As mentioned, I’m attending a three-evening course on storytelling taught by Adam Lebor, a published author and journalist.
The first session examined creativity – and in particular, the key elements of a good story.
The session kicked off with us reading excerpts from our favourite books to get a feeling for different writing styles, as well as what draws us to particular tales. These excerpts were then used as a launching pad to discuss story structure.
THE BASIC FRAMEWORK OF A STORY
Adam Lebor has a tidy, memorable formula: COCR.
You may think I (almost) typed a rude word — in which case, go to the corner of your room and have a quiet giggle.
Immaturity aside, it stands for Conflict, Obstacle, Climax, Resolution.
These four elements are the key to narrative drive; they make your story compelling, addictive, and just generally awesome. If you are struggling with your WIP and the story seems flat, it could be missing one of these elements.
Let’s start with conflict.
In order to have conflict, you need a protagonist and an antagonist.
In my novel Above Ground, the protagonist is clearly Lilith. The antagonist, however, is not a particular individual but society at large: the hatred and separation between humans and those living above ground is the source of tension in the story.
So what’s Lilith’s obstacle?
What does Lilith want or need — and what’s stopping her from getting it?
Lilith wants to get home alive, and the dangers she faces are the obstacles preventing her from returning safely. As she surpasses each obstacle, a bigger one shows up, driving the story forward.
Here comes the climax!
At the climax, all the events in the story come to a head. It’s the turning point in the story, and often a key moment in the character arc. (More about character arcs next time.)
If you’re anything like me, the climax is one of your favourite bits to write.
In Above Ground, the climax is when Lilith is offered the chance to go home whilst having to confront who she really is. The self-realisation puts her main objective of getting home into question — and she has to decide where her priorities lie.
On to the resolution…
How does the story end? How does the protagonist overcome the obstacles and where does he/she go next?
In Above Ground, Lilith reaches her new home. It is not the home she was aiming for at the beginning of the novel, but it’s a home that suits the person she has become.
Conflict. Obstacle. Climax. Resolution.
A simple yet effective framework to get the creative juices flowing.
The next session of Adam Lebor’s storytelling course will look at clarity, focusing on character development of both protagonists and antagonists. I’ll let you know how I get on.
In the meantime, what’s the COCR in your story?