As I mentioned in my last post a compelling story must contain the basic elements of story telling. But what exactly is a story?
In its simplest form a story is a sentence containing:
subject / verb / object
cow eats grass
Not much of a story. But it does actually convey information — that there is a cow that is eating grass. I suspect that the motivation is because the cow is hungry.
However, conveying information is easier if it’s entertaining. Maybe the cow is eating because she’s bored. Or, perhaps she’s being force fed. So now the story has someone forcing the cow to do something she may not want to do — suddenly there’s more to this than just a cow eating grass… but there still needs to be more.
That’s where the basic elements come in…
- What? This is the theme of your story. Every ‘scene’ should reflect this – where is the story going and therefore, where is your audience going? In Mis’ka, Rite Of Ascension, the theme is war and peace. Mis’ka lives on Credos whose people have been at war with Nor’la, a neighbouring planet, for hundreds of generations. Resources are running out for both sides and there is a movement to bring about peace. The thought of peace throws Mis’ka — she is a Warrior who has spent her childhood training to fight the enemy. Her internal conflict is that with peace, what happens to her?
- Who? This is your protagonist, the hero/heroine, who drives your story. And remember – your hero must want something so badly that they will do anything to obtain this goal. In fact the higher the goal, meaning the harder it is to reach this goal, the more interesting the journey for the hero and ultimately for your audience. My hero is Mis’ka – in Rite of Ascension her goal is to pass this test but as her adventure escalates she must do more than just pass – she must find a way to survive and come out of the experience alive.
- Why? The central dramatic problem. In the first book Mis’ka thinks that all she’s doing is her Rite of Ascension, which she must pass — the alternative is death or working in the off-world mines. Mis’ka has a lot at stake here. But then she rescues Hetat and finds herself thrown into his fight. Add to this Gabel, an untrained Ma’ji who she must save and suddenly Mis’ka has a whole lot more to deal with…
- How? Your plot — to get your hero from chapter one to ‘The End’. And, if you can, you need to have sub-plots to help layer the story and give your audience more to chew on as they read. And, believe it or not, all your subplots need to have the same theme driving these forward. Plus they need to have all the basic elements as well! Phew!
- Where? Is the setting — because I write science fiction the story is on a planet far, far away! And to highlight that Mis’ka is in this alone, I have set Rite of Ascension on a moon-planet Asner Major, where she must survive. From where she stands she can see her home planet Credos and wants nothing more than to be back there. The next story, Rite of Honour, will take place on Credos and her enemy’s planet Nor’la.
- When? This is the era — it can be contemporary, in the past or future — or all of them. Of course, this shapes the ‘feel’ of your story, who your characters are and what societal constraints they face. Mis’ka’s world is technically very advanced but is filled with traditions going back centuries. She has rules she must follow and as a Warrior she has the Warrior’s Code she must adhere to.
Once you’ve worked out these basic elements you’ve got the beginning or skeleton of your story.
It is at this point before I even put pen to paper – or should that be finger tips to keyboard? – that I now work out my premise. Without this, my story can easily flounder.
It has started to rain and the washing that I hung out this morning in the sunshine is now at risk of getting very wet – so I’m off to rescue it.
As for the cow – she really was only eating because she was hungry. End of story…