I’ve been teaching storytelling for a couple of years now, and have discovered there is a particular shape that produces really compelling and interesting tales.
To prove that this shape works, I run an improv game. I get a bunch of people on stage, and then I have them each say one sentence of a story, but it has to be fulfilling the core elements of the shape.
- Character with a Goal and a Motivation
- Inciting incident (usually first attempt toward goal, or a motivation to start trying to accomplish goal. More here)
- Try (character tries something to get to their goal)
- Fail (something goes wrong)
- Crises (all is lost, the goal will never be accomplished!)
- Climax (character figures out a way! or gets rescued)
- Resolution (how is character’s life changed by this success?)
- Moral of the story is (punchline)
This always makes an interesting story. It’s not always good, but it is always compelling. The “moral” is often a chance for a punchline. But it’s also a place to seek a theme.
My friend Liv wants to play with her tiny daughter. I have played the story turn game with my Amelie for years now, so I’d recommend coaching her through the first part.
You need a character with a goal and a motivation. So ask her, Who is the main character?
Where is she?
In her cave
and what does she want?
And why does she want it?
She wants it for her babies.
And what does she do to get that honey?
and now we are at inciting incident and ready for the first try fail cycle!
There is a great trick for making more interesting fails I learned from Mary Kowal Robinette on Writing Excuses. Each fail is one of two kinds:
- No, and
- Yes but
So the bear goes into the woods to try to find some honey.
- The bear doesn’t find honey and then tries looking in a woodsman’s house.
- The bear does find honey, but there are a lot of angry bees there!
Struggles make stories. Good struggles make good stories!