If you’ve been following us, we’ve been talking about Stories and why it works. We have established that everyone loves a good story. So, let us take a look at the basic building blocks which makes up a story.
Storytelling is not a science nor is it a hard fact – so there are no hard and fast rules about them. This merely is a guideline on what stories are made off. This post is about the building blocks of a good story. Here we go!
Generally, a story takes form with the following six elements:
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Theme is the central idea of your story. Simply put, the theme of your story is what you are trying to convey. It’s something you can sum it up in one single word: betrayal, death, horror, romance, mystery (you get the idea). Some stories have none (especially if they’re trying to be all post-modernist), though it’s advisable to have at least one. While, some have a few, especially in epic novels.
Your theme should correspond with the end goal. And it should be clear but not explicit. Instead it grows out of the story. Where your audiences get to discover it themselves. The kind that makes you go, “Aha!” “Wow” or “Aaawww.” A truly strong theme makes your discovery even more gripping.
Plot is the sequence of events which makes your story progress. It is usually about a protagonist (see “Characters” further below), his/her interaction with others and the conflicts or struggles they go through. It could be a conflict with other characters, a situational problem, personal needs or emotional struggle. This struggle leads to self-discovery which then brings about a resolution.
A typical plot goes like this: conflict starts, matters go right, matters go wrong, victory or defeat, and the wrap-up. A good plot deepens, gets more intense, until it reaches a high point or a climax. Shortly after, it ends with a happy resolution.
This is your context. Which sometimes includes time and place. The spectrum of your settings can be at one end, which is familiarity. Or on the extremity of the other end of that spectrum, which is the context of an unknown world. For instance, sci-fi setting in 2030 or steampunk earth today.
Define all the characters of your story, especially the protagonist (and antagonists), before the writing starts. The character should be someone your readers can relate to. Or someone they want to care about. You don’t have to go all biography about them, just enough to develop the characteristics. You may consider including some weaknesses, because perfect person is boring and not relatable.
A consistent voice narrating the story is another crucial element. Be it “first person or in “third person”, it should be from the eye of just one character—typically from the point of view of the main character. These are some technicalities you should think of when telling your story.
The style and tone (or atmosphere) has to be right for your type of story. It provides the right ambiance that instills emotions or attractions through the tone, voice, and pace.
Consider these stories that takes shape – first in peoples’ mind and then in their heart. Let’s go back to Sir Richard’s story and think of the main components and why it works as a story people love.
Sir Richard Branson’s Story
The Gist Of It
Everyone knows this guy. The man behind Virgin. Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson, or Richard Branson in short. He was a school dropout at 16, upon which he started his business ventures with a youth-culture magazine called Student. His struggles with dyslexia, ADHD and failures. Today, we know him as a business magnate, investor and serial entrepreneur.
Today he runs the Virgin group which comprises over 400 companies. Branson is also known for his adventurous spirit and sporting achievements, including crossing oceans in a hot air balloon.
His life’s theme is one of failure and perseverance against the odds. It is set against a business world which is full of opportunities, yet hostile to failure.
Looking at his profile on social network, this is what he says about himself:
“Tie-loathing adventurer and thrill seeker, who believes in turning ideas into reality. Otherwise known as Dr. Yes at Virgin!”
Here’s a quick peak into his biography.
He is the main character
- He is eccentric & adventurous – who doesn’t love a rich guy that knows how to have fun (like how women swoon over Tony Starks, while men wish they were him).
- He embraces failure – isn’t it inspiring to know he went through some real struggles. Not that we encourage dropping out of school is good… But his story inspired hope – a learning disability is not an impediment to success.
- Brilliant entrepreneurship – As founder at Virgin Group, we’ve seen his endless success in expanding his business.
- Struggle to stay afloat – Story with smooth sailing successes is boring. Branson has had his share of failures in business. In 1992, his business suffered and had to struggle to stay financially afloat. What draws people in with his story is how he never gave up and relentlessly made his come back.
And here’s one more:
The Gist Of It
Snowpiercer is a brazen sci-fi epic on social ideology (very much like The Hunger Games—classification of societal pyramid). The story happens in a world where almost everyone on the planet has been annihilated by a failed global warming experiment. It features the life of the final survivors on board a perpetual-motion engine train called Snowpiercer, which travels around the globe. Leaving the train would mean immediate death.
Why it works as a story
- Promising Goal – The protagonist, who’s from the lowest level of the Snowpiercer society, has had enough of the discrimination from the upper class. He aims to climb his way up the society and take control of the train—by fighting his way to the head of the train from the last wagon.
- Interesting Plot –Provides you a smaller scale of depiction of society. Insights to human behavior from the very low level class up to the elite. Also, the train has a strict regulation to maintain the ecosystem, one of which is population control.
- The “Science” – The story is good to a level where it fooled us to believe that a frozen planet followed after global warming could possibly happen.
- Deliberate Craftwork – It’s clear that every part of the film is carefully crafted—the shots, line of scripts, characters design and background.
- Twisted Plot – Well you just need to watch it to see what it is all about. No spoilers here!
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