We're looking for powerful stories

…of deep personal meaning. The story only you can tell that fundamentally shaped your life, or left you with a profound or novel insight. 

Guidelines

Most stories follow this basic formula:

A Character leaves the Safe Place, to go out into the Scary Place, to find the Good Stuff, and then Returns home with the treasure.

Think about what each of those things relate to in your story. Who is the Character? Where is the Safe Place and Scary Place? What is the Good Stuff? What happens when they Return?

For example, if you’re a farmer whose crop has been stolen, the “safe place” could be staying on the farm, calling the cops and letting them solve the crime. The “scary place” could be going out on your own to look for clues, even though you know it could be dangerous. The “good stuff” is when you finally find your stolen crops… or maybe you discover that it was your long-lost son who stole it, just to get your attention, in which case the “good stuff” could be a new relationship. Then you “return” to the farm with the good stuff.

In a tragic story the character doesn’t bring back the good stuff. They bring back the Bad Stuff, or they don’t come back at all. In those cases, it’s the audience who receives the Good Stuff… they can learn from somebody else’s mistake (or bad luck). The Good Stuff now is wisdom and learning… or maybe we’re morbid people and sometimes we just enjoy the Bad Stuff.

Other characters in the story often play the roles of allies, enemies, and mentors. Each of these roles also carries meaning, and ultimately each one may be a reflection of your deeper consciousness, since we’re all made of the same material and are all variations on a sensory-subjective theme. Some monsters have to be defeated, while other ones can be turned into friends, but they’re all an image of what we might become. It’s good to identify what role each character plays in each scene.

Structure

There are endless structural elements that can help you build a strong narrative, but one of the most important ones is Value Changes. Most stories will have one major Value Change at the end, but the whole narrative will be built on the fluctuating fortunes of the character. Even at the smallest level, each word and sentence will either convey some Value Change, or hint at an upcoming one.

When you leave the Safe Place to enter the Scary Place, that’s a negative value change because you’re leaving behind safety to enter danger. But it’s also a positive change because you’re pursing the Good Stuff, and showing that you’re brave. But if you lose your compass and get lost, that’s a negative change. You find some wild strawberries… positive.

Stories usually use Rising Action, too. The first value change might be a big one to set the stage, but after that you’ll use smaller ones which build up to a climax.

As a final note, it’s probably smart to use Short Sentences. It’s easier to read long paragraphs than it is to listen to them. Some long, rambling sentences sound great and poetic. But for the most part you want something that’s easy for people to interpret so they can follow the story. For a sense of rhythm you can mix it up between smaller and longer sentences, but if your wording is too long the audience will have a hard time paying attention. Speak loud, speak clear, and keep the sentences short and concise.

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“The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” – Muriel Rukeyser.

“Nothing exists except atoms and empty space, everything else is opinion.” – Democritus