A story by any other name will still taste as sweet

2014-11-28 12:23

A good tale can keep you up all night, even with your partner sleepily grumbling about the light. For some, like me, an escape is found in devouring book after book on your Kindle. Others, like my gamer hubby, may prefer to spend their time watching videos that explain the lore of Dark Souls: Prepare to Die.

And what about the next episode of *insert favourite series here*, that ad you love on TV or break time catch-up reads on News24? Those are stories too. In fact, we’re surrounded by narratives. Like bad photos on Facebook, they follow us wherever we go, popping up every now and then to remind us of past mistakes.

So what exactly is a story?

According to Google it is an “account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.”

On a side note: you don’t always tell stories to others for entertainment. Ever had conversations with yourself or day dreamed what-ifs? Those count too.

What makes a story?               

For the answer to this question, we need to go back to the basics - the basics of writing one yourself. Luckily, there are generally just 6 elements to a good story:

1. Setting – This describes the world where your tale takes place. It can be wildly imaginative or deeply rooted in a neighbourhood you know. It also refers to the period a story happens in, from futuristic 2067 to the time in which pyramids were built; even the whimsical once upon a time. It may help to also keep in mind the weather conditions (blazingly hot, freakishly cold), social conditions (middle-class, poverty stricken) and mood (dark and scary, or happy and sunny).

2. Characters – Now that the stage is set, the stars of your tale topple into the world. Keep a notepad handy because you want to jot everything down about your characters. Who they are, what they do, a name and history. You are creating your own little population, so make the most of it. Does your main character have shiny blonde hair, a princely smile and swaggering stance? That’s okay too.

3. Plot – By far, the hard part of any story is carefully creating the plot, or series of events that change the lives of your characters. Usually, a plot has a beginning, middle and end; though, not necessarily in that order. Action is presented to achieve maximum effect from readers, whether that response is tears, surprise or suspense, etc. Running parallel to this main thread, you sometimes get a subplot that's almost as interesting and adds even more intrigue to the story.

4. Conflict – This element is that proverbial kick in the butt characters need to dance to the strings of the plot. How the conflict is presented is up to the writer. There are two main types: external (outside of oneself) and internal (within oneself). These can come into play in many different ways, putting the stars of the story in various situations they need to resolve. (More of this in another post).

5. Point of view – Think high school poetry and literary texts. Somewhere along the line, an exam paper would have asked you to idenity the narrator. Did you know the answer?

First Person: The story is told from the view of only one person, for example: "I got up, dressed, just to dump my breakfast on my lap.” You get to live the story through that person’s eyes. Although this limits you to one character's perspective, some tales give are divided amongst a couple of narrators, letting you connect with more.

Second Person: This is the form you get when you play games or read choose-your-own-adventure novels. It transforms the reader into a character, sucking you right into the story.

Third Person: Imagine the narrator as a fly on the wall. How much and where the all-seeing bug goes is up to the writer. It simply goes where it wants, interpreting and commenting on the thoughts and actions of each characters. That being said, it's best to focus on one character at a time.

6. Theme – Lastly, every story has an underlying idea or deep thought that you untangle from the knots of the plot. (Another flashback to high school exams) Your task is to identify the different strands of a tale as a symbol or simile, and at the end, wonder if the door is blue because it just is, or if it signifies the internal struggle of a single mother.

All of this is just a guideline of course. It's not set in stone like Excalibur. If you want to think up something for a fourth person…go ahead brave little writer. You write that novel, song or advert.

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