Storytelling is one of the oldest pastimes. Everyone loves a great story, but it is often difficult to find someone that is good at telling one. The best way to learn how to tell a story is to read books on the subject, such as “How to Tell a Story” by Peter Rubie and Gary Provost, or any other book published by Writers Digest Books. Perhaps the two best books on the subject are, “Anatomy of Story” by John Truby and “Zen and the Art of Writing” by Ray Bradbury.
Stories consist of three parts:
1. The Beginning
2. The Middle
3. The End
Traditionally, this is why stories are broken down into three acts. Dividing your story into three acts will help you understand basic story structure. However, this technique will only work for simple stories. More complex structures are needed for something like a novel or a screenplay.
Choosing a setting depends of the kind of story that is being told, and the desires of the storyteller. For instance, a gothic adventure could take place in Hungary or Transylvania, and could be set in the 15th or 16th century. Arthurian tales would take place in England, in an earlier time period. The setting will have a large affect on the way the story is told.
The characters will often take up a large part of the opening of a story, and this can slow things down considerably. Care should be taken to avoid lengthy character introductions, as it can kill a story before it has begun. One of the marks of an amateur storyteller is to use up a large part of the early story introducing characters.
The beginning will consist of two parts:
The Introduction, and Rising Action.
The Introduction will introduce the characters, the setting, the goal of the story, and the main villain, or antagonist.
Rising Action is the second part of the story, and it will be a set of scenes that get the characters moving in the direction of the story goal.
Often a mentor will be introduced to help the character learn some truth that they will need to accomplish the goal or to give the characters some kind of aid.
Usually there will be some sort of conflict in the early stages of a story as the characters pursue the story. are sentinels that guard some kind of doorway into a deeper level of the story.
In the early stages of a story, the conflict will slowly rise, creating a greater sense of urgency. The stakes should become greater, further motivating the characters. Every storyteller should ask himself, “what’s at stake here?” in every scene.
The middle of the story is the largest part of the story, taking up about 50% of its time. The function of this part is to develop the characters and the conflict.
Tests or challenges will often confront the characters in this section. Each of these small goals could provide an element that is needed to defeat the villain or an object to complete the quest.
Allies are new characters that are introduced to aid the characters in their quest.
New enemies are also introduced in this section of the story, as the plot becomes more complicated.
Act II consists of two parts:
Complications in the story make things more interesting for the characters. Often a major plot twist is introduced here which will force the main character to change, becoming fully committed, strengthening or clarifying his motivation. This will often be a point of no return.
The Crisis is the lowest point in the story, where everything looks hopeless. This will force the characters to make a crucial decision, leading to the climax of the story.
The end of the story (Act III) is where the main villain is finally overcome and the quest is completed.
The final climax of the story is a scene that everything in the story has been pointing towards. It can be a surprise, but is should be a logical progression of the events in the past. Sometimes in a short story, the climax will be the first scene.
The most important parts of a story are the first scene, where the villain and goal are introduced, and the climax.
There are many ways to end a story, but the end of a story will be of two main kinds:
An open ended story is where the quest has been completed, but not everything has been finished, leaving room for the audience to imagine their own ending.
A closed story is where everything has been completed, creating an obvious ending for the audience.
Characters should be presented with some kind of moral choice at the end of a story, which forces them to finally overcome their character flaw.
This will create a fundamental change in the nature of the character.
After the villain is defeated and the character has changed, the story will be over.