Saturday, 29 November 2014

12 Step Story Writing

Step 01 

Story Creation Step 1 should reveal the following:


The main character ("Hero") is in his/her world (the "Ordinary World") doing the things (s)he normally does. At this point the Hero is not engaged in the activities that will encompass the rest of the story. Through this everyday activity, the Hero's personality is also revealed. 

Keep in mind that the Ordinary World of the Hero can be presented through some ordinary activity, the typical condition of the Hero, or even the Hero's normal state of mind. Of course, what's "normal" or "ordinary" for the Hero is relative. In some cases - especially fantasies - the Hero's "Ordinary World" might, to us, be quite extraordinary.

NB Where a Specific Story-Creation Step describes the Hero as being at "home”, "home" can be interpreted broadly. 

Examples of Personality Revelation

* In A Christmas Carol Scrooge is a mean, grasping old man, without any charity in his heart. 

* Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz is a dreamer who wants to get away from her life and escape beyond the rainbow. 

* In Star Wars we quickly learn that Luke Skywalker is an innocent devoted to helping his parents. 


The Hero interacts with the Hero's Helpers who populate the Ordinary World.

Examples of Interaction

* Scrooge's nephew invites Scrooge to a party, to which Scrooge is determined not to go.

* Dorothy interacts with the travelling showman (who later becomes the wizard in her dream) and the farmhands (who become the scarecrow, tinman and cowardly lion). 


There is just a hint of the "Extraordinary World" that the Hero will be entering in the future. This hint will have something to do with the Hero's Antagonist, though usually the Antagonist is not yet introduced directly.

Examples of Foreshadowing

* In A Christmas Carol, that hint is revealed by the fact that it is Christmas time, the anniversary of the death of Scrooge's partner (and Antagonist), Jacob Marley. 

* In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy meets the real people who will later become, in her dream, the scarecrow, tinman, cowardly lion and wizard, all of whom are elements of the Extraordinary World to come. 

* In Star Wars, Luke is at home leading a very ordinary existence when he first discovers Artoo-Deetoo - the hint of an Extraordinary World. 


Story-Creation Step 1 should be a masterly crafted prelude, presenting all the motifs that will later, bit by bit, scene by scene or page by page, be tied together. 

In a sense, Step 1 should suggest an imbalance in the Hero's World, an imbalance that, by the story's end, will be corrected. 

Examples of Mood and Context

* In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is shown at his counting house. Christmas cheer and forgiveness (the Antagonists) are all around him.

* In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is shown in Kansas, dreaming of a world 'somewhere over the rainbow’. 


The scenes in this step should take up about two percent of your story. (NB: For a 256-page novel this amounts to around five pages.) However, this is a guideline only; your story's need is the final decision maker. 

Step 02 

Story Creation Step 2 should focus on two main scenes or sequences of scenes:

1) Point of Attack

The Hero is presented directly with the "Extraordinary World". In theatre terms, this Step is sometimes referred to as the "Point of Attack" (or "P.O.A.”). 

Something from the Extraordinary World (usually the World of the Antagonist) is witnessed or experienced by the Hero that is a kind of challenge, or call to adventure. 

Keep in mind that there are a number of ways in which the Extraordinary World might be presented to the Hero. It may come in a new activity, something that causes a change in the Hero's ordinary condition, some significant gain or loss in the Hero's life and so on. 

2) Initial Reaction and Ultimate Response to Point of Attack
In almost all Plot Category stories the Hero willingly accepts the call to adventure with little if any hesitation. 

Examples of Point of Attack and Reaction/Response

* In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge sees the face of Marley's ghost on the door knocker. When he is unable to find Marley behind the door, he responds, "Bah. Humbug”. 

* In Star Wars, Luke sees the projection of the Princess, who begs for Ben Kenobi's help to save her. This having excited his curiosity, Luke begins inquiring about what has happened to Ben Kenobi. 

* In Hamlet, various guards and a friend of Hamlet tell Hamlet that they have seen his father's ghost, the late king. Hamlet agrees to meet them later to see the ghost for himself. 

The scenes in this step should take up about six percent of your story. 

Story Creation Step 3 should focus on:


In Plot Category stories, the entire step is the Hero's meeting with a Helper, or Helpers, who will assist the Hero in resolving the major issue of the story. 

Although the Mentor advises or befriends the Hero, (s)he does not usually accompany the Hero on the "journey”. (Remember, all stories are journeys or adventures, broadly speaking. A story can be a literal, physical adventure, or it can, for instance, be a spiritual, psychological one.) 

