Storytelling is easy. As social beings, it comes to us naturally, whether that be in conversation with friends about a fun Friday night or the way we baby talk our pets into trying out new treats. Storytelling is a part of us, so what differentiates the movies we watch, the books we read, the dreams we spin into stories that are memorable and exciting than that grocery trip the other day? Is being fiction, being out of this world and imaginative, enough to tell a great story?
Novelist, Jonathan Coe, emphasizes that the essence of creative writing is absolute freedom. It is, because your imagination is the limit. But here comes the irony: writing fictional stories have the same universal form because it reflects the structure of the human mind and human life. Fictional freedom is for us, the writers, while the familiarity of form is for our readers; combined, they make for a great fictional story.
The famed “God of Story”, Robert McKee defines stories as a composed series of events. These events include a meaningful choice that incites an equally meaningful change in our character that is achieved through conflict. Breaking it down, a fictional story has character, conflict, choice, and change—not far from the basic story elements we learn as kids. Discover how other writers apply these and use their techniques as inspiration.
Establishing a character first is a good way to approach fictional storytelling. In your life, you are the main character, the protagonist. In fiction, you have the freedom to wonder: whose story do you want to tell?
Create them to exist within their own world where their strengths and weaknesses, needs and wants builds the story. You can explore your characters through the 12-step Hero’s Journey that tackles conflict through an impossible obstacle or Dan Harmon’s Story Circle, a framework that follows the effect of change.
Characters become fascinating and intriguing because of their response to challenges. A stronger conflict is built overtime and opposes your characters—the boss level of your favorite game. Even when you’re pressing the right buttons and following the correct combination, it takes an extra amount of focus to defeat the big bad guy. Apply the same lag—a set of flaws and mistakes—to your character because it’s these imperfections that readers can identify in themselves and missteps that allow your story to grow and develop. Play around with flash fiction and challenge yourself with its 1000-word limit.
Yes, characters are necessary in stories, but great fictional stories aren’t only the result of well-written characters. How you write matters as much as what you write. When you share about your amazing adventure abroad, you make sure to include the best descriptions and the most important details. In the same way, paint your fictional story with tools such as figures of speech and literary devices that let your readers experience the events as your characters do. The factor that differentiates fiction, after all, is the imagination.
Storytelling is easy yet telling great fictional stories is a craft learned through practice. A story’s most important element is you—the writer; don’t be afraid to begin. Sharing through curated sites such as Commaful and Wattpad or other platforms for creative fiction and poetry can encourage you to complete that story and offer feedback to help you improve. It’s a loss to leave your imagination unexplored. Write the story you want to tell.
Characters are necessary in stories. But great fictional stories aren’t only the result of well-written characters. It is the balance of freedom and universal form that makes fiction worth exploring and remembering. Great storytelling takes a lot of time, but most of all, don’t forget to write.
Hayley Zelda is a writer and marketer at heart. She’s written on all the major writing platforms and worked with a number of self-published authors on marketing books to the YA audience.