Hello, my name is Mark and welcome to my new series on writing for creatives.
I have been writing since I was a child. When my first teacher gave me a pencil and a journal, I determined to write something people would read at the tender age of 6-years old!
I have not stopped. I created Dungeons and Dragons worlds, crazy characters, and I kept writing novels and stories. I do not know how to stop!
Maybe there is a “Creatives Anonymous” group because I can not control this!
I am the creator of Tales from Trinity City and the author of Webtastic Stories, Fear and Loathing on the Internet, coming out in March 2022.
I wanted to create a series to share everything I have learned about storytelling as a practising author and game designer, and I hope this series inspires you!
Storytelling is easy to pick up but hard to master. It is easy to grasp – ask anyone who loves TV shows like Lucifer or loved Sam Rami’s SpiderMan or Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2. When we see good storytelling, we fall in love with the character, the story and the messages.
And we know when a story stinks, like the ending of the Mass Effect Trilogy. Or what about the lack of personal consequences during the end of Ghost of Thuhisma. Storytellers can mess up a story even at the end!
I hope my series will help you understand story theory. The more knowledge you have on story theory, the more you can practice your art with that knowledge and achieve expertise in storytelling.
The fundamentals of story theory are Themes, Character Arcs and Story Beats.
Themes are the lessons and questions we attempt to answer in a story. A theme is usually one topic, like good vs evil, or love, or loyalty vs independence. These topics lead to the question, like does love conquer all? Why is good stronger than evil? Should you be blindly loyal to someone toxic to your well being?
Red Dead Redemption 2 does a great job answering the last question with Arthur Morgan’s character Arc. At the start of the story, Arthur is fleeing with Dutch after the authorities in Blackwater drive the gang out. Instead of going out on his own, he follows Dutch!
But as you progress in the story, Arthur realizes how Dutch’s plans never go right. And it starts with agents of the Pinkerton Detective Agency finding Arthur and offering him amnesty if he gives up Dutch. After that scene, every time Arthur trust Dutch’s plans, it ends badly. In the final part of the story, Arthur learns he is dying from TB, which he caught after roughing up a man who owed the gang money. Arthur makes amends after realizing living for Dutch’s gang killed him.
Great storytelling, someone learns the errors of their ways, even if it is at the end of their lives, facing their mortality.
When we do not do the work to show the fundamentals of great stories, it only turns off our audience.
When you create a story that says, “The Patriarchy is evil and oppressive” and only have evil men, you will never convince people of anything. It is 2022, and everyone has heard this already. It is like everyone knows who Jesus is. Do something that shows the message in a non-biased way. Show good men like Rost and contrast him with Helis!
Character arcs that do not make logical sense hurt as well. Someone who forsakes all women because the only woman they dated rejected them after one date sounds stupid. There has to be more to this story than just one date.
The Ghost of Tsushima had this problem in the end. Jin faced non-existent personal consequences for living as the Ghost in the final act. With a thematic question, “will he choose the way of the Samurai or the Ghost” losing his horse for his personal decisions does not come close to the dark moment of the soul MCs must face at the end of the story!
And if the story arc makes no sense, like introducing an AI Godchild who controls the Reapers, your story will also smell. You have not hinted this could be a possibility before the series. People tend to get upset and go on your forums to tell you they do not like that kind of plot hole!
Storytelling is an art, and you need to practice to get good at it.
Knowing the elements is your first step – they help you define your story by giving you knowledge of different frameworks.
If you keep practising them for years and decades, you will gain the expertise that will help you tell great stories. Be brave enough to suck at something new, but keep working.
Themes, character arcs and story beat ensure you can tell the right story. The more you practice telling stories, the better you will get at it.
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog. I appreciate it. I hope I can inspire you to create the best stories.
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Have a great day, guys!