The Basics of Storytelling

We humans have passed along information through stories for centuries. Because of that, we all know how a story is supposed to go. Our mothers and fathers taught us when we were young. Now as adults, we expect that same structure. The story must have a beginning, middle, and an end. Fiction stories need to have a moral. There are many types of fiction stories:

  • Hero stories – larger than life character that saves someone or prevents a crisis.
  • Villain stories – larger than life character that causes the loss of life or a crisis.
  • Adventure stories – tell of a particular event with using a lot of drama.
  • Fool stories – larger than life character that does things wrong that create the loss of life or crisis.

People respond favorably to Villain Stories where someone is at fault and is punished or dies as a result of their deeds. People also respond positively to Hero Stories because they see themselves in that role, even if the hero flies or has some other superhuman ability. True-to-life elements or plausible storylines need to be told in stories so people can understand them.

To expand our knowledge let me introduce you to Joseph Campbell. He has often been called an American mythologist, writer, and lecturer. In 1949 he wrote an important book titled “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” He found a common structure to the myths that man developed over the centuries that he called “the monomyth.” This gives modern writers a blueprint of the stages that a story should take. One particular outline I like is the Hero’s Journey where Campbell describes a dozen stages for drama, storytelling, and myths. See if these stages sound familiar:

  1. The ordinary world
  2. The call to adventure
  3. Refusal of the call
  4. Meeting with the mentor
  5. Crossing the threshold
  6. Tests, allies, and enemies
  7. Approach
  8. The ordeal
  9. The reward
  10. The road back
  11. The resurrection
  12. Return with the Elixir

It sounds like some of your favorite movies don’t be surprised. You may be searching for a way to tell your story that an audience would respond to. You don’t have to invent anything new and unproven. Many have gone before us and have done some solid research. Take advantage of that research and learn from some of the masters. John Campbell is one of many, there are more on the World Wide Web.

About Fred Fanning Author

Fred Fanning spent over 20 years in the safety profession. His final safety position was as the Director of Occupational Safety and Health for the U.S. Department of Commerce. He began writing in 1994, published his first book in 1998, and began writing professionally in 2015. He has authored and coauthored articles, written books, and chapters for technical books and stories for anthologies.
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