I’ve written this article Storytelling: A beginner’s Quick Guide for those of you who would love to write a book but have no idea where to start. You hear about seasoned authors writing five novels a year, and here you are still dithering about writing that first word.
Well, don’t panic – it’s normal. Without knowledge, you’ll lack confidence. Again, that’s understandable. The primary skill for any aspiring or even seasoned author is storytelling. But what IS storytelling? Read on and find out.
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Storytelling is made up of Three Main components.
There are three things that any story needs to be able to function, whether it is a short story, a novella, flash fiction or an epic hundred chapters. They all must have:
- A Beginning,
- And an End.
The beginning is where the storyteller (you) introduces the characters, in particular, the main character and his or her problem/s. You inform the reader of the setting, the characters and the circumstances (conflict or inciting incident) they find themselves in, as well as their goal/s. You’ll need a situation that drives the main character from their “normal” life toward some different conflicting position within the story.
The middle is where the action moves the plot forward as the story takes shape, and where some form of challenge faces the main character(s). The problems prevent them from achieving their goal and could be from anything to anybody. In the Middle, the storyteller develops the story through a series of complications and obstacles. Each one is leading to a mini-crisis. Though each crisis is temporary, they get resolved. The story inevitably leads to an ultimate crisis — the Climax. As the story progresses, there is a rising and falling of tension with each crisis. But, an overall mounting pressure as we approach the Climax.
A crisis or conflict can be life-changing for your character or as small as missing a bus, therefore preventing them from achieving a goal they desired, e.g. getting a new job.
The end is the part where the storyteller wraps up the story with the main character(s) face and overcome their challenges (or may even fail, if your tale is a tragedy). The resolution should be satisfying to your readers, so they’re not wondering why they invested so much time in a worthless story. At the end of a story, the Climax gets resolved as the loose ends are tied up, and the story finishes in this denouement. Tension rapidly dissipates as it’s nearly impossible to sustain a reader’s interest very long after the climax. Don’t drag on the ending and leave your readers asking, ‘what was that all about?’ Finish your story and get out.
A Simple Sample of Storytelling
To find an example of storytelling, look no further than the good old fairy-tale you heard as a child.
ACT ONE: Cinderella: in the first scene, poor ‘Cinders’ is keeping house for her father and two ugly sisters. The readers are introduced to the characters and find out what Cinderella’s dreams are (her goals).
ACT TWO: Consists of actions which are moving the story forward to achieve Cinders’ dream of going to the ball. The Fairy Godmother, the mice and the pumpkin are turning into a carriage. And Cinders is ready to be transported to the ball and Prince Charming’s arms. Everything is going great until midnight. Catastrophe! (conflict) Cinderella must flee the ball as she changes back into her rags, losing a slipper on the way.
ACT THREE: She’s back to slogging away at the housework, when, yes, you remember as it’s all coming back to you now! The prince turns up with the slipper that will only fit Cinderella’s foot. Ah, a satisfactory end. A rag to riches story as Cinderella weds her prince. Everyone’s happy.
The three acts sound simple, but if you’ve ever tried writing a story, you’ll know it is easy to have an idea. (A poor girl wanting to marry a prince?) But to move your characters forward so that they achieve their goals (meet a fairy godmother) can be hard to figure out for the satisfactory ending everyone wants (the prince and Cinderella live happily ever after.)
Storytelling consists of four necessary ingredients:
- The characters
- A plot
- A theme
- The setting
A clever plot on its own is not enough for a story to advance. It needs all the other story components to cross, cross and intermingle to hold your reader’s attention.
HOW to PLAN and FIND STORY IDEAS
Start by brainstorming each of the four elements above, one by one. Don’t rush at this stage. I know you’ll be champing at the bit at this stage but be patient and take your time – there are a lot of superb ideas hiding deep inside your brain just waiting to burst out. Beware this process takes time to bring them to the surface. Remember the saying ‘you can’t rush a good thing!’ Quality takes time. Well, think of that as your burgeoning story, never rush and never skimp.
In the second stage, try playing with the results -rearranging them like jigsaw pieces until you arrive at the perfect story idea for you. Index cards, scraps of paper or sticky notes can be useful to do this.
To get the most out of the planning stage, try not to think ahead to step two until you’ve well and truly finished the first phase, and you’re satisfied your brain has given up all its treasures.
The point of brainstorming is to come up with a host of potential ideas your storytelling skills can weave into a captivating story. Be aware this won’t happen if you jump ahead and try writing your story ideas too early.
If you have a firm idea in your mind of the novel you want to write, disregard it during this process. You might come up with a better plan. Or find a new spin on your existing idea. You could also find a way to create a whole series of novels similar to the one you have in mind.
Finally, take as long as necessary over this planning stage. There is no rush.
Writing a novel represents a considerable time commitment, so it makes sense not to settle on an idea until you know it is the right one.
Take out a pencil and a notebook or some sheets of paper. Or use a computer/laptop if you prefer to work that way. I find this method works for me because I’m unable to read my scrawled writing.
Find a quiet place and relax. Put your phone on silent and sit back and think. Let ideas pass in and out of your head.
Depending on the theme you want to choose, different types of music might inspire you.
Once the ideas are tumbling around your head, sit up and begin to write them down. Place them under each of the four categories: character, plot, theme and setting, as mentioned before.
STORYTELLING TAKES TIME
Don’t worry if you don’t come up with anything usable the first time you try brainstorming. If you’re not used to letting your story ideas run free, it’s hard to dig them out of hidden recesses of your brain. With practice, it will become easier.
You’ve got the ideas. Now it’s time to start Outlining your Plot.
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