Monday, October 24, 2016

BACK TO BASICS: 5 Elements of a Story

I've been wanting to get back to the basics for some time now. When you're neck deep in edits or revisions or a second or third draft, or even outlining your next story, it's easy to get caught up in the complexities of writing. It's easy to get distracted by the beat sheets, and what everyone else is doing, and what you feel like you're doing wrong, and the filler words, and god, whatever the hell else we writers fret over.

So I really want to focus on going back to the most basic aspects of writing a novel, the essential parts that make up every, single story out there. Dig in, kiddies. Take out your handy-dandy notebooks.  Let's start with the main elements of a story and some tips for incorporating them well!

5 Main Elements of a Story

1. Storyworld

-This is the world in which your story takes place. It encompasses the setting (including both place and time) and focuses on specific aspects that create the climate and catalyst for the plot of your story.

-Natural World

-Cultural Groups

-Backdrop for Conflict


^This is key. You must have a status quo (the way things are) and a weak point that makes that status quo ripe for change. Here's a sample of how this might work:

Scenario: Cultural Change/Rebellion. Status Quo: Life as it's always been. Weak Point: Repressive rulers, emboldened rebels, new ideas in a stagnant situation.

2. Characters

-Characters must--MUST--be three-dimensional. See this post on how to create them.

-Every character should have a distinct voice. You should be able to remove dialogue tags and still know who is speaking.

-Fill out the following for each character: (it will help define their motivations)

---Story Goal: (every character should have their own story goal, since EVERY character, in their own mind, is the hero of their OWN version of your story.)

3. Plot (Structure)

-First, establish the story question for your manuscript. That is, a very simple question that defines the major, overarching conflict of the story. For example, the story question for STAR WARS is "Will Luke and the Rebel Alliance succeed in destroying the Death Star?" 

-Try to use a three act structure: a set up, a sequence of major disasters, and an ending. The disasters must escalate each time.
Act I. Takes up 1/4 of the story and ends in a major disaster that makes the main character fully commit to the story.
Act II. Takes up 2/4 and 3/4. Each ends with a worse disaster.
Act III. Takes up the last 4/4. Includes the climax/resolution. Answers the story question.

-Every scene/chapter must be forward moving and have specific purpose. There can be NO superfluous moments. Every single scene must drive the plot forward. Ask yourself often, "If I remove this scene/character/dialogue/chapter, will if affect the plot at all?" If the answer is yes, scrap it/don't put it in there!

4. Theme

Theme is typically the moral of the story. It's the main idea that ties everything together. It's the underlying message from the author that lurks on every page, but isn't actually visible. It's usually an expression of opinion concerning a universal reality of the human condition or society.   

5. Style

Style is what makes you unique as a writer. It is the point of view, the tense, the tone, and the narrator you choose. But it is also the grammar, the sentence lengths, the word choices, the imagery used, and the flow of your story. And that's just to name a few.
Okay, not quite what I meant, but this guy DOES have style. 

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