Perhaps the most famous example of a Mentor is Merlin from the King Arthur stories. Mentors are, in fact, often Shape Changers, who have magical powers, either figuratively or literally. 


* In A Christmas Carol, the ghost of Marley is Scrooge's Mentor. 

* In Star Wars, Ben Kenobi, Luke's Mentor, explains to Luke the significance of Artoo-Deetoo's message. Initially, however, Luke refuses to answer the "call" and fight the Empire; so he turns back home. When, on his return, he finds that his village has been destroyed by the Empire he changes his mind and accepts the call to adventure. 

* In Great Expectations, Miss Havisham is Pip's Mentor. 

* In Hamlet, the ghost (Hamlet's father and Mentor) tells Hamlet how his brother (Hamlet’s uncle) murdered him to obtain the throne. Hamlet listens willingly. 


The scenes in this step should take up about five percent of your story

Step 04 

Story-Creation Step 4 is the Step at which the Hero's "journey" is about to begin. The Hero is at the edge of the adventure, the edge of the Extraordinary World of the Antagonist. This Step includes some event, planning, preparation or other experience that sets up the first major turning point of the story (to come at the next Step). 


* In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is thrown into space by a tornado.

* In Star Wars Luke enters the bar on the edge of the galaxy. 

* In Great Expectations, Pip sets off for London to be trained to be a gentleman. 


The scenes in this step should take up about 10 percent of your story. 

Step 05 

Story Creation Step 5 should reveal the following:

The Hero at the Point of No Return and Committed to the Journey

Step 5 is the step at which the Hero steps squarely into the World of the Antagonist. He or she is at the point of no return and committed to the journey ("crossing the threshold"). 

Wonderment, Eagerness and Anxiety

The Hero is fully in the midst of a different, wondrous, perhaps fearful, World. At this Step, the story should bring out clearly the Hero's reactions to the Extraordinary World, especially to those things that would cause wonderment - and perhaps fear - in the Hero. 

Activity of the Antagonists' Helpers

The Hero comes in contact with many of the Antagonist's Helpers but not generally or substantially with the Antagonist. Although the Antagonist might appear - at least symbolically - for the first time, at this stage the focus is clearly on the Antagonist's Helpers, not the Antagonist. 

The story shows how the Antagonist's Helpers go about carrying out his/her wishes and generally how they interact with the Antagonist. To a slight degree at this point, the Hero may interact with the Antagonist. Although the Antagonist is not yet the story's focus, his/her goals should begin to be explained at this stage. 


* In Moby Dick, Ahab speaks to the crew about the White Whale, indicating that this is no ordinary journey. 

* In Star Wars, Luke arrives on the Death Star, where he meets its crew and the Emperor. 

* Anna Karenina makes her fatal decision to have an affair. 


Step 5 is the first major turning point of the story. If we think of a story as having three acts, this is the transition to Act II and what all the preparation up to now has been about. 

Some teachers refer to the previous [first] quarter of the story as Exposition and this point as the beginning of Development. 

Caution: Good stories never make the mistake of having the Hero appear suddenly in a new place for no obvious reason. They do not, in other words, change their plot at this Step. The plot must continue its logical progression. 


The scenes in this step should take up about three percent of your story. 

Step 06 

Push and Pull
Story Creation Step 6 is the Step at which the Hero is in a near-continuous "test" with the Antagonist's Helpers. 

The Hero's Learning Process
In Step 6, the Hero is, in whatever sense fits your story, being tested. Through those tests – and through the tests to come, especially in Step 7 – the Hero begins a gradual, subtle learning process. A process that will lead to a major change or discovery later in the story. 

This could amount simply to the Hero discovering more about what is going on: for example, who his/her enemies are, who his/her friends are and generally how things work in the Antagonist's World. 

Show, Don't Tell

Try not to tell your audience most of what happens; instead devise scenes that show the tests and the beginnings of the learning process. 

* In Star Wars, Luke, with his Ally Hans Solo, faces various challenges from Darth Vader's Helpers. At this stage, however, Luke has no direct contact with Darth Vader, the Antagonist. 

* In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her Allies (Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion) face constant challenges from the Witch's Helpers. The Witch (an Antagonist) appears only occasionally. 

The scenes in this step should take up about 22 percent of your story. 

Step 07 

Push and Pull II

Story Creation Step 7 continues the testing period begun in Step 6. The Hero is now, however, facing a number of challenges and difficulties coming directly from the Antagonist, while the Antagonist's Helpers are largely in the background. 

