t switch the story around to suit that mood every time it changes.

    • Jannette Salvador says

      Kati you’re right. The book I will write will emerge little by little but it will be a book. Thanks! Jannette

  4. My mission statement for Twenty Eighty-four, to alert readers to what the story is about, would be: “A woman fights for a fair deal in a world that confuses artifice with reality. For lovers of futuristic fiction.”

  5. Sounds spot-on. If you can meet that mission statement, your potential readers will love it.

  6. My beta mission statement is: “A college woman stands up for her innocence after she’s blamed for several murders by a malevolent reincarnation for fans of supernatural/speculative thrillers.” Maybe that sounds more like a premise–or are mission statements and story premises similar?

  7. In a sense, yes, mission statements and premises are very similar. The premise, of course, is just a summation of the plot. But it’s a very focused statement that we should craft to reflect not just the subject of the book, but also the tone and focus. Your story could conceivably be a legal thriller, a suspense, a romance, an urban fantasy, a dystopian – the list goes on. Even after you know your plot, you want to narrow the mission statement down further to the type of story you want to tell (which you have).

  8. Oh my! I just found out Pacific Rim isn´t in cinemas here anymore and now I read this and definitely WANT to see it. But I bet DVD is not worth it.
    Well, I think your comment aced it 😛 It is sometimes hard to keep focused in what your story is really about and try to chunk all in but I agree that´s the main conflict that will develop into your climax. I think that´s what we should have in mind. I´m trying to solve every subplot and minor conflicts before that.
    Thanks for the post 😀

  9. It *is* the kind of movie that’s best seen in the theater, but it’s great as much for its story as its spectacle, so it should be good on DVD as well. Sadly, it didn’t do well in theaters. It got yanked from my local theater after only two weeks.

  10. Anonymous says

    I hated this movie. The dialogue was really lame (Independence Day rip off – at one point I thought it was supposed to be some kind of a parody), it was ridiculous. The characters were underdeveloped and boring, I didn’t care for them at all. The scenes kept lining up without any coherent plot, it just went on and on. Had some cool special effects, I must admit.
    And I am a huge sci fi fan. This was just truly awful, I can’t believe all the great reviews. Am I missing something.

  11. Art is all about subjectivity. What resonates with one person won’t resonate with everyone. Was Pacific Rim a perfect movie? No. What story is? But it is well done on many objective levels.

    • I hate to play the genre card, but having just watched it last night, I do think Pacific Rim is one of the best movies of its genre (namely, the giant-robots-beating-up-monsters genre.) Those are never going to be The Green Mile, or even Groundhog Day. But I’d be hard pressed to think of a better example of its type.

      • K.M. Weiland says

        Totally agree. Good stories are good stories, regardless of genre, but it’s also important to consider the intent of the type of story. An action-adventure romp like Pacific Rim is never intended to be a heavyweight social commentary and can’t fairly be judged as one.

  12. Think it didn´t do well on theathers either but I did find one. Yay! So let´s see what it has to offer to impress.
    And hope I can ace my WIP just the same way 😀

  13. It’s not the kind of movie that’s going to hit everyone’s sweet spot. But if you like action movies with heart – and particularly action movies about monsters and robots bashing on each other – then this is your stop.

  14. Which was exactly your point. You can´t please everyone, you just have to nail your intended destination 😉

  15. Precisely. 🙂

  16. Tony Jenkins says

    Here is my beef with the rule of threes. Although most popular books and movies come out in threes most of them only tell two stories. The first movie/book is great, and although it may do some setup work for the larger plot, It works as its own complete and satisfying story. The next two installments ambitiously attempt to tell a much bigger story (we have to out-do the first one right?) that the director/writer Is not skilled enough to tell in one movie/book. The result is a second installment that leaves you unsatisfied and obligated to by the third. When you do drop the cash on the third, you discover that the first two acts have to just maintain the high stakes and tension that has been built up, without introducing too much more conflict. Then the endings seem to drag on forever because the director/author has to tie up four reels worth of lose ends.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Spot on. I couldn’t have explained it better. The basic problem with trilogies or series of this sort is, of course, that they’re only series because they’re cash cows. The attempt to stretch the story into multiple volumes is all about making money and not about serving the story – which, often, is better told in a single installment. As much as part of me would like a sequel to Pacific Rim, there’s also a large part of me that would like to see it remain the standalone it was intended to be.

  17. Being master of one is way better than being jack of all trades.

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