The Power of Storytelling Part Two: The Basic Framework of a Story

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.

NEXT TIME

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?

Plotting vs Pantsing: Why stick to only one?

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

There are countless blog posts arguing the pros and cons, hundreds of authors who’ve staunchly declared for a side.

Why must it be one or the other?

I freely admit: I pantsed the first draft of Above Ground. I knew where I wanted the story to go, but each week when I sat to write the next chapter, a part of me didn’t know what would happen.

Yes, that’s how I ended up with a (pointless) scene where a werepenguin eats a cheese puff.

That first draft was a badly structured nightmare of inconsistencies and pointless scenes. I had to write an outline from scratch and perform drastic surgery that took as long as writing the draft in the first place. While doing so I vowed: never again.

I vowed that I would be Team Plotter, all the way.

But now that I’m busy hammering out the outline of a second novel, I’ve come to miss the liberty of pantsing. The looseness of spirit. The “I’ll worry about this not making sense later”.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m enjoying outlining. It has saved me from writing (and deleting) pointless scenes. It has made me think about world building, character motivation, and theme – all of which I often neglect.

But writing the outline first is a subtle kind of torture. The closer the outline gets to where I want it to be, the harder it is to resist the temptation to just go for it and write. The only thing holding me back is the knowledge that I haven’t quite figured out the story yet.

But what’s the point in picking sides?

We are writers; we challenge ourselves. We take utterly scary things like zombies and turn them into short stories!

Plotting? Pantsing? I refuse to fit one box, to pick one side.

While I’m plotting Novel #2, I’m going to start pantsing Novel #3, and who knows — maybe I’ll write Novel #4 backwards whilst asleep, hanging upside down from a eucalyptus tree.

What about you?