The Four Elements of Storytelling

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This might arguably be the most important concept to get right about your writing. The four elements of storytelling are an absolute must. They are physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. Yes, P.I.E.S. Yum! How well a writer weaves together all four, is the difference between a great and terrible book.

Physical storytelling is the action and plot in your story. These are character descriptions, actions, story events, setting, conflict, resolution, and plot twists and turns. These are essential within every story.

But what is not physical storytelling? I am glad you asked. What is not physical storytelling is what a character is thinking, how they are feeling, goals, dreams, etcetera. I repeat, none of those are part of physical storytelling.

Intellectual storytelling is your characters analytical thoughts. These are character beliefs, understanding of the conflict, personal opinions about other characters (life, love, politics, etcetera), and of course your characters’ viewpoint. Pro tip here, ideally your characters viewpoints will conflict. Tension is everything in creative writing. Intellectual storytelling adds that element of tension because your characters will often have different thoughts and viewpoints, which clash until a resolution at the end. For more on creating characters see my post, Create Captivating Characters.

Related Post: W. Alexander’s Published Work

Things that are not intellectual storytelling is feelings, fears, what makes a character happy, and what they hope or dream for. Those are all wonderful things, and they have their place. But do not confuse them with intellectual storytelling. Everything has its place. Again, we will talk weaving at the end.

Emotional storytelling. Every writer has a particular strength, and this is my wheelhouse. I love revealing my character’s emotions. But what is emotional storytelling? Again, I am glad you asked. Emotional storytelling is your characters’ inner most feelings, dreams, hopes, how they react emotionally, how a character feels about an event in the story, and how your character will feel about other characters. Through your character’s emotions, your story will make the readers feel something. This is where you will find the pulse in my art. I get hot just writing about it. If you do this right, you can change a reader’s life.

Things that are not emotional storytelling are plot, actions, details of conflict and resolution, any ramifications of the conflict, or what what your character believes about anything. Keep in mind, you already know how to write all of this, it is intuitive. But being able to understand the difference, will allow you authority over your prose. As in, your characters will never run away from you and do their own thing. Which sadly happens all too often.

The Day god Died: Chapters I & II

“…I hated him and his kind. I hated his affluence, his expensive clothes, his chiseled looks, and the arrogance he was born too. But most of all, I hated the power he held over me, his assumption of authority, and the truth of his superiority.”

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Spiritual storytelling. I am going to pause here for a second. Many of you might say, how is spiritual not part of intellectual? And I would say, great question. The reason spiritual storytelling has its own place is because every character has a spiritual nature. Now that can mean your character is religious or not religious, but either view is a spiritual viewpoint. Atheist have a spiritual relationship, in that they deny one exists. Muslims have a spiritual relationship, in that they believe their choices have tangible consequences, and etcetera. Spiritual storytelling is simply your characters’ belief system or lack of one. Either perspective is a willful decision by your character. Good characters are human; they are walking contradictions.

Things that are elements of spiritual storytelling is a characters’ belief system (or lack of ), a possible spiritual backstory, and any internally or publicly spoken prayers. If you are writing religious fiction, or from a religious point-of-view, things like a god’s response to your characters actions (usually written in italics), a spiritual conviction, and hints as to why a certain deity is pursuing your character or vice versa.

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Things that are not spiritual storytelling is plot, emotions, dialogue and action, etcetera.

When writing creative fiction or nonfiction, only spiritual storytelling is non-essential. You can still have a great story, leaving out anything of the fantastic (fantasy) or spiritual. But note, spirituality is a very human trait. Some might be religious-like observers of science (that would fall under spiritual). Spiritual storytelling is a great way to connect a character to the reader. But, again, this is the only element of storytelling, that is non-essential.

Weaving all four elements of storytelling is the mark of a good writer. Every page will, in every book, have all four elements together.

As you can see, I still have a ways to go with my craft. But I was brave, and wanted to share my prose with you. One reason, it incorporates all four elements of storytelling. Yes, it flows without you even noticing. And the one thing a writer wants more than anything, is for a general reader to never notice the writing. But writers do notice writing, and I hope you the writer can see the weave.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Especially, if you are a writer or want to be a writer. Please comment and share my blog. I love sharing the things I am learning at Liberty University. And now, more than ever, dealing with family grief, I am in need of some encouragement.

Revision, Learn to Love It

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Anyone can write. Few revise well. Revision is essential. It is much more than spell-check and grammar adjustments. Revision is ensuring the story you are telling is clear. Rarely is misinterpretation the mistake of a reader. The job of writers is to ensure readers do not do any heavy lifting. Any skewed reading, comes from bad writing. How does the writer ensure the message they are conveying is interpreted clearly? You guessed it; revision. No one sits down and writes a novel by the seat of their pants in one long first and final draft. If they do, the writing will be garbage, regardless of talent. I would not count on being the exception.

Related Post

The Day god Died: Chapters I & II

“…I hated him and his kind. I hated his affluence, his expensive clothes, his chiseled looks, and the arrogance he was born too. But most of all, I hated the power he held over me, his assumption of authority, and the truth of his superiority.”

Revision is where the real magic happens.

