Story Checklist

You’ll often hear me equate writing to cooking, in that for a dish to come out well, you need the right ingredients, in the right amounts, in the right order.

Because tastes vary, it’s rare to have a dish that’s either horrible, or perfect to everyone. In this regard, writing is rarely (if ever) about wrong or write, but rather about maximizing efficiency and effectiveness in whatever it is you create.

In my professional opinion, the only truly failed story/script is one that does not engage the reader.

As a mercenary writer for over a decade, I’ve often been tapped to fix or rework a story, delivering to a specific deadline and budget. Clients always want/expect/hope for the world, but in reality, with the sheer complexity of story craft, often times you just simply can’t address everything.

Something that’s occupied my mind over the years, is trying to figure which creative fiction elements are most important–when time and money is limited which ones do you tackle, which ones do you leave behind?

Of course, for all the budding story consultants and script doctors reading, the real answer to this is unique, changing to address the strengths and weaknesses of each project.

But looking at the bigger picture, across hundreds of projects over the years, if I were to make a general goto list, it would be this. Listed in their order of importance from most to “least.”
<disclaimer: I’m shooting from the hip here, once I stare at it for a while I may come back and adjust the order and likely add a point or two that I missed.>


1) Master Theme

A story that doesn’t get the reader thinking, is a joke without a punchline–wasted time on everyone’s part.

2) Fully Developed Characters / Character Arcs

We experience story through the characters. If the characters are made of paper, the story will burn. This point includes Villains and MAFs.

3) Core Concept

Execution is king, but a poorly thought out core concept and more importantly, not defining the how and why you plan to express this concept, are the bedfellows of failure.

4) Structure

You can write a story without premeditated structure… Just like you could build a car without brakes, fuel lines, axles, etc. Things go where they go and do what they do for a reason.

5) Scene Selection (and Plot)

What you choose to (and not to) show. Scene selection is key. It’s the last exit before leaving the conceptual highway into Executionville.

6) Story Weave

How you weave your scenes and plot together.  Good words like: foreshadow, continuity, progression, logical, developed, inevitable, promised, all live here.

7) Conflict, Jeopardy, Stakes

A perfect day is NOT a perfect story. Humans must overcome. The power of the super trifecta must never be underestimated.

8) Pacing and Escalation

Pick the tortoise or pick the hare, just make sure the race is entertaining.

9) Reveals & Turns

Surprise is the life-blood of a good story. Keep the reader guessing. Keep the story moving.

10) Visual Storytelling

What we see and experience first hand makes a bigger impact than what we’re told.

11) the Opening Scene

First impressions increase your fan base–period.

12) Climax

It may be the most beautiful domino course ever created. It might have taken you a thousand hours to set up. If you never knock them down and all the dominoes don’t fall–who cares?

13) Dialogue

Words have been around a long time and serve us well. Bad dialogue kills. Mediocre dialogue flies under the radar. Superior dialogue can make a story stay with us for a lifetime.

14) Subplots

The cement that can strengthen a story, or the water that can weaken it. Choose wisely.

15) Tone, Mood, Style

The emotional delivery of the content. Own it.

16) Genre Conventions

Be respectful. Be imaginative. Give the audience what they want… and what they don’t know they want.

17) Symbolism

Only required by the best chefs. Subtext brings a story to life.

Harvest your ingredients. Use them wisely. Make a good dish.

About the Author —
Nick Macari is a full-time freelance story consultant, developmental editor and writer, working primarily in the independent gaming and comic markets. His first published comic appeared on shelves via Diamond in the late 90’s. Today you can find his comic work on comixology, amazon and in select stores around the U.S.  Visit for social media contacts and news on his latest releases.