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Hollywood story coach reveals essential elements of great storytelling, part 2

Every great story has 10 essential elements, says story coach Michael Hauge. In yesterday’s post, I revealed the first five. To recap, a great story must have:

  • A hero with a goal who will carry the story forward.
  • A setup that shows his life before everything changed.
  • Scenes that create empathy with the reader.
  • An event or opportunity that pushes the story forward and creates a desire to change the status quo, and
  • A new situation that pushes the hero to solve an immediate problem. In the midst of this problem, a new element must emerge:

6. Outer motivation – a visible goal or finish line that the hero wants to accomplish by the end of the story. This goal must be within the hero’s power to accomplish. As a story coach, Hauge focuses on this element. This is a fundamental element to know in order to answer the question, “What is your story about?” In the movie, Gravity, the heroine’s goal was, “I want to get home.” This outer motivation should be easily expressed in a single sentence. The clearer you can be about the visible goal of the hero, the better. The movie, Lincoln was built on one clear goal: End slavery. This goal must drive the story line all the way to the climax.

Along the way, the next element will come into play:

7. Growing Conflict. A great story reveals steadily increasing obstacles for the hero to overcome. To elicit emotion, you must amplify conflict. Whatever goal the hero wants to accomplish, you must convince the reader it’s impossible and then find a way to achieve it. Along with the visible conflict, you’ll want to create an invisible journey for the heroine: inner conflict.

8. Climax. At this point of the story, you must resolve the hero’s visible goals. Some things can be left up in the air. The climax is the moment the hero faces his biggest obstacle, wins or loses. But it’s not the end of the story.

9. Transformation. Character transformation is necessary to achieve outer motivation. How will your hero change to accomplish this transformation? In a character arc, this transformation is the point when the heroine goes from living in fear to living courageously. This element reveals the story’s theme and reveals universal meaning, which increases emotion and story depth. This inner journey marks a change in what the hero has the courage to do at the end of the story that he couldn’t do at the beginning.It’s the “after picture.” The visible goal can only be achieved if the character can overcome the state of being “stuck.”

10. Aftermath. The final element shows the heroine living her new life after completing her journey. She is living her own truth.

Knowing and applying these essential elements to your story will not only make it great, but give you a framework to pitch it to editors and agents. These 10 elements, are the key points agents want to know.

For more resources about storytelling, visit Michael Hauge’s website, StoryMastery.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. I like that this highlights the point about transformation. Before I started writing I didn’t recognise that this was part of any good book. Now it’s one of the first things I look for when writing a story, or when trying to work out why something I’ve read wasn’t satisfying. It’s almost the starting place for good story.

    February 27, 2014
    • Great idea to think about transformation up front. Transformation is such a huge part of the human experience, whether we go through bad times or good times. Now when I analyze movies, I watch to see how the character changed by the end of the movie.

      March 3, 2014

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