| A lost coin is found by means of a candle; the deepest truth is found by means of a simple story.
Anthony De Mello
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
Secret 1: There are only 7 stories
According to Christopher Booker in his definitive 2005 masterpiece, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, there are, rather unsurprisingly more than 6 and less than 8 basic plots. Booker identifies these,
- The Quest - setting out, overcoming obstacles, find something of meaning and value.
- Voyage and Return - travelling for a purpose, overcoming obstacles, returning changed.
- Rags to Riches - becoming rich/successful, loosing it all, gaining it back = older and wiser.
- Overcoming the Monster - defeating an evil and threatening adversary.
- Tragedy - hero with a flaw errs and brings about their own ruin.
- Comedy - complexity and confusion is resolved to everyone's satisfaction.
- Rebirth - key event forces character to change their ways for the better,
and argues that we always find one or more in most stories. Think Harry Potter or Star Wars plot lines and it'll all makes sense.
Secret 2: There are only 6 parts to a good story
Pixar, the incredibly successful computer animation film studio based in California, uses a special pitch to define all their movie plots. It goes like this:
- Once upon a time...
- Every day...
- One day...
- Because of that...
- Because of that...
- Until finally...
Once upon a time there was a single-parent fish called Nemo who lived with his father in an anemone. Every day they ventured timidly outside, haunted by the memory of an horrific family tragedy. One day, Nemo swam too far and was captured by a diver. Because of that he began an incredible journey on which he met new friends and had many adventures. Because of that he became more confident and determined until finally he returned home as a self-assured, assertive young fish.
Secret 3: Everyone is creative
There are two groups of people:
- Those who are creative
- Those who haven't yet realised they are in group 1.
Creativity = making something new that has value. It's more than Art, Dance or Music. Whenever you have a great conversation you've been creative; you've made an exchange of meaning (chat) that both people valued. Likewise if you get a new look or image for yourself, negotiate a solution to a problem, plan your day effectively or any number other other valuable things, then you've been creative.
Here are 2 barriers to being creative:
- The fear of getting it wrong (whatever wrong is).
- The risk of starting.
1. might take another article or two but 2. is easy. Use a Creative Matrix. It gets you going if the ideas aren't coming. Choose one thing from each column until you get a combination you like:
|A. Plot Type
||B. Main Character
||C. What gets the story going
||D. An object to include
||Sequilla, a warrior princess
||Death of a family member
||A weather wand
|Voyage & Return
||Grampule, an old and angry dwarf
||Invasion by the neighbouring country
|Rag to Riches
||Jamyle, a teenage firebrand
||Theft of a death necklace
||Jack, a talking wolf
||Tale told by a minstrel
|Overcoming the Monster
||Benita, a poor girl
||Birth of a dragon
For example, Tragedy, Sequilla - Warrior Princess, Theft of death necklace, Memory Pins.
Using the Pixar Pitch: Once upon a time there lived a devious warrior princess named Sequilla. Every day she committed small crimes that no-one ever discovered. One day she stole some curious pins that turned out to remove the memory of anyone from whom they drew blood. Because of that Sequilla committed riskier crimes by making sure to prick the fingers of her victims. Because of that, her confidence grew until finally she attempted to steal the Queen's necklace which strangled her the moment she slipped it on.
Do share these secrets with your young writers. You might even want to make a story to help: The Quest for The 3 Secrets of Storytelling.