Part 1: Crafting Your Story
The most compelling stories don’t just happen; they are carefully constructed.
Story-telling is a tradition as old as humankind; long before books existed, stories were passed on orally by village elders, poets and musicians. While they were intended to entertain, most traditional stories also shared cultural values or religious lessons, reinforcing important societal norms and giving listeners both young and old their sense of place within society.
In today’s world, most people read stories or fiction for pleasure so you have an uphill battle to fight – your story has to compete with the constant distractions of hourly news updates and endless streams of social media as well as books and magazines.
For the purpose of a short fiction entry in the Maybank Foundation-Perdana Leadership Foundation Writing & Photo Contest 2015, your story must be 350-500 words based on the theme ‘heroism’ if you are aged 13-17 years and 750-1000 words based on the theme ‘courage’ if you are aged 18-21 years. Remember, your essay is a piece of fiction so you need to use your imagination and be completely original!
Essential elements for a story are the storyline (also called a plot), the main character (called a protagonist), and a conclusion.
First of all, ask yourself what