Writing Tip of the Week: A Simple Story Formula

What are the essential elements that make up a story?  How do we combine those elements in a simple formula that can be expanded upon?  It all comes down to a simple story formula that is also that basic of a story’s logline:

HERO + GOAL + OPPOSITION = CONFLICT = STORY

These three factors are fundamental to keeping your main character active and motivated throughout the story.  

Let’s talk about each one.

The Hero

This is your main character, your protagonist.  We will follow the person from the story’s beginning to its end.  They will go through the most CHANGE as the story progresses, following an arc that will change their perspective, change their outlook, and change them as a person by the time they get to the finish line.

We are rooting for this character to achieve what they need to accomplish, which is…

The Goal

What do they want?  Why do they want it?  What happens if they don’t get it?  

The Hero’s goal takes them on a new journey that they weren’t expecting to be on, but it is one they have no choice but to take on and hopefully complete.

The goal should cause the Hero to be ACTIVE to achieve it.  Do they need to start something?  Stop something?  Prevent something?  Run for something?  Save something or someone?  Fix something?  Destroy something?  These are all active states and goals for the Hero to move toward and accomplish.

It doesn’t mean that obstacles won’t pop up and attempt to thwart their progress as they work toward their goal.  They also have to deal with…

The Opposition

From a supervillain to a judgmental parent, the Opposition or antagonistic force exists to cause CONFLICT for the Hero throughout their journey.  The Opposition exists to do all it can to prevent the Hero from achieving what they’ve set out to do.

Most of the time, thanks to our overabundance of superhero movies, we think of Thanos, The Joker, or The Riddler as examples of clear opposition for the Hero.  But know that it doesn’t have to be a world-ending conflict that the Hero is dealing with.  It can be anyone in the main character’s life that exists to give them problems or issues that affect their journey.

Adding It Up

As stated before:

HERO + GOAL + OPPOSITION = CONFLICT = STORY

Using these elements, think about how you can plug the factors in your story into these spaces.  Do you have an active hero who is out to achieve a goal but is prevented from completing it due to opposition causing conflict for the hero?

If yes, you have the basic parameters to develop a good story.  But this is only the beginning of your story’s evolution from a basic story idea to a larger project.

Final Thoughts

This week, take some time to break down your favorite movies or novels into this formula.  You’ll find that all mainstream films and books follow this template.  

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!