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Intro to Storytelling

In this course we will examine how people tell stories. You will learn the basics of story structures, plus how to tell a story that your audience will care about!

A day marked with an asterisk (*) means you have something to print.

Day 1*

1. This year we are going to be watching some videos by homeschool alum Abbie Emmons. Begin by watching this video about how to study stories and learn from them. You can stop watching when she gets to the like and subscribe outro.
2. What format qualifies as a ‘story?’
3. Print a copy of the study guides for a standalone story and for a series. Save these, we will use them later.

Day 2

1. Read “The Five Essential Elements of a Story.”
2. We need to have a grasp of basic storytelling vocabulary to move forward. Create a document titled “Storytelling Terms” and list and define the following. (When a word has more than one definition be sure to use the one related to storytelling.)

  • antagonist
  • character
  • conflict
  • dialogue
  • exposition
  • genre
  • inciting incident
  • plot
  • premise
  • protagonist
  • resolution
  • setting
  • theme

Day 3

1. Traditionally there are four main types of conflict that you might see in a story. Read about them!
2. Write down and identify one example of each type of conflict using stories that you know.

Day 4

1. Watch the video about why your plot doesn’t matter. Stop watching at the 3 minute mark.
2. It is important to note that Abbie is incorrect about one thing. If you are stranded in the wilderness the first thing you need to survive is usually shelter. This doesn’t have anything to do with storytelling, but it’s good to know.
3. Select three characters from stories you know well. Think about them, and write at least one paragraph about how each character changes from the beginning to the end of the story.
4. When we say ‘changes,’ we mean internally, not did they get a new costume, or hairstyle, or get taller. (Sometimes a new costume can be a clue to an internal change, though.)
5. You can use any story you know well, but here are some suggestions from movies that many people have seen:

  • Luke Skywalker – “A New Hope”
  • Thor – “Thor”
  • Elsa – “Frozen”
  • Simba – “The Lion King”
  • Will Turner – “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl”

Day 5

1. Watch this video about understanding theme. In Abbie’s videos, she often calls the theme “the truth” or the “big idea” of the story. It is important to understand the difference between theme, main idea, and summary.
2. Now that we know what a theme is, let’s watch another video from Abbie! Stop watching when she gets to the like and subscribe outro. This one is about how to come up with ideas for a story that interest you. Follow along and complete the exercises as they come up. (There’s a list of them below.)

  • Make a list of 4 stories that matter to you/you love.
  • Identify whether you most love the characters, theme, plot, or genre of each story.
  • Try to make a “story smoothie” by combining characters, theme, plot, and genre from DIFFERENT stories you love.

What did you come up with? Save it in a document on your computer, we are going to use it again later.

Day 6*

1. Read about the three act story structure. Pay special attention to the graph of the structure. The three acts are basically the Beginning, the Middle, and the End, but they are structured in a specific way to create stories that we are familiar with.
2. There are other ways to structure a story, but we are going to study the three act structure for a while. Print a copy of the three act structure worksheet and try to fill it out for a story. (Here it is filled out. The terms are a little different in the article you read.) You can use one of the examples in the article above, or use another favorite story.

Day 7

1. Now that we’ve covered the basics of a three act story, let’s use the study guide we printed on Day 1. Choose a story that you like (remember, a story can be a book, graphic novel, webcomic, movie, tv show or series, etc) and the study guide that matches its format.
2. It should be one you have already read or watched to make it easier to review. If you have chosen a tv series, only analyze ONE SEASON of it. (A good tip is to take a look at the first episode and then the last episode. You will be able to see changes in the characters more easily.)
3. Go over the story and write the answers to the study guide questions in a document on your computer. Did this help you to see some of how the story was crafted?

Day 8*

1. Watch the video about developing your characters. (We are starting partway through.) Stop at the 22 minute mark, when Abbie starts creating her own characters.
2. Print a copy of this simplified character creation worksheet.
3. Choose a character you love from a book, movie, tv show, or other story. See how well you can answer the questions about them. Remember: these questions apply to the character at the beginning of the story.

Day 9

1. Think about the main character from your ‘story smoothie.’ Try to develop this character by answering the questions in the character creation worksheet for them. Be sure to save this.

Day 10

1. Today, watch the video about character driven stories vs. plot driven stories. You can stop watching at the outro.
2. Do you understand the distinction she is making?
3. Think about the character you wrote about yesterday. Are you able to answer Abbie’s questions about their motivation and internal conflict?

Day 11

1. Time to analyze another story! This time, choose something that uses the other study guide. (If you used the stand alone last time, this time use the series. If you used the series guide last time, this time use the standalone.)
2. Create a new document and write the answers to the questions in the study guide in it. How does analyzing a story change the way you see it?

Day 12

1. Watch the video about creating the hook in your story. (As always, you can stop watching at the outro.)
2. Choose a story you know well. See if you can identify the hook in the story.
3. Take a look at the ‘story smoothie’ you created. What could make a good hook for your protagonist? Write down your ideas in the document.

