Parts of a story Storytelling guide

Parts of a story: the essential elements

It’s difficult to understand the essential parts of a story because it’s also difficult to explain them.

The novice storyteller is in search of a simple explanation, which is exactly what they tend to find. Operating with this simple understanding also tends to lead to simple stories. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with a simple story, but the author often intends to tell something more complex.

1. Why Understanding Story Parts Can Feel Like Climbing Mount Everest

We’ve all been there. You sit down, eager to pen the next great tale, but there’s a snag. How do you construct it? Understanding the essential parts of a story sometimes feels like decoding an ancient scroll. It’s not just that the concept is tricky—it’s that explaining it can be even trickier.

For anyone just starting out, it’s tempting to grab the simplest explanation and run with it. But if you’ve ever read a book or watched a show and thought, “I bet there’s more to storytelling than just this,” you’re on the right track.

2. The Quest for Story Structure: Moving Beyond the “Beginning, Middle, End”

Once upon a time, a newbie writer was told stories have a beginning, middle, and end. And while that’s not wrong, it’s kind of like saying a pizza only has dough, sauce, and toppings. What about the cheese? The special seasonings? The perfect bake?

When you only think of stories in this way, you might miss out on some tasty layers. It can leave you with a basic sequence of events—like bullet points on a to-do list—instead of a thrilling roller coaster of emotions.

3. The Essential Triad: Conflict, Climax, and Resolution

3.1. Conflict: The Spark That Lights the Fire

Every tale, whether whispered around a campfire or showcased on the big screen, begins with a challenge or a puzzle. This is the conflict, the initial spark that sets the entire story into motion. It’s the question that needs answering, the problem that needs solving, or the threat that needs confronting.

For instance, in the age-old story of “The Three Little Pigs,” the conflict emerges right from the outset. The wolf, with his menacing intentions, decides that the three pigs would make a delicious meal. This immediate threat pushes the narrative forward, making readers eager to discover the pigs’ fate. Similarly, in the groundbreaking film “The Matrix,” the conflict is more cerebral. Neo is presented with a mind-bending revelation: the world he knows is merely a computer simulation. This profound conflict drives him, and the audience, on a journey of discovery and rebellion.

3.2. Climax: The Thunderstorm Before the Calm

As the narrative unfolds, tensions escalate, challenges become more daunting, and everything leads to a pivotal moment: the climax. This is where the story reaches its emotional and action-packed zenith. It’s the turning point, where characters are pushed to their limits, and the outcome remains uncertain.

In the realm of comic books, “Infinity War” offers a climax that resonates with readers worldwide. The moment Thanos achieves his goal, snapping his fingers to alter the universe, is a climax filled with dread and suspense. On a lighter note, the animated world of “Finding Nemo” presents its climax in a different shade. The harrowing journey of Marlin and Dory through a treacherous jellyfish forest underscores their unwavering commitment to finding Nemo, making audiences root for their success.

3.3 Resolution: The Dawn After Dark

After the whirlwind of events and the emotional rollercoaster of the climax, every story seeks a resting point, a conclusion. This is the resolution, where the dust settles, and characters find closure, peace, or a new beginning.

Take the enchanting tale of “Cinderella” as an example. After the magical night at the ball, the frantic search for the glass slipper’s owner, and the wicked stepmother’s schemes, the resolution is a heartwarming scene. Cinderella finds her happily-ever-after with the prince, providing readers with a satisfying end to her trials. In a more contemporary setting, the TV show “Friends” often finds its resolution in the cozy confines of Central Perk. After the episode’s comedic chaos, the group’s banter over coffee offers a moment of reflection, camaraderie, and a glimpse into the everyday joys and challenges of their intertwined lives.

4. The Scalability of Conflict, Climax, and Resolution

The beauty of the conflict, climax, and resolution model lies in its scalability. Just like a full-length story, every scene or sequence within it can, and often does, have its own set of conflicts, climaxes, and resolutions. Let’s delve deeper into this concept using an episode from the beloved TV show “The Simpsons.”

Imagine an episode where Homer Simpson loses his job—this serves as the overarching conflict of the episode. The climax could be a comedic, wild scheme Homer concocts to regain his employment, and the resolution might be Homer getting his job back or finding a new one.

Now, within this episode, other smaller narratives unfold—Bart getting into mischief at school, Lisa’s struggles with a saxophone recital, and Marge dealing with a home crisis. Each of these sub-narratives also follows the conflict, climax, and resolution structure, making the episode a complex, layered narrative full of humor and heart.

So, whether you’re crafting a novel, a screenplay, or a short story, remember that each chapter, scene, or sequence can have its own mini-narratives, enriching the overall storytelling experience.

5. The Magic Recipe for Crafting Tales

Understanding the deep structure of stories, from novels to fairy tales to TV episodes, is like getting a sneak peek into a magician’s bag of tricks. By moving beyond just a basic list of events and embracing conflict, climax, and resolution, you’re not just retelling what happens—you’re painting vivid pictures, evoking emotions, and taking your reader or viewer on a memorable journey.

So, the next time you settle in for a night of Netflix or crack open a book, try spotting these elements. And who knows? With these tools in your toolkit, your next story might just be the next big thing.

A Little Nudge

Keep playing with these elements. Try reshuffling them, blending them, and adding your own twist. Every master was once a beginner, and your storytelling journey is just starting. Remember, it’s not about how many times you stumble, but how many times you get back up and try again. Happy writing!

Share your thoughts

I study narrative in my free time. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Let me know if you think this makes sense, where it doesn’t, or what you would suggest instead.