Learning to write fiction not just about stringing words together, but mastering a collection of small skills that breathe life into characters and stories. Muscle builders gain strength and form by working on one muscle at a time. It’s the same with storytelling. Each of these techniques may help you improve a specific area of your fiction writing.

StoryCAD organizes an outline into forms (nodes in a story tree), tabs within forms, and individual elements, controls on a tab. Story elements, at all three levels, focus on one particular piece of your story puzzle. These techniques aren’t exhaustive, but rather representative of the hundreds of StoryCAD’s story elements.

Problem Story Elements

Defining Problems

StoryCAD’s Problem form is the heart of our outlining process. A story is your character with a problem, and what happens trying to resolve it is your plot. A StoryCAD outline can contain multiple problems, each with its own purpose. Problem forms are constructed with the following techniques:

Goal, Motivation and Conflict

Dixon, D. (1996). Goal, Motivation, & Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction. Gryphon Books for Writers.

The key to an interesting narrative is a character with a goal, a reason to pursue that goal, and an obstacle to doing so. Ms. Dixon describes exactly how these relate. Both StoryCAD’s Problem and Scene forms include these elements.


Antagonism and the Controlling Idea

McKee, R. (1997). Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting. HarperCollins.

McKee is a hugely respected screenwriting coach and author. His comprehensive guide to the art of narrative structure primarily refers to screenwriting, but applies to all narrative forms.

We use two of McKee’s memes, the Principle of Antagonism and Controlling Idea to support multiple story problems and the Story Problem element of the Overview form.

Scene Sequels

Wikipedia – Scene and Sequel

Bickham, J. M. (1993). Scene & Structure. Writer’s Digest Books.

Swain, D. V. (1965). Techniques of the Selling Writer. University of Oklahoma Press

Sequels are a character’s reaction to a scene’s outcome and a decision as to the next action. Both Jack Bickham and Dwight Swain have written on this. The Sequel tab on the Scene Story Element is based on this.

Type of Scene

Alderson, M., & Rosenfeld, J. (2015). Writing Deep Scenes: Plotting Your Story Through Action, Emotion, and Theme. Writer’s Digest Books.
There are a handful of various kinds of scenes that can occur in a narrative, each with a unique function and form. Martha Alderson and Jordan Rosenfeld explain fifteen of these scene types.

The ‘Type of Scene’ element on the Scene form’s Scene tab allows you to pick a type.

Scene Development

Cron, L. (2016). Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere). Ten Speed Press.

Become a Story Genius: How Your Character’s Misbelief Drives The Plot

In Story Genius, Lisa Cron describes building scenes that depict a character’s inner conflicts and beliefs. These scenes are used to bring about character development. StoryCAD’S Scene form contains a Development tab based on these ideas.

Character Flaws and Wounds

Ackerman, A., & Puglisi, B. (2017). The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma. JADD Publishing.

Becca Puglisi examines how past events influence a character’s actions and decisions. StoryCAD’s ‘Flaw Builder’ tool helps find a character flaw from such an experience.


Roth, M. (1991). The Fiction Writer’s Silent Partner. Writer’s Digest Books.

The Fiction Writer’s Silent Partner is the book that started it all for StoryBuilder, StoryCAD’s predecessor. Roth uses extensive lists on various writing aspects, like character traits and plot devices. These provide a valuable brainstorming tool for writers to enhance their creativity. StoryBuilder is a software adaptation of this idea. We use drop-down lists (ComboBox controls) for many story elements which are filled with suggestions. The purpose is to provide possibilities which keep your creative juices flowing. You’re usually not limited to the values in the lists; you can and should improve upon them, as the following topic describes.


McDonald, J. D. (1984). Creative Trust. In S. K. Burack (Ed.), The Writer’s Handbook (Original work published 1974). Writer’s Digest Books.

The article by John D. MacDonald in the 1975 edition of The Writer’s Handbook, which I believe is a reprint of a 1974 piece in The Writer, talks about the role of detail in fiction. MacDonald uses this bit of setting from one of his Travis McGee novels:

The air conditioning unit in the motel room had a final fraction of its name left, an “aire” in silver plastic, so loose that when it resonated to the coughing thud of the compressor, it would blur. A rusty water stain on the green wall under the unit was shaped like the bottom half of Texas. From the stained grid, the air conditioner exhaled its stale and icy breath into the room, redolent of chemicals and of someone burning garbage far, far away.

He goes on to say:

Here is a sample of what happens when you cut the images out of gray paper: “The air conditioning unit in the motel room window was old and somewhat noisy.”

See? Because the air conditioning unit has lost its specificity, its unique and solitary identity, the room has blurred also. You cannot see it as clearly. It is less real.

The lesson for StoryCAD users is that specificity is key to using StoryCAD’s sample sets to best effect. Be specific. Not ‘Santiago hasn’t caught a fish in a long time’, but ‘Santiago hasn’t caught a fish in 84 days.’ Use the examples in a drop-down list as examples, rather than the value you end up choosing.