This is an awesome way to quickly launch (and finish) a new story, any time you have time to write but are short on inspiration. Try it!
Use this story formula to to create an interesting character, give them a desire, kick off some intriguing action and plan the kind of resolution you want.
Once you have that skeleton, you can start filling in colorful details…and soon your creative brain will be demanding you start to write!
A _______ (adjective) ________(noun), who _________(verb) ___________(subject), then _________(related verb) __________(resolution)
- Using these kinds of limits short-circuits your inner editor and makes ‘writing a story’ seem much more manageable. Just take it step by step.
- Make sure you give your character an adjective that implies some desire (e.g. ‘ambitious’ not ‘young’; or ‘contented’ – which implies that their desire is for the status quo to remain unchanged)
- Use the middle set of blanks to kick off the action (use a verb that implies change: “discovers”, “uncovers”, “decides”, “is forced to”, “commits to”, “resists”, “invents”, “journeys”)
- Use the final set of blanks to define what kind of ending you want. Will it be a happy ending? Will it be bittersweet? Will your character achieve their desire or lose it? Will they learn something or not?
- Paint the big picture first (e.g. A “dissatisfied woman”, who “uncovers something about a rival”, then “uses that knowledge to get what she wants”, or “discovers she has everything she needs, all ready”)
- Now add some details and desires. Think about what would be fun/exciting/engaging for you to write about (e.g. “An ambitious mommy-blogger”, who “finds out her biggest rival has been lying on her blog”, then “uses that knowledge to ruin her rival and make her own blog successful”, or “realizes how shallow her ambitions had been and decides to refocus”)
- Next, add even more detail, with desires, needs, colorful details. You don’t have to fill in any details of *how* the resolution comes about, just the overall thrust of it.
- Don’t worry that your story will be formulaic. The originality comes in the details you choose, the characters you create and the situations you dream up for them. You and I could both use my mommy-blogger idea and I guarantee you our stories would be wildly different.
- Try writing different options for each of the sets of blanks. If you don’t love your first ending option, try something different. If your character’s adjective makes her unappealing to you, try a different one.
- Going through this exercise helps keep your story on track. If you know, at the start, how you want the story to end (even if you don’t know the details of how you’ll make that happen), it limits your choices, and lets you choose between three or four sets of action for your character. Knowing whether you want it to be a happy ending or a bitter one, makes it much easier to decide on the types of choices you make (N. B. Neither is inherently better. It all depends on what you enjoy reading/writing and what kind of audience you want to attract).
- Don’t be afraid of this, if you’re a ‘pantser’. This is not a restrictive outline that will constrain your creativity. Rather, it is a set of guideposts that will get you where you want to be (i.e. at the end of a satisfying story).
If you’re intrigued by this, sign up to find out when I release a new mini-course that will take you through this exact process — with examples and resources to help. (Get the StoryADay Creativity Bundle for free, as soon as you sign up.)
Today I wrap up the story structure series with a bang.
Write a Hansel & Gretel Structured Story
- The Life-Changing Moment in this story structure, comes at the start.
- The Life-Changing Moment may have happened ‘off-stage’ before the story starts (imagine the story of Hansel and Gretel where the kids are already alone in the woods. That would work, right?)
- Remember to focus on what your character would never, ever choose to do, and how the circumstances are forcing them to face that (for example, Hansel and Gretel would never disobey/mistrust the adults in their life, but life is giving them a pretty clear directive to do just that).
- This story starts with a big moment, and then throw complications at your character. Once you’ve told us enough about the character for us to figure out how they’re going to survive, you can end the story.
- If you’d like to read more about this story structure, check out this post.
Don’t forget to post in the community or leave a comment to tell us how you got on today.
Today we continue looking at story structure: this time, with what I call the Ugly Duckling Structure.
Watch the video and write an Ugly Duckling story
The ‘life-changing moment’ comes in the middle of this story
Balance out every challenge from before that moment, with a similar, but different moment afterwards. Show us how the character (or their circumstances) have changed now.
This story might have to be longer than a Cinderella-type story. Sketch it out, if you don’t have time to do it justice today.
Read this post, which talks more about the Ugly Duckling structure.
Don’t forget to leave a comment or post in the community and tell us how you’re getting on. What have you learned this month, so far?
Today we’re looking at the third of my ‘Life Changing Moment’ writing prompts (find the first one here, the second one here)
tell a story using the Hansel & Gretel story structure
This story structure is very different from the last two. The life-changing moment happens BOOM right up front.
Two kids, alone in the woods, abandoned by their parents.
This time, things start big and get bigger and bigger until they reach the crunch and something snaps.
