Let’s talk about the basic backbone of a story: Every good story—since the dawn of time—consists of several fundamental building blocks, which are fairly common across the spectrum of stories. I have always known this, albeit subconsciously, but I didn’t realize how simple every story’s core was until I read this great book (which I’m still in the process of reading) called, Take Off Your Pants! It’s a book on…you guessed it…writing. More specifically, it’s a book on how to properly outline and craft stories.
I wanted to spend a blog talking about one of the initial ideas in Take Off Your Pants! which the author calls the “Story Core.” The story core consists of five steps. Let’s go through them here, and talk about them in detail. Perhaps you will be as wowed as I was when I realized how simple the basis of every compelling story is.
The Story Core [excerpt from Take Off Your Pants!]:
Every compelling story has the following five elements:
The character wants something
But something prevents him from getting what he wants easily
So he struggles against that force
And either succeeds or fails
Take some time to think about these five points, and apply them to every good, memorable story you’ve ever read. On some fundamental level, all five of these things have been there in some form or another. When I realized how simple this basic recipe was, I immediately opened an excel spread sheet for my Dragonwall Series, and began evaluating my Story Core.
I started with Claire, my MC (If you haven’t read Talon the Black, that's okay, as I still explain each concept here). I applied each step of the Story Core to Claire to test myself and see how well my instincts drove me the first time I wrote this story.
The first part was easy; my character is Claire.
The second part, not quite as much. What does Claire want? For most of the story, Claire wants to fulfill her promise to Cyrus: deliver the Dragon Stones and important information to Dragonwall’s king.
The third aspect gets even more challenging. Something prevents Claire from getting what she wants easily, but what? Well, in this case, it’s not one thing specifically, rather, it is a number of things. At first, the King’s Shields (Jovari, Koldis, and Reyr) prevent Claire from getting what she wants by questioning her, doubting her, and giving her a hard time when she tells them she’s innocent. Then, Dragonwall steps in. Claire must journey across an entire kingdom to reach her goal. Finally, when she arrives at the capital, King Talon himself opposes her, preventing her from immediately revealing her promise.
For the fourth part of the Story Core, Claire struggles against all of these forces. Her struggles differ depending on the opposition she is presented with. The opposition from the king is what I consider to be the climax, when she’s forced to go on trial before an entire kingdom. In the end, for part five of the Story Core, Claire succeeds in fulfilling her promise to Cyrus.
I was quite excited when I reached the end of my Story Core study, excited that I had managed to conform to the Story Core without having known about it when initially writing Talon the Black. Fortunately for me, I’ve read enough stories in my lifetime that Claire’s story just flowed naturally. Now, I’ve got to go and look at all my other characters, and figure out their individual Story Cores.
One of the great things about TYOP is that this book uses various common stories as examples throughout. So you will go through this exercise several times with popular books like Harry Potter. It's an exercise in honing your skills as a storyteller.
Are you writing your own story? I invite you to think about the Story Core and apply it to your story. It will help you better understand your fundamental building blocks of the plot. Better yet, just read TYOP! Seriously. I wish someone would have introduced me to this book when I first started writing.