Simple Story Structure

I have quite a few friends who often say to me, ‘I don’t understand how you can come up with the ideas and stories on the fly‘ or ‘I wish I was more creative, I can write well but I can’t come up with my own ideas‘. It is true that coming up with ideas is a lot easier for some than it is for others, but that shouldn’t be enough of a reason for people not to try.

This post follows on in spirit from the character profile upload from last Monday. I’m hoping that by the end of this post the concept of crafting a simple story will seem a lot less daunting.

Firstly, all stories have a beginning, middle and end. Sometimes the endings aren’t always clear-cut, some don’t have a linear approach to reaching the conclusion, but all roads ultimately lead to the same place.

I was once shown a method to improve on creating these sections on the fly. It wasn’t anything complicated, in fact it was very clear-cut. What you need to do is craft a story using only three sentences. The idea behind this being that each sentence represents the beginning, middle and end. Here’s an example:

Mavis loved to knit all things, of any shape or size. One Tuesday morning she managed to lose her needles. After searching all day she managed to finally find them in a pile of discarded sweaters.’

The example isn’t majorly exciting, neither does it have a wealth of character development, but it does serve the purpose of telling the story. These three sentence stories will obviously just be an empty shell compared to what you will really create, but if you expand upon the basic principles shown, you’ll soon have the basic structure down.

Another method I’ve experienced to help get the creative juices flowing follows on nicely from the previous point. The idea behind this method is to have an opening sentence:

The snow beneath his feet crunched softly with each of his steps.’

Then from here give yourself around 10/15 minutes to try to complete the story. Using and expanding upon the three sentence structure from before, you can craft a decent story from the example given. You may not get the story finished within the allotted time, but the purpose of the exercise is to increase the ease at which you create these stories. Timing and speed come with practice.

With both of these exercises you should begin to feel a little more comfortable with story crafting. Even so, there is still a lot more that you could add to your work to make them fully fledged stories.

Going on to the subject of characters for a moment, if you were to slot them into the stories you have created, you would need at least a primary protagonist for the story to follow or revolve around and in most cases you would also need an antagonist. You can tell a story with just one character but it’s a completely different experience than having multiple characters to juggle throughout.

Taking both of the story examples from before, Mavis could be our protagonist, while the unknown man walking through the snow is our antagonist. Maybe the man wants a sweater to combat the cold but Mavis isn’t willing to or is unable to provide one for him? Maybe the man steals her needles and a sweater in an act of defiance? How would the conflict come to a head? We know the ending; Mavis is reunited with her beloved needles, but which road we take to get to that conclusion is fully dependent upon the writer at the time.

Another key feature of an interesting story is the inciting incident that sparks of all of the troubles for the characters. Stories need to have drama, even just a little bit. If the characters are happy at the start, still happy in the middle and still happy at the end, then we haven’t really experienced much on the journey with them throughout the time we’ve spent reading their story. Adding this drama gives your characters more depth and the story more meaning as they strive to overcome these issues. Referring back to the character profile post, these inciting incidents could be directly related to the ‘goals’ and ‘do they succeed’ sections. A well fleshed out character can lead to a wealth of storyline potential.

Overall, I’d say that the key to being able to create simple story structures is practice. A lot of the time, you can have a fear that what you’re creating will be no good. What you have to do is realise that without actually trying you won’t know if you would have succeeded or not. The simple exercises I mentioned above are a great way to either brush off the cobwebs or to warm up before you get down to business.

I hope that this will prove useful to someone out there. I don’t claim to be an expert on the matter but I do want to give some advice wherever I can. Thank you for reading.

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