The 5 essential elements of all good stories

Naomi Linford Jun 10, 2021 11:56:31 AM

Storytelling is often considered a magical art that's hard to define. But really crafting a good story is like following a recipe (just with a little more drama thrown in). At it's core, all good stories, from fairytales to novels have five key ingredients. It's what you do with these ingredients that makes all the difference! 

To start cooking up your story you'll need a plot, place, characters, conflict and theme. Let's dive into each of them 👇


1. Plot

A plot is defined as...

"The main events of a play, novel, film, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence." 

The key parts to focus on being 'main events' and 'interrelated sequence'. Your plot is the journey you'll be taking viewers on from the beginning to the resolution of your story, defined by a series of main events. But of course, these events also have to be linked for them to form one story and not a series of mini events. So consider how you'll move from one event to another, taking the audience with you on a logical path that's easy enough to follow. 

But that doesn't mean your story has to follow just one set path - there are 7 main story plots and almost all stories ever written follow one of them. So take a look and see which plot could work best for your type of story 👇


2. Place

Once you know the sequence of events you want to happen in your story, it's time to think about where all this action is taking place. Your story could be set anywhere from a desert island or deepest darkest space to your kitchen table. It's about choosing a setting that suits your plot. 

Once you've chosen your location, it's important to build a picture of this space in your audience's mind. So use descriptive language that stimulates multiple senses. Ask yourself, if your audience were there...

  • What would they see?
  • What would they hear?
  • What could they smell?
  • What would they feel?

3. Characters

Now this is probably the most fun part. Who is going to enact your plot?! It could be a story based on real life featuring you as the main character, or maybe you've crafted a robot kingdom and need some futuristic bots to interact with your plot. 

As with place, the key to crafting successful characters is that you give the audience enough information to build a picture of them in their heads. So don't just introduce characters with surface level information such as their name or age. Focus on details like:

  • Their back story - where did they come from, what experiences have shaped them and what motivates them today? 
  • Their strengths and flaws - this kind of information can make characters a lot more relatable as we often see our own traits reflected in them. 
  • Their emotional state - are they happy, sad, confused or joyous? This information can help us understand the character's decision making and rationalize their choices

It's also important to consider how different characters interact with each other (unless your story only has one character). Often, you'll have a main character who is supported by one or two additional characters like side-kicks who can help steer the story to it's major events. Again, consider the relationship between these characters and help your audience understand the dynamic. Are they friends, are they enemies or even frenemies? 😂

4. Conflict

Up to this point, things are probably going a little too well. We need to throw in some tension and anticipation with conflict. That could be an actual battle scene, but in most cases it'll be a challenge your character/s have to overcome in order to reach a resolution. 

What point in your story this conflict arises will depend on the plot you've chosen. Some plots feature the conflict at the very start and the rest of the story is about how it was overcome. For others, everything will seem to be going swimmingly before BAM! a problem presents itself. 

As with each of these elements, the secret to great conflict is in the detail. Make your problem believable and help your audience understand exactly what impact that has on your characters. How does it change their thoughts, feelings and actions and so how should your audience feel about it too? This will also set you up for showing how your character evolves and changes while rising above the issue. This character development is something we all love seeing in stories as it reflects our own desire for growth, so don't be afraid to really elaborate here. 

5. Theme

Last but by no means least is the theme of your story. You can also think of this as the core message or moral of the story. This is very clear in fairytales like 'The boy who cried wolf' which is all about the dangers of telling lies. But your message might not be so literal as that. 

In many cases, the message of the story will be related to your business and how you can help customers (see an example here), or it could be about helping students understand a particular topic by setting them as characters in the middle of it. Whatever message you want to convey, just make sure it is told clearly within the other 4 elements. If it's feeling a little weak, go back and tweak your plot, place, characters and conflict to drive it home. 

There we have it - 5 ingredients to whip up your own magical and memorable stories! For more storytelling inspiration, check out these awesome TED Talks from storytelling pros

Looking for a little extra help crafting your story? Our team of scriptwriters and animators can help. Get in contact with Sparkol Studio today to discuss your ideas ✨

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