Day 13

1. Watch the video about the inciting incident.
2. Choose three stories you know well and see if you can identify the inciting incident in them. Here are some stories that many people are familiar with to give you ideas:

  • “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling
  • “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis
  • “The Lego Movie”
  • “Raya and the Last Dragon”

Day 14

1. Watch the inciting incident case study video.
2. Think about the story smoothie you’ve been developing. What inciting incident would make your protagonist make an impossible choice to step outside of their comfort zone or risk not reaching their goals? Write down your ideas.

Day 15

1. Watch the video about the first plot point in a story.
2. Take a look at your story smoothie. What could the first plot point be? Write down your ideas in your document.

Day 16

1. Watch the video about the first pinch point.
2. Write a paragraph about the difference between surprise and suspense. Why does Abbie think it’s better to build suspense than to spring things on the reader as a surprise?
3. Take a look at the story idea you are developing. Do you know what antagonistic force your protagonist will have to face at the end? How can you foreshadow that? Which is better for your story, vicarious or shared suspense?

Day 17

1. Watch the video about writing Act 2 of a story.
2. What is your protagonist’s GOAL and PLAN? How is this plan the ‘stupid plan?’ Is it based on their misbelief?

Day 18

1. Take today to go back and look at your notes so far. Spend some time revising or tweaking any of the parts you have written ideas for so far to help them make sense.
2. REMEMBER! What we are working on is not a final story outline. Right now we are just coming up with ideas for how this story could be put together.

Day 19

1. Watch the video about how to write a PLOT TWIST!
2. Consider how you could twist the plot for your story smoothie. Write your ideas in your document.

Day 20

1. Watch the plot twist case study video.
2. Take a look at the ideas you wrote down yesterday. Do you have any new ideas after watching today’s video? If so, write them down.

Day 21

1. Watch the video about writing the second half of your story. What is the difference between the reactionary hero and the action hero?
2. Write down your protagonist’s new plan to deal with the twist in the previous section. How is this plan based in their fear and misbelief?

Day 22

1. Write down ideas for the second pinch point today. How can you make things worse for your protagonist? Do you think it should be something that happens or is seen by the protagonist, or are you going to use vicarious suspense and show us something from the villain’s point of view?

Day 23

1. Watch the video about how to write a disaster and dark moment for your character.
2. Write down some ideas for your character’s disaster and dark moment.

Day 24

1. Watch the video about the moment of temptation as an alternative to a disaster.
2. Brainstorm. Is there a way to have a moment of temptation instead of a disaster? Which one seems like it works better for your story?

Day 25

1. Watch the video about the moment of realization (or the AHA! moment).
2. Brainstorm ideas for how your protagonist could come to a realization that lets them move past their fear and misbelief so that they can win the day at the end!

Day 26

1. Watch the video about how to write the climax of your story.
2. What could serve as the climax of your story? How does your protagonist prove their transformation by facing their fear with courage?
3. What is their moment of victory?
4. Are there any loose threads that need to be tied up in the resolution? Take notes on your ideas.

Day 27

1. Today read over all of the story notes you have taken. How is it? Does it make sense? Make any changes to your story that would make sense now that you’ve made it through to the end.

Day 28

1. Watch the video about including subplots in your story.
2. A subplot can but does not have to be the story of another character (whether the antagonist or another side character) that is present in your story. It can be a second storyline for your protagonist (for example, if your protagonist is trying to qualify for a big championship in their main plot, maybe they are also caring for a sick family member and they have to deal with that as well.) A subplot can also be external or world-based (maybe there are fires, earthquakes, the annual elephant migration, who knows).
3. Consider the story you have been working on. Try and come up with at least one idea for a subplot from each category. Any idea you come up with should have at least some impact on your protagonist’s main plot somehow. Write down your ideas.

Day 29

1. Choose a book, movie, or (one episode of a) tv show you know well. Take notes on it. Try to identify the main plot and as many subplots as you can. How do the subplots impact or intersect with the main plot?

Day 30

1. Watch the video about creating an unforgettable villain.
2. Take a look at your story. Does it have a villain? (Not every story will.) If it does, take the time today to develop their character a little. What is their fear, motivation, need? Why are they doing the villainous things they are doing? What happened in their past to put them on this path? What is their plan, why do they think it is a GOOD plan or a NECESSARY plan?

Day 31

1. Maybe your antagonist is less a villain and more of a tragic figure. Watch the video about creating a negative character arc.
2. Is there anything in here that you can use in developing your characters and story? Make notes of anything that comes to mind.

Day 32

1. Watch the video studying examples of negative character arcs.
2. Take another look at your antagonist. Is a negative character arc appropriate in your story?

Day 33

1. Today watch the case study of Pride and Prejudice and see how the story is broken down beat by beat.

Day 34

1. Now we are going to study another type of story structure, known as The Hero’s Journey. The hero’s journey is a specific type of 3 act story structure. According to reedsy, the hero’s journey is:

…a common story structure shared by cultures worldwide, in which a character ventures into unknown territory to retrieve something they need. Facing conflict and adversity, the hero ultimately triumphs before returning home, transformed.

