People love to hear stories. They love to read stories. They love to watch stories unfold on the big screen in multiplex.
So if you want to engage readers in your made up universe you need to revisit the very basics of your storytelling.
That means getting back to story. Because if you’re not telling a story, you’re just typing words.
So what happens in your story?
Are you just writing a bunch of words for the love of it or does something actually happen? Something that has real consequences for your characters?
2 people sitting down having a cup of coffee and shooting the breeze is not going to make for a great dramatic read, unless one character has a gun under the table.
To write effective drama you need a credible protagonist and antagonist. Your main character needs to be on a journey, and there needs to be someone that stands in the way of that journey.
I was reminded of this anew while re-reading Lisa Dethridges deft summary of Christopher Vogler’s 12 key steps to character, action and story.
These myths resonate throughout literature and story telling. I wanted to share them with you.
The 12 steps of storytelling are:
1 – Ordinary World.
Most dramatic stories are a spin on the classic fish out of water tale. Something happens which takes your hero out of his ordinary world. It’s your job to first set up that ordinary world before an unforeseen event happens that hurls your protagonist out of their comfortable surroundings.
2 – Call to Adventure
This is where the problem is presented to your heroine. She can no longer stay in her comfortable world. The stakes are high. The goal is set. The challenge established.
3 – Refusal
Our hero is reluctant. They know what must be done but don’t want to leave their comfortable world. A friend or mentor steps in to set them on their path. Fear is the driving emotion of the refusal. It could be just fear of change, or consequences.
4 – Mentor
The mentor may not be immediately recognizable, but establishes a special bond with our hero. The mentor will persuade the hero why they must undertake the journey.
5 – Threshold
Overcoming her fear and initial objections, your heroine commits to the journey. There is no going back now. She has stepped over the threshold and nothing will be the same again.
6 – Tests, Allies & Enemies
By crossing the threshold, your protagonist has entered a new world with new rules she must learn to survive. She’ll encounter new friends and enemies while coming to grips with her surroundings. Tests will reveal her true character.
7- Inner Sanctum
Our hero finds himself in the most dangerous place in this new unknown world where the object of his journey is hidden. Our hero now must cross the second threshold. The hero now must confront death or incredible danger and seize her prize.
8 – Ordeal
Will our hero live or die? This is a crucial part, because the hero must ‘die’ to be ‘reborn’. Every drama must have a life or death moment. The stakes must be high to keep readers turning your pages.
9 – Reward
Our heroine has survived death, and taken the reward (physical or knowledge) she has searched so long for. There may also be love to sweeten the reward.
10 – Return
Our hero now has to return to the ordinary world. How has their ordeal changed them? They won’t get a clean run though, as some final trial or test will stand in the way of their homecoming.
11 – Resurrection
Our heroine isn’t home yet. There will be one final confrontation before returning to her safe, ordinary world. This may be a life and death struggle. A true final test of the new knowledge she has gained from her journey.
Our hero finally returns home, changed forever by the special knowledge she has gained on the journey. She has emerged the victor.
So how does your story fit with this blueprint?
Think of the stories that follow this basic map. Many of the plays of Shakespeare, Lord of The Rings are obvious candidates, but how about
To Kill a Mockingbird? The Green Mile, the Bourne Conspiracy, Breaking Bad, the Matrix are just a few that come to mind. Of course, Star Wars is a classic example.
Think about it and you’ll begin to see the blueprint everywhere. That’s because the blueprint has evolved over thousands of years of storytelling. It keeps being used, because it works. Try it yourself.