Storytelling

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms,” said Muriel Rukeyser. Stories have been the lifeblood of humanity from the beginning of time. Ancient peoples sang songs of their heroes; the Romans crafted myths; and Shakespeare twisted words into life. The world is always changing, but stories do not. Every good story has three main things: a strong plot, emotional and character development, and colorful detail.

A rock-solid plot is the spine of a story. The plot is simply the sequence of events in a story, and a convincing one is believable and consistent. Nobody likes a book in which the story wanders all over the place. It leaves the reader confused. A story can have multiple plots, but it must have one, dominant storyline. All others take second place. Take Harry Potter, for example. The over-arching plot is how Harry Potter defeats Lord Voldemort. However, there are also sub-plots throughout the entire series, such as Quidditch or Harry and Ginny’s relationship. Keeping the plot consistent and interesting is vital to an excellent story.

Another branch of an enticing story is compelling characters with relatable emotions and development. A believable character is gold. Consider the real world. Everyone is unique and interesting in their own way, such as how a person likes green jello or hates it, or how someone might laugh like a chipmunk or growl like a lion. Your characters should reflect real life. A story feels authentic when a character seems like a real person. A character’s emotions should affect them like they would an actual person. For example, your mom throws a surprise party for you. A flat character might have one emotion—such as happiness, or maybe anger if they don’t like surprises? A good character would have layered emotions. Maybe her initial reaction is anger, but she doesn’t want to upset her mom. Then something happens to calm her down and she feels happy. At the end of the night, perhaps she feels sadness at how her mother tries hard but does not understand her. In contrast, a flat character generally has little emotion, or too much, making them seem unrealistic.

Character development also builds a good story. Life is a great teacher, so shouldn’t people in stories learn and change? Consider Snape from Harry Potter, who rates an A+ in character development. In the first book, Snape is a horrible bully. As the series slowly progress, the reader learns more and more about who Snape actually is. In the end, even though he was a bully who used to work for the wrong side, because of character development his death breaks readers’ hearts. People grow and mature. So should characters.

Colorful detail gives readers a picture of the story. One thing beginners (and maybe more advanced writers, too) tend to do is to describe a story with only images. Visuals are great, but is this the only way we experience real life? By seeing things? Absolutely not! We see the green walls, the hot cookie burns our fingers, the sand feels rough under our feet, the house smells like nutmeg, the soy sauce tastes salty, and we hear the car door slam. A robust story uses all the senses! One way to add more elements to a description is to think about what is happening at the time and how the different senses are engaged. Say your character is watching a car crash. What are they hearing? Probably the screeching of breaks. What do they feel? Probably wind as the cars rush past. What do they smell? Probably burnt rubber. Not every description needs all the senses, but every narrative needs more than one. The fuller the picture, the better your reader will be able to “live” the story.

A story has three parts, the plot, the characters, and full descriptions. The plot is like the skeleton of a story. It is the framework around which everything works, and it holds the body up. The characters are the muscles and tendons. They are the meat of the story, and they make the story move. Finally, colorful details are skin and facial features. They are what everyone sees. Every part of a story is interwoven with another. This makes a story beautiful.

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