2. Watch the video about the hero’s journey.
3. Famous heroes written using this structure include:

  • Luke Skywalker (“Star Wars: A New Hope”)
  • Bilbo Baggins (“The Hobbit”)
  • Simba (“The Lion King”)
  • Harry Potter (“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”)
  • Dorothy Gale (“The Wizard of Oz”)

Can you see what their structures have in common?

Day 35

1. Create a new document and title it “The Hero’s Journey.” Take a look at this graphic listing the 12 steps of the Hero’s Journey and copy each step down into your document. (You do not have to copy down the example from “The Hobbit,” just what the steps are.)
2. Watch this clip about the hero’s journey by bestselling author Brandon Sanderson.

Day 36

1. Watch the video about step one of the Hero’s Journey: The Ordinary World.
2. Open your document “The Hero’s Journey” and add information about The Ordinary World under number 1.
3. Create a new document that you can call “Hero’s Journey Exercise.” Brainstorm ideas for a hero and their ordinary world. Come up with at least 3 ideas. You may choose to think of an interesting world or adventure first, then decide what ordinary setting would contrast with that. Here are some examples of characters, their ordinary worlds, and the interesting settings they later encounter.

  • Harry Potter – Privet Drive/Hogwarts
  • Lucy Pevensie – England/Narnia
  • Rango – a terrarium/the wild west
  • Thor – Asgard/Earth
  • Dorothy Gale – Kansas/Oz
  • Giselle – Andalasia/New York City

4. As you can see, it’s all right for the ordinary world to be interesting and unusual to the audience as long as it is ordinary to the character.

Day 37

1. Watch the video about the Hero archetype in the Hero’s Journey. Just like in the last story we created, the protagonist will need to grow and change to become a hero.
2. Look at the ideas for a hero you wrote yesterday. Choose the one you would most like to work with. Choose a flaw or area that needs growth for your hero to overcome in the course of their journey.
3. Here are some examples of growth your character might make during their journey:

  • timid -> brave
  • selfish -> willing to sacrifice
  • childish -> responsible
  • foolish -> wise
  • despair -> hope

4. You can certainly choose something else if you like. Write the character you have chosen, their ordinary world, and the transformation they will make as a character in your document, “Hero’s Journey Exercise.”

Day 38

1. Watch the video about the Herald in the Hero’s Journey.
2. The Herald may be a character, or it may take another form. (For example, the letter to the ball in Cinderella served the function of the Herald.) Famous examples include:

  • Hagrid from Harry Potter
  • R2-D2 (with the message from Princess Leia) in Star Wars
  • Gandalf in The Hobbit

3. Brainstorm at least 3 methods for the Herald to appear in your story and write them in your document. This could be a person, an event, an invitation, etc.

Day 39

1. Watch the video about The Call to Adventure.
2. Open your document “The Hero’s Journey” and add information about The Call to Adventure under number 2.
3. Take a look at the options you brainstormed yesterday. What could serve as the call to adventure in your story? Write your notes in your document, “Hero’s Journey Exercise.” Don’t forget, your character is still in the ordinary world. (Diagram for reference.) This is just the first indication that something is changing, and something is going to happen.

Day 40

1. Watch the video about the refusal of the call.
2. Take a look at your story. Is your hero going to refuse the call, or will they be blocked by outside forces? Is your hero going to refuse a lot of times, or just hesitate briefly? Remember, the refusal of the call is your opportunity to show why this journey is going to be particularly hard for them, and show the fear that can hold them back from their adventure.
3. Write your ideas in your document, “Hero’s Journey Exercise.”

Day 41

1. Watch the video about the mentor archetype.
2. Open your document “The Hero’s Journey” and add the 5 functions of a mentor under the heading “Meeting the Mentor.”
3. Brainstorm ideas for a mentor figure in your story. Don’t forget, your mentor does not have to fulfill all 5 functions. Think about what your hero will need to survive and navigate the unknown you have planned for them to encounter. Who or what is going to provide them with the knowledge and tools they will need? Write your ideas in the document “Hero’s Journey Exercise.”

Day 42

1. Watch the video about meeting the mentor.
2. Which mentor will you choose for your story? Remember, the hero meets the mentor while still in the ordinary world and helps your hero overcome their reluctance to accept the call to adventure. How will your hero meet their mentor? What guidance will the mentor provide? Write down your thoughts in the “Hero’s Journey Exercise” document.

Day 43

1. Watch the video about the threshold guardian.
2. Open your document “The Hero’s Journey” and under “Crossing the First Threshold” write the function of the threshold guardian. List the 5 types of external guardians they mention. List the three internal guardians. Start thinking about what kind of threshold guardian you will use in your story.
3. Now list the techniques they discuss for dealing with a threshold guardian.