Starting over sucks. I dread it. All who write dread it. My stomach turns at the thought. But understand this, the rewards of revising will outweigh the pains. You will be shocked. Learn to enjoy the process. Here are some questions you can ask about your work:

  • Why should my reader turn the first page to the second? Does the first sentence, paragraph, page introduce tension? If not, red alarm.
  • Is there unnecessary summary? Cut. Cut. Cut! I too often have the impulse to cover too much ground. It destroys energy and I find, I tell more than show. This is a bad thing. The whole premise of writing prose, is to show not tell. A concept I will elaborate on with a later post.
  • Is it original? Stereotypes are lazy. A good writer will extract any cliches and make a point to show the exact and honest.
  • Is it clear? Ambiguity and mystery are one of the pleasures of literature. But there is a fine line between mystery and sloppiness. I love characters rich with contradictions. That is the human condition. But I often have to start off with a more simple reality. Then I can build out the imaginative. Have your character answer these: Where are we? When are we? Who are they? How do things look? What time of day or night is it? Weather? What is happening? On how to create captivating characters, check out: Create Captivating Characters
  • Is it self-conscious? Just tell the story. Your style will follow of itself. But you have to just tell the story. If you get carried away dressing your prose with all your wit and insight, there is a good chance you are having more fun writing that the reader will have reading. Good writing is easy reading! Just tell the story.
  • Where is it too long? In fiction, you want sharpness, economy, and vivid details in telling. With every sentence, say what you mean to say and get out. Hit it and quit it. Use the fewest possible words. What does this look like? My advice, read the poets. Trust me, the poets will teach you everything.
  • Are there too many scenes? Try and tell your story with the fewest possible scenes. It is tempting to give each turn of plot or change of setting a new scene when fusing several together would proffer better effect.
  • Where is it too general? Look for general and vague terms. Write instead a particular thing, an exact size and degree. In fact, my short tip, cut the words very and really out of your work entirely. You are welcome!

“If you haven’t surprised yourself, you haven’t written”

Eudora Welty

Revision, revision, revision. Originality, economy, and clarity all come from thorough revision. These questions are just the start and short of taking a creative writing class, they will serve you well.

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I’m starting 2022 intending to grow. Help me grow as an artist and influencer and follow.

Remember in fiction, the goal is to show characters doing things. Never tell what you mean. I promise if the prose is clear and concise, the reader will not misinterpret. You write for the reader. If you forget that, you have lost your way.

My goal here is to share what I am learning with others. I would love for you to follow my blog and join my journey. I also wanted to ask you something. I am thinking of creating a photography page on my blog. I love urban photography. Let me know if you think it would be a good idea or not?

Create Captivating Characters

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You are writing your novel, screenplay, short story, etcetera and need good characters. But how do you go about building characters? I will be blunt, there is no definitive answer. Building character is part of the magic in the creative process. But do not fret, there are four essential qualities that go into making great characters. In order to create good characters, you must dig deep. You are going to build the very foundation of their lives.

Here are the four essential qualities that go into making good believable characters:

  1. Your characters have a strong and defined dramatic need.
  2. Your characters have an individual point of view.
  3. They personify an attitude.
  4. Your characters go through a change or transformation.

Write that list down. Put it somewhere easily accessible to reference when needed.

What works for me is writing one-two page biographies. Start from their childhood to when the story begins. You can keep these bio’s as a reference when writing from that character’s point-of-view. Doing this will prevent your characters from doing as they please.

Related Post

The Day god Died: Chapters I & II

“…I hated him and his kind. I hated his affluence, his expensive clothes, his chiseled looks, and the arrogance he was born too. But most of all, I hated the power he held over me, his assumption of authority, and the truth of his superiority.”

Some “general” things you will want to write down:

  • Childhood relationship with parents and friends?
  • What was school like? Was he/she bullied, popular, a wall flower, etcetera…
  • What was high school like? College? What did he/she major in? Did his/her parents approve of their major?
  • How was his/her’s romantic life? Does he/she tend to have lots of sex, none, or somewhere in between? Does her parents/friends/society approve or disapprove of his/her love interests?
  • What does he/she like about themself; hate about themself?
  • Politics?
  • Rich or poor?
  • Does he/she like her job? Does her partner approve of his/her work, religion, etcetera…
  • Much, much, much more.

The goal here is to find tension.

Building character is part of the magic in the creative process

W. Alexander

This may sound strange, but the characters you create cannot be you. Sure, by all means insert your unique experiences into your writing, but your characters cannot be you. You are writing from another point of view, in someone else’s shoes. And don’t worry if you want to change things later. This exercise is to help you build deep, relatable, and believable characters. Whatever changes you make, write them down again.

Wherever in your character’s life the story begins, it is important they go through some kind of incident. A change or transformation. Like Harry Potter finding out he’s a wizard or Bilbo finding the ring. I will go deeper into incidents in a later post.

Remember, have fun creating characters. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Happy writing and good luck fellow authors.

I would love to have you follow me and learn more writing tips 😊

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I’m Published in The Closed Eye Open

Hi, friends and readers, subscribers and first-time-site clickers. I have big, beautiful news to share with you. I published in The Closed Eye Open, which is an impressive literary journal boasting beautiful art and great writing. If you’re looking for something new, creatively speaking, to delight and inspire you, I recommend reading The Closed Eye … Continue reading I’m Published in The Closed Eye Open