Ten Story Elements
Personal stories are usually thought of as a single, stand-alone entity. But deconstructing the narrative can provide insights as to how your story can become far more impactful. Word choice leads to sentence structure, with each paragraph encapsulating a moment in time.
Your characters experience both an inner world, as well as interact with the world around them. Good stories will take your listeners on the same journey that provided the wisdom you’re sharing with them.
Keeping these ten story elements in mind throughout the process will help you to uncover the most impactful version of a personal story.
1Words are the basic building blocks of any narrative, but we often fall short when it comes to our word choice.
We use the first word that comes to mind, or write to impress. Be intentional with every word. Does it convey the meaning that you intended? Avoid tired cliches and overused phrases. Rewrite using words that truly represent your authentic voice.
2Sentences should deliver a unique thought, idea, event, or emotion. They can also provide scenic, visual descriptions.
When writing a speech, keep sentences shorter than when you write for the purpose of someone reading. When reading we can vary our pace or re-read a sentence. Audiences don’t have that luxury, they have one chance to understand your words.
3Paragraphs serve an important purpose on the page by visually separating topics and helping with narrative pace.
Although paragraphs have a way of disappearing on the stage, their importance remains during the development of your talk. The final period can signify when a pause is called for, and the memorization step benefits from short, concise paragraphs.
4Manuscripts contain your entire story, and to be effective, each story block must be relevant and in the proper order.
Reading your manuscript from start to finish will highlight any rough spots and inconsistencies, as well as flawed transitions. Record yourself, read to friends and have an editor look it over. Does the story represent a journey to the point you’re making?
5Characters, at a minimum, include you, but most stories include people that you have met, or have influenced you.
Characters carry the narrative forward and humanize a story. When believable an audience will connect to them, feeling their emotions and often putting themselves in their shoes. Think about how an audience will react to each of your characters.
6Thoughts illustrate what your characters are thinking and feeling during each stage of the story’s narrative journey.
They represent an internal story, separate from those actions and events which occur externally. They’re reflective moments within a talk that will allow the audience see how your story is unfolding behind the scenes as it develops from the inside.
7Emotions express how people are feeling at a point in time, either during an action taking place, or during reflection.
When you’re the character in question, exactly how you felt is known. When expressing the feelings of another you must do so in a way that convinces your audience. Do you know how they felt? Did they tell you, or were their feelings made public?
8Actions can be as subtle as a thought, or a conversation, but most often they’ll involve movements and interactions.
Physical movement of any type – people, machines or nature – brings an energy to the story and moves the narrative forward. Actions between people can be physical, but may also be in the form of dialogue. In either case, there is an emotional context.
9Reactions always occur as a result of actions, and they can be physical, mental, verbal or emotional in nature.
How do your characters react to actions around them? Do they confront or do they retreat, agree or disagree, stay the course or change direction? In a compelling story the audience wants to know ‘what’s next’, that’s an interplay of action and reaction.
10Locations take your narrative to physical places, which may be as large as a country, or as small as a room.
These places can be remote, such as under an ocean, onboard a spaceship, or within a distant galaxy. An audience may be familiar with the place, in which case you can tap into their memory, but if not, your description must be believable.
Refer to these ten story elements throughout the outlining, writing, and editing process. The progression from words to sentences and paragraphs must be intentional and concise. No filler, no fluff, no misdirection. And you want the audience to be on the journey with you, feeling what you feel, seeing what you see. They will draw their own conclusions from the events that you reveal, but if you have laid out the facts and your viewpoints properly, they will understand what you came to share.