Telling Compelling Stories 1: Starting with Structure

What makes a film a masterpiece? What makes it resonate with the audience? Most importantly, what makes it tell a story? 


Imagination Station is constantly inundated with beautiful constructions, but our favourites are always those with an elaborate story behind their creation. Storytelling is probably the oldest form of art, being used throughout time to convey history, morality, and even science. It’s not as easy as it looks though, and as many parents and teachers will tell you, a good game is a short game. So over a short series of blog posts, we’re going to suggest a few easy tips to create concise, simple stories that are easy to develop in any medium you choose. 

The best stories have a few simple elements: a simple structure, relatable characters, an engaging purpose. We’re going to dive into all of these aspects, starting today with a couple of ways you can create a satisfying structure for a story.

"A story told without an ending is not a story at all, just a long series of events."


The structure might be the last thing you think of when writing a story, but actually it’s more important than the story itself. A story told without an ending is not a story at all, just a long series of events. The structure of a story is what gives those events a chance to rustle our emotions, and as we’ll see in later blogs, emotion is what makes a story stick with us!


A really simple starting point for any story is the ‘And, But, Therefore’ structure.
And, but, therefore is a structure that is widely used in the science communication field, but we think it works just as well for mastering a good structure when you’re telling any kind of story. ABT was developed by Professor Randy Olson, and focuses on simplifying a story to it’s most critical ingredients.


And… 

This is the opening of your story, where you set the scene and introduce characters. You can have a few ‘ands’ while you establish ideas like location, characters, attitudes, etc. 


For example, the ideas you might be trying to show in this section are:

“Stan is a LEGO man AND he lives at Imagination Station. Stan has been at Imagination Station for a long time AND there is no one else there.” Imagination Station is big, AND Stan feels lonely, even though there is lots to do. 



But...

The next section of your story is where something changes or a problem arises. The outcomes of this change should be uncertain, it’s a new situation that the character must overcome or process.

The ideas in this part of the story might be:

“Stan normally goes to bed early after a long day of doing activities on his own, BUT one night he hears rustling in the LEGO Technic pit!”



Therefore...

The last section is the resolution of the problem. You want to explain the choices the character makes, as well as what the character learns. It’s important to have a clear idea of what the ending will be before you start producing your film or even writing a script! 

The ideas you show in this part of the story could be something like:

“Stan feels scared, and a bit excited, THEREFORE he tiptoes over to the Technics pit. There is a little movement in the pit, THEREFORE Stan picks up a nearby 1x4 brick. It gets very quiet, THEREFORE Stan calls out “Who’s there?”. All of a sudden, Pat the LEGO cat emerges from the LEGO pile - THEREFORE Stan can make a new friend. The two of them do everything together, THEREFORE Stan the man and Pat the cat are not lonely anymore.”



The Story Spine 

Another super simple story structure is called ‘the Story Spine’ by Ken Adams, a professional playwright and improviser.

It looks like this:

Once upon a time there was ... a LEGO man called Stan, living alone at Imagination Station.

Every day, ... Stan did lots of cool activities all by himself. 

One day ... there was a rustling in the Technic pit.

Because of that, ... Stan discovered Pat the Cat.

Until finally … Stan was not lonely anymore.


The details of the middle of your story are not as important as knowing how your story will end—does the character return home or go somewhere new? Defeat the monster or befriend it? The ending is what will make your story memorable, so make sure you write it before getting bogged down by detail.

Have a go at breaking down some stories you know well into one of these simple structures. What is the ‘And, But, Therefore’ of Cinderella? Pinnochio? The LEGO Batman Movie? 


Once you have had a go at those stories, write your own! 


Storytelling Skills 2: "Creating Character" will be coming up next, so keep an eye on our blog page!


For more information about our Storytelling and Movie-making classes and our downloadable movie-making worksheets, check out the ‘Learn at Home’ section of our website here.