When we think of a story, we think of books read at bedtime, of damsels in distress being rescued by princes. Stories are a chain of events that ends with either our satisfaction or discontent, and to accurately define a story, we must recognize each of its elements, in order to correctly identify when we are in the presence of a true story.
A story’s 5 pieces:
1. Characters – who is leading/direction our perspective
2. Villain – who/what is working against the character, with the intent to make them fail
3. Plot – what is going on in the story, what is the character’s goal/aim
4. Setting – when or where is the story set
5. Background – why does the character believe or feel this way.
Notice my wording: who, when, where, what, why. A story must answer all these questions in order to properly identify itself as a story. If you’re having trouble comprehending the concept, think of it like a video game. I’ll lead with one of my favorite story-focused games: Alan Wake. (Warning: There will be spoilers.)
1. Who does the story follow?
The player controls Alan Wake, a thriller novelist.
4. Where/when is he?
He is in Bright Falls, Washington. Since this story incorporates cell phones, computers, flashlights, we can assume that is around the same time period as players.
5. Why is he here?
Alan is in the midst of writer’s block and is following the advice of his wife and agent in hopes to break it.
3. What is going on?
His wife disappears almost as soon as they arrive, and he is determined to find her.
2. Who/what is working against him?
There is a dark entity at the bottom of a lake that can bring fiction to life, which is using Alan’s story and fictional characters to help it escape.
By answering these five questions, we have successfully identified Alan’s story. We know his past, his future, and the current conflict that is preventing him from reaching it. This doesn’t make a story amazing but will satisfy the criteria that makes a story, a story. Use these elements as criteria to check your writing. If something is missing, it can make a story less realistic and harder for the reader to identify with. After all, stories are only our imaginations of life, and these same pieces is what makes up each of our individual stories.