By Marriah Talbott-Malone
I’ve come to find, as a creator of stories, there is no harm in knowing too much. While we may be warned about sharing too much information, or sometimes even too little, being overly aware of what we are creating is quite possibly one of our greatest advantages.
As a writer, I’ve learned about the essential elements of a story more times than my fingers can count. When it came to the fourth or fifth time in which I was being lectured on the stages of Freytag’s pyramid, I was more than convinced I was an expert. It wasn’t until I started editing for magazines and journals that I realized the primary mistakes I see in most writers, I see in my own work as well.
It is so incredibly easy to get lost in the excitement and wonder of forming something that is your own. Whether it be the creation of a whole new world or developing a character, containing yourself from forming these ideas into something bigger can feel almost impossible. However, what we must realize is that the release of this excitement is only the first step. No matter how much we may believe we know about telling stories or how impatient we may be to share our ideas, it’s important to always look back on the essentials of a story. These aspects are present for a reason. They are the tools in allowing us to make our story stronger and to gain as much knowledge about our creation as possible.
While this could very well be your fourth or fifth lecture on these elements, as I said above, we can never know too much! The following elements are fundamental to a strong story:
While many may say an outline is not necessary, I believe it is the first true step in organizing your thoughts. Whether you use bullet points or a full organizer, an outline allows you to create your story’s skeleton. You can start by asking yourself questions about your story:
These are just a few examples of questions you can use. With the information you find, start organizing in a way that will be most effective for your story (chronological order, topics, concrete versus vague ideas, or others). Whether or not you choose to use an outline is your choice, but it is something I strongly recommend. I have used outlines for multiple short stories and the progression of my novel. I’ve found that I’ve created my best work with the use of this tool.
Plot is the progression of your story, or in simpler words, what happens. The most important thing with a story’s plot is making sure all five stages are present.
When your story lacks one of these stages, it often feels to readers as if something in your story is missing. If these pieces are fully developed it is very easy to find holes in a story, making the story feel incomplete and appear rushed. The first suggestion I would give to prevent these things from happening would be to map out the most important points of your story. You can do this mentally or physically, just as long as you are aware of your story’s most significant points.
Another suggestion would be to center in on more detailed descriptions. I’ve come across many stories that feel rushed because the author is telling more of the story than showing. Descriptions and detail really allow a reader to enter the story. It captivates them, adding depth and emotion. Showing rather than telling slows the story down and makes the pace feel more interactive and natural.
Plot devices and subplots can also add depth to your story. Not only do they solve the issue of a story feeling rushed, but they often give us an opportunity to better connect with a story’s characters. We are able to learn more about characters in many of these situations and are able to see and predict how they respond in certain situations.
Character is so vital to storytelling. It allows us to be more involved with the story. Character development that is well-done can display transition and success not just in characters, but in the plot as well.
In order to have well-developed characters, I would recommend getting to know them. Who are your characters? Who is the protagonist? Antagonist? Are your characters round? Flat? You want to know your characters like the back of your hand. After all, you are creating them. If something is missing in your character, it is essentially up to you to find what that is and work on finding a solution.
I personally work on developing characters through charts. I like to get as much information on them as possible. While character charts like the ones below may not be your thing, I have found them incredibly helpful. The process of creating and connecting with your characters is truly a great experience. These charts are so in-depth and allow you to get to know your characters almost as well as you know yourself. My favorites are from Deviant Art and EpiGuide.
The next element is setting. Setting is where your story or specific events take place. Setting has a strong impact on a story’s plot and character. Without a setting, your story is essentially stemming from nothing. Setting is also responsible for the mood and atmosphere. There are many instances in which authors use setting as a symbol for their stories, adding creativity and depth to the piece. When we look to develop our setting, we can look at many different factors, including:
Theme refers to a story’s meaning or the underlying message of a piece. When we read stories, we read them with the intention of discovering what we believe the author wants us to know or take away. Every story is told for a reason and allowing readers to discover just why you are telling it is one of the greatest things about writing. When we look to find the theme of our story, we can do so by asking ourselves questions:
The more often we use these elements, the more we are able to see our stories transform. These elements not only strengthen a story, but they strengthen our experiences as writers. No matter how much we may know about these elements, we can always benefit from reviewing and looking back on them. The more we know, the greater the stories we will write.