Storytelling is a major part of humankind. We spent the early part of humanity using storytelling to pass down our history, religions, etc. In the case of fictional stories, crafting narratives helps the reader believe in the world you're creating and is also hooked in. Here is a storytelling guide to help create those intriguing stories that keep people coming back for more.
The Use of Fiction Story Elements
There are many fictional story elements that you can use to help make your story more immersive and stimulating. Knowing your audience will help you understand what language level to write at. Are you writing for middle schoolers? Or university scholars? Knowing this will help you include or omit certain details to allow your story to stay understandable and relevant to your audience.
After you understand your audience, you can now determine the premise and frame of the plot structure. The former is how you deliver the storytelling, while the latter is the audience's point of view of the world you're creating. Both are the first narrative techniques you must consider to start crafting your fictional world.
Fictional Narrative Techniques
As mentioned before, the frame of a story is the main narrative, usually from the very introduction, that serves to set the stage for the whole story, i.e., its plot structure. This is the beginning of fictional world-building. If your protagonist is a 14-year-old teenage girl, she might have a different worldview than a 78-year-old elderly man. Who's the people, what's the narrative, and how's their world?
An example of framing a story is the setting. Where does your story take place? This includes location, whether it is a physical space or a geographical location, and a time period. This provides the reader with context, which in turn allows them to transport to your world more easily.
The premise, on the other hand, is how you decide to tell your story. Using the frame of the story, how are you writing to provide enough of that tension to not only draw in your audience but keep them along for the entire ride? While fictional worldbuilding, you must make sure it makes logical sense to your audience and matches the story frame's worldview.
Examples of this include conflict and resolution. What are the problems that push people out of their comfort zone, create tension, and allow for character development and growth? This makes the story more engaging and allows readers to continue toward a resolution. This is the crux of any good story and why we root for and feel for characters.
Ensuring You Are Crafting the Narrative
These two fictional story elements are the skeleton of your fictional story. Without them, you wouldn't be able to craft compelling fiction that makes sense to the audience. You might be writing a fictional story; however, it still needs to make sense. No one can enjoy a story that they can't understand.
One last thing before moving on. With these two narrative techniques, you've got the backbone of your story, but there's one more thing to ensure that your story continues on the right track. You need a focus. What is a major need of the story? What does your protagonist want? One way to ensure that you have a good focus is in its simplicity. You should be able to tell us about your focus in less than five words; an easy example of this concept is the popular "Boy meets girl" trope.
Character Development Is Key
Once you figure out your target audience and craft the skeleton of your story with its frame, premise, and focus, the next step is your character. A good character can make or break a story. We can all think of characters we love, even those we despise. A character that invokes something in us, even if it's anger, is a great character. A forgettable character that makes us wonder what they are even doing here is a bad character.
Characters are a mirror of your target audience. For example, a story about high schoolers might not be as interesting to an older reader. You are expanding your audience's persona into human form and then using that to give a human perspective to your story.
Once that's settled, we start at square one. Who are our characters now, and who will they become? Characters are like Play-Doh and need to shift and shape as the actions around them force them to grow. Character Development is detrimental to a story's humanity, and it shows a natural progression of the story, setting, and people.
Following an Arc, The Storytelling Guide
We talked about the importance of character development, but how does one do that? Just like your story has a beginning, middle and end, so does your character's psyche. Your character must desire something. They must have a want so strong that it forces them outside of their mundane daily life. The stronger the desire, the possibility for more compelling drama to ensue. Conflict is intrinsically intertwined with desire.
These motivations help to drive the plot. For example, in the John Wick action franchise, the protagonist is propelled by his desire to avenge his beloved dog due to his honor for commitment, which in turn forces him to defend himself and others around him.
The character's desire can be divided into two categories: a want and a need. Your character can want one thing that pushes them outside their comfort zone but then realize that their needs are different along the way. A want vs. need struggle is frequently a key fiction story element.
An example of a want vs. need struggle is in the movie Soul. The main protagonist wants to return to his body and continue the pursuit of his jazz career to provide meaning to his life. However, he needs to appreciate that living gives one's life meaning.
With this, we can see that the want is frequently the external superficial journey that gives the plot structure, while the need is the internal journey that leads to the character's development. A want vs. need struggle is an external goal vs an internal realization struggle.
Now, What About Your Story's Plot Structure?
When it comes to crafting compelling fiction, a story's plot structure is very important. Most stories follow the same crafting narrative. The beginning serves as an exposition to everything we previously mentioned: The frame and premise, as well as the main characters. This starting point allows you to give the reader context and get them situated in the story and ready for the action.
In any storytelling guide worth its salt, you will find a plot structure device called a dramatic arc. This arc is often shown in a bell-shaped curve that starts with the beginning of your story, rises towards a climax through conflict, and then returns downwards towards the story’s conclusion. You can use this to help you template your story to ensure you know which direction you want. This helps both you and your future readers not get lost and follow a natural flow of events.
The Storytelling Guide of Conflict Resolution
Then, we have the middle, which will be the majority of your story. This section presents the conflict and the lead-up to the climax. What is the change of circumstances that creates a problem that our characters now need to resolve? Why does our protagonist care, and how are they affected? The conflict is usually parallel to the main character's motivation.
Once we are aware of the conflict at hand, we step into the rising action section of the story. This is where you build tension and keep your readers engaged. How does our conflict get resolved? Why did this conflict happen? This includes all subsequent actions, developments, and situations that lead to the inevitable climax.
The Climax of Compelling Fiction
Now, we've finally reached the climax of the story. When it comes to crafting a narrative, the climax is the apex of your story, where your characters come face to face with the conflict and conquer it. This is not always a success story, however, as the protagonist could've failed, which leads to a worsening of the conflict or the arising of a new one.
Remember that if the conflict is not resolved, that presents a new climax. However, a story with multiple climaxes is not necessarily a good one. Yes, plot twists and multiple mysteries can keep the reader engaged. But after a certain point, it can feel like dangling an unattainable carrot, which, if there’s no resolution in sight, can have the opposite effect and deter readers.
For longer stories with multiple climaxes, maybe think of the possibility of multiple books for one story. Why not turn your story into a trilogy, which can allow you to break up certain points of your story to make it more cohesive? This will also allow you to dive deep into narrative techniques such as character development, fictional worldbuilding and crafting narratives.
After the climax comes the falling action and the conclusion of the story, or this part of the whole story. These two fiction story elements are often lumped together because, as a writer, you should not spend too much time lengthening after the climax. This section of your story expresses the aftermath of the climax, whether it was successfully resolved or not.
If your conflict was successfully removed, how has it positively affected the character and the world around them? Have they grown? Did they achieve their want or discover their hidden need that was there all along? This is your time to wrap up your story, whether in a happy-ever-after sequence or a build-up on what’s to come following the conflict resolution and climax.
When writing a story, there are many moving parts to think of. However, it is definitely easier than most people think. You start off with who you are as a writer and the target audience that best suits the story you want to tell. Once that’s settled, you flesh out the story's premise alongside its set frame.
Once the story’s skeleton is set, it is time to add the muscles, which are the characters and their focus, which includes their hidden internal desires and external motivations that will push them to resolve their conflict. By following the dramatic arc, you now create the ride that will bring your protagonist toward their conflict resolution and the climax of your story. Afterwards, there’s nothing else to do but wrap the story up, whether that entails a successful ending or one that leads to another story needing to be told.
Being a storyteller is in our nature as humans, and once you become comfortable taping into that mindset, you start spotting stories all around you. Grab that pen and paper and let your creativity run free. Because only you can write your stories.