The Hero's Learning Process Continues

As in Step 6, the Hero is still being tested, by whatever means. Through the tests, the Hero continues a very gradual and subtle learning process, a process that will lead to a major change or discovery later in the story. 

Show, Don't Tell

Again remember, try not to tell your audience most of what happens but rather to devise scenes that show the tests and the beginnings of the learning process. 

* In Star Wars, Luke, with his Ally Hans Solo, faces various challenges directly from Darth Vader (the Antagonist) as well as from his Helpers.

* In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her Allies (Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion) face challenges directly from the Witch and the Wizard as well as from the Witch's Helpers. (Remember, the main Antagonist is the Land of Oz, which manifests itself through its Helpers as well as through the Wicked Witch, her Helpers and the Wizard.) 


The scenes in this step should take up about 11 percent of your story. 

Step 08 

Story Creation Step 8 completes roughly the middle of the story (what some refer to as "Development"). It is both the personal-crisis moment for the Hero and the point of near-triumph for the Antagonist. 


Since the Antagonist has gained an overwhelming advantage over the Hero in his/her ongoing "tests" in Steps 6 and 7, the Hero is now facing the darkest time. The Hero suffers either a serious reversal of fortune or a confrontation with death itself. 

It is, in short, the personal-crisis moment for the Hero. (At the end of the story, of course, there is also a crisis, but generally that will be a plot crisis - the final resolution, as it were, of the elements that have been building all along - not a personal crisis.) 

Up until this time there have been many conflicts – that is what makes for a good story – however, in all those instances, the Hero and the reader, has a sense of hopefulness. Even though the Antagonist and the Antagonist's Helpers have constantly been creating difficulties for the Hero, the Hero hasn't given up, or even pretended to give up ... until now.

In Epic and Character stories, this is a building moment for the Hero, who will be forced to choose between one lifestyle and another (the actual choosing comes in the next Step). It is the set up for a radical change in the Hero's will or attitudes. In this Step, though, the Hero thinks he or she has failed, or committed some unpardonable sin and has, seemingly, no good choice. 


Since the Hero is in the darkest and most fearsome parts of the Antagonist's (Extraordinary) World, Step 8 is, not surprisingly, the Step at which we'll get to know the Antagonist personally. Interwoven throughout this Step is the presence of the Antagonist and the Antagonist's World. 

Only the external nature of the Antagonist should be revealed; there should be no sympathy or psychological observations. 


* In Gone With the Wind, Rhett parts with Scarlett, who has what amounts to an obsession to go home (the Ordinary World). When she arrives, however, she finds that that World has become part of the Extraordinary World, where her home and way of life was destroyed by the war. Her problem, therefore, is to learn from the Antagonist how to live in this new, changing world - but that is yet to come. 

* In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is shown his grave by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Although he was intellectually convinced by the first two ghosts, this moment frightens him most of all. 


The scenes in this step should take up about 12 percent of your story. 

Step 09 

Story Creation Step 9 begins what some teachers call the "Resolution" section of the story (in the "three-act system" this is the final part). It is so-named because the story is now leading directly to a major resolution that will, at least to some degree, resolve all the controversy that has been building from the beginning. 

This is the most important Step in any story, for it is the stage at which the Hero bounces back from the depths of despair and gets a second chance, a new lease on life. This Step should reveal the following: 

Profound Change in the Hero
The Hero's "new knowledge" is more directly practical and the Hero's "new lease on life" is more literal and immediate. That is, the Hero gains some knowledge, not about him/herself so much as about the immediate predicament. That knowledge allows the Hero finally to break loose from his/her bonds (immediate problems, obstacles, etc.) and win the day. The Hero's fortunes have changed; the tide has turned. 

The Most Remarkable Qualities and Strengths of the Hero

At this point the most remarkable qualities and strengths of the Hero should be brought out. These qualities and strengths could be superhuman qualities or some special abilities that cause the most important plot development in the story. 

Thwarted Aims of the Antagonist

The events and actions occurring at this Step should illustrate how the Antagonist has faltered in some way so as to allow the Hero to win. 

A New Stage

This Step should bring the Hero to a new stage at which the Hero now has at least a fighting chance for the final confrontation with the Antagonist, which is to come in Step 11. 


* In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge completely rejects his former self. 

* In Hamlet, by watching the reactions of the current King to the play within a play, Hamlet realizes that the murder of his father, the former King, was not a figment of his imagination. 

* In the Old Testament, Job is reconciled to God. 

* In the New Testament, Paul accepts Christ. 


The scenes in this step should take up about three percent of your story. 