Every time the characters take two steps forward they take three steps back. Each time you give the reader a little hope and then take it away:
- They leave breadcrumbs, but animals eat them;
- They find a candy house! But a witch lives in it;
- At least they have somewhere to stay…But the witch wants to cook them and eat them.
In this case the characters’ deepest desire is safety. And tellingly the story ends when Gretel kicks the witch into the oven, rescues her brother, and they walk out of the house.
The storyteller doesn’t waste any time telling us what they do next: we don’t know if they’re going to go home. We don’t know if they’re going to be reconciled with her family or seek revenge. What we do know is that these kids are going to be okay. After all their failures after all their setbacks they summoned up their courage to overcome their circumstances. That’s when the story is over.
- Again, choose a character. Gives them a desire or need, and then put obstacles in their way.
- If you’re getting stuck for ideas at this point, take one of your previous stories (it could be the one from yesterday or the day before) and tell the story again with this new story structure.
- Start with a bang. Do the worst thing you can think of to your character and let them dig themselves out of trouble. But don’t make it too easy. Let them try and fail, and try and fail, until you and they are running out of ideas.
- When I say, “make life difficult for your characters”, you don’t have to write a depressing story. In my chocolate cake story from the other day I could start that story on the day the government outlaws chocolate cake. I can have a lot of fun getting my character try to find ways around the rules ways to obtain cake until finally she realizes what she has to do is get elected. Or I could start the story at her first stump speech and explain the reasons as she campaigns. There are many opportunities to use this story structure with different genres, tones, moods, problems, characters, etc.
- Dig deep, as you think of complications to throw at your characters. Be outrageous, if you want to. Remember, this is StoryADay. This is a safe space. No one is going to grade your story. If it’s a good story, great, you can revise it and publish it and become rich and famous. If it’s a terrible story, you will still learn something from writing it.
Leave a comment to tell me which story structure you enjoyed writing the most.
Continuing our look at story structure, today I have a structure based on the story of the ugly duckling.
Write a story based on the Ugly Duckling structure
The story of the ugly duckling is one when you probably know fairly well: Continue reading “The Ugly Duckling Story Structure”
Write a story with a Cinderella story structure: try, fail, try, fail, try, fail, life-changing moment.
We’re starting our week of Story Elements prompts with a deep dive into story structure.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
Write A Story With a “Cinderella Story Structure
The Life-Changing Moment
I come to believe that short stories revolve around one life changing moment.
It doesn’t have to be literally life-changing, but it has to change something for the characters (temporarily or permanently).
If you’re writing quiet internal literary fiction, the moment is going to be something small, like realizing you can’t go on in this relationship, or this job.
If the story is a big action thriller then the life-changing moment could be anything from the moment you decide you need to take action, to the moment when you win or lose.
A Cinderella Story Structure
In the story of Cinderella our heroine wants to find happiness. She tries and fails and tries and fails. A lot.
- She tries to find it by being nice to her sisters and stepmother, but they just treat her terribly.
- She tries to find it by going to the ball, but she’s not allowed to go.
- She tries to find it from her fairy godmother. This one almost works, but there are time limits and she fails. When the love-struck prince can’t find her, all is lost.
Eventually, the life-changing moment comes at the end of the story when the prince finds her and Cinderella gets to choose her happy ending.
(In most versions she says yes and marries the prince; in every version, this choice is the first time Cinders has had any power. This is when her life changes.
So, this is where the story ends because the character’s story arc is over: She has her chance to reach her goal, at long last.
How To Write A Cinderella Story
Write a story with a Cinderella story structure: try, fail, try, fail, try, fail, life-changing moment.
- Let you character want something. In Cinderella’s case she wants happiness. Your character might want anything from fulfillment to a piece of chocolate cake!
- Start the story with the character in a place where they don’t have the thing they want.
- Let us see the character trying to achieve their goal once, twice, three times.
- The first failure can be pretty small. (She drops a perfect piece of chocolate cake on the floor.) The second failure should be a little more discouraging. (She goes to the shop and discovers they’re out of cake.) The third failure should seem insurmountable.(The government bans chocolate cake!)
- These failures have taught the character how much they want their goal and that the only way to achieve it is through using their unique talents. Now the climax is on. (In my story, for example, my witty and feisty heroine decides to run a political campaign and get elected to office in order to strike down this terrible anti-chocolate cake legislation. Your story could be more serious.)
- The story ends when the character realizes what needs to be done and makes the decision to pursue it or to walk away. In a short story you don’t have to show was the rest of the events. The arc, the journey, for the character is over at the moment when they see the path to pursuing their goal.
- Of course this is not the case in every story structure but in this story structure, the Cinderella story structure, the character’s journey — and the story — ends here.