How to Tell a Story? Storytelling Formulas

Two people can tell the exact same story, one can be gripping and enticing, while the other can be a tedious drag.

Look at Hollywood; every romantic movie is almost the same. Boy meets girl, and they fall in love; then some misunderstanding happens; and in the end, they magically come together.

Is there a structure here?

Can storytelling be broken down into a formula?

I am going to discuss several storytelling formulas that you can use in your book.

Formula #1: The three-act structure

Scriptwriters have popularized a format called the three-act structure, based on the popular notion that every story needs to have a beginning, middle, and an end.

The three-act structure involves three parts.

  • Act one: set-up, inciting incident, first plot point
  • Act two: confrontation
  • Act three: resolution

Let me explain the three-act structure in more detail.

The first act

The first act involves three parts. The set-up, the inciting incident, and the first plot point.

The set-up is where the author introduces the main characters, the world they live in, relationships, and everyday life.

It is then followed by an inciting incident, where the main character is faced with a challenging situation; which leads to the first plot point.

The first plot point is a prelude to act two. It’s when something dramatic happens; it changes everything for the protagonist.

Act one is crucial because it sets the scene for the rest of the story. It’s got to be tight and captivating for the reader to read the rest of the story.

Act two: Confrontation

Here is where the protagonist deals with the problems and challenges that arise from the first act. Many things go wrong for the protagonist in the act, but they find a way to become a bigger, better person by building their character and learning new skills.

Act Three: Resolution

Act three is where problems get resolved, and the story concludes. The pre-climax, climax, and denouement are part of act three. The climax is when the story reaches the highest possible tension.

Formula #2: Before-After-Bridge

Show the readers a problem they are facing. Let them imagine a world without this problem. Then offer a solution (or bridge) to where they are now to where they could be.

Formula #3: The Monomyth, or The Hero’s journey

The structure involves a hero who goes through a crisis (or a challenge), overcomes it, and comes back as a transformed person.

To summarize, the hero leaves his ordinary world into unknown territory where he faces several challenges; he learns, evolves and becomes a leader, and eventually returns with a triumph.

Joseph Campbell popularized the Hero Myth, which initially had 17 stages. David Campbell and Phil Cousineau in the 1990s condensed it to eight stages; while Christopher Vogler’s version of 12 stages refined in his book ‘The Writer’s Journey’ is the most popular.

Here are Vogler’s 12 stages of the Hero’s Journey:

Ordinary world

We introduce the hero and his world to our readers before his journey.

Call to adventure

The hero is confronted with a challenge. It’s a hint that his life is going to change.

Refusal of the call

The hero initially refuses the call to adventure. He’s either too scared or is just ignorant about the challenge.

Meeting with the mentor

The hero decides to face the challenge and go on this adventure. But he is too inexperienced and lacks the wisdom of an experienced soul.

As a wisecrack said, “When the student is ready, the mentor will appear.”

In this stage, the hero meets his mentor.

Crossing the first threshold

The hero finally embarks on his adventure.

Tests, allies and enemies

In this stage, the hero finds people who will either help him or drag him away from his mission.

Approach to the inmost cave

The hero digs deep and challenges his innermost beliefs, where he identifies whether he can or cannot do it.

The ordeal

The protagonist faces his biggest test so far. It’s the stage where the boy becomes a man if he survives.

Reward

After battling through the previous stages, the hero sees his reward.

The road back

The hero now tries to go back to his ordinary world, but he must deal with the ramifications of stealing the reward.

The resurrection

It’s the final test for the hero. Here is where the protagonist goes through near-death experiences; it’s the climax of the story.

Return with the elixir

Finally, the hero wins and gets to go home. He is a different person, more mature and battle-hardened than when he started his adventure.

Conclusion

Adding structure to your story makes it more gripping, fun, and enticing for the reader. Although there are several storytelling formulas, the ones mentioned in this article are the most common. It’s best to choose a formula that suits your style and personality.

About the Author: Vinil Ramdev

Vinil Ramdev is the founder of Publish Edge. His life accidents include authoring several books, starting businesses in retail, events, publishing; and serving a sentence as managing editor of a print magazine.