Step 10 


Story Creation Step 10 is generally a setting up of the confrontation to come in the next Step. It usually focuses on some or all of the following three main scenes or sequences of scenes. 

Transitional Incident or Recounting (Optional)

In many stories, Step 10 can begin with a short incident or a recounting of events by the Hero. This explains how the Hero got from the point of the major change (in the previous Step) to his/her current situation. It may be very short – and in some stories it may not even occur. Take as an example, Hamlet relating how pirates rescued him from one of the King's plots against him and then set him ashore. It is short, but it sets the scene.

Note that in some stories (most Intense Love stories, for example) the confrontation, which normally begins at the next Step, may be so long that it needs to begin at this Step. In such instances, this Step might start with only a very short confrontation set-up scene (if it has one at all) before beginning the confrontation. 

A Sequence in which the Hero is preparing for Confrontation with the Antagonist

The majority – if not the entirety – of this Step is devoted to readying the main characters for the confrontation, which will begin immediately in the next Step. 

The Hero may have a renewed sense of confidence and, therefore, may be particularly busy preparing for the confrontation. As an example, in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy returns to Oz to make the Wizard keep his promise. 

A Sequence in which the Antagonist is Preparing for Confrontation with the Hero

The Antagonist, now desperate, is preparing for a confrontation with the Hero and is, perhaps, pursuing the Hero. (Note that some stories may not require an actual pursuit here - even though some Story-Type outlines may refer to a "pursuit”.) 

Remember, the Antagonist has in the previous Steps had all of his sophisticated plans and efforts thwarted by the Hero. The Hero has been winning lately in spite of - and often because of - the Antagonist's best efforts. The Antagonist, therefore, might now conclude that the only way to deal with the Hero is to remove him/her - in some cases this will mean to kill the Hero. Thus this Step always gives the sense that the stakes are now very high. 


The scenes in this step should take up about 11 percent of your story. 

Step 11 

This Step should focus on only one sequence of events:

Confrontation of the Hero and Antagonist in a Life or Death Struggle

Story Creation Step 11 is the Step at which the Hero confronts the Antagonist directly. Although the Hero may have had other dealings with the Antagonist in past Steps, this time the Hero has already made his or her critical choice. So this confrontation marks the Hero's public display of their new confidence and knowledge about the circumstances. The fight marks the Hero's general proving of him/herself and his/her application of what has been learned. 

This Step is the resolution of all the plot development to this point. Therefore, this Step is not so much about the character as it is about the plot. The Hero has already had his/her personal, or character, Transformation. Now (s)he has simply to take action to resolve the general challenge that the Antagonist has been presenting from the beginning.

This Step is usually the most exciting of all. There is normally a chase sequence or other major plot development involving the Antagonist. 


* In Hamlet, the battle ensues between Hamlet and Laertes, culminating in Hamlet's killing the King. 

* In The Wizard of Oz, the Wizard has difficulties granting Dorothy's wishes for her friends, but finally solves their problems. Then, he tells Dorothy that he can get her back home, travelling in a balloon, if she clicks her magic shoes together while reciting the words "There's no place like home”. 

The Antagonist as Sympathetic Figure

There should be little, if any, sympathy for the Antagonist. Love Stories are, however, the exception to this, since something terrible usually happens to the Antagonist – the Hero's lover.

"Death" of the Antagonist

Often, a result of the confrontation is the "death" of the Antagonist. Note that, although the "death" might be a literal death, it can also be only a symbolic one, referring, for example, to the Antagonist's loss of power or control over the Hero. For example, in order for the Wizard of Oz to grant Dorothy's wishes, he must "die", that is, reveal himself as who he is and no longer be a wizard. 


The scenes in this step should take up about 10 percent of your story. 

Step 12 

The final Story Creation Step, Step 12, is composed of two main parts:

1) Final Resolution of Conflict

The final conflict is resolved - which takes up most of this Step. 

2) Restoration of Balance/Return to the Ordinary World

The Hero physically returns to the Ordinary World after the final resolution. Unlike the beginning of the story, however, where the Hero's World was, in some sense, out of balance, the Hero’s problems have been eliminated and the Ordinary World is no longer troubled. 

Endings: Happy or Tragic

There will always be a happy ending. This is the primary step where you make clear the Category of your story. 


* In The Wizard of Oz, the balloon in which Dorothy was supposed to travel, pulls away by mistake, leaving her alone. Her friends say they'll adopt her, but all she can remember are the words: "There's no place like home”. She then returns to Kansas (awakes from her dream), having gained the knowledge that There's no place like home. 


The scenes in this step should take up about five percent of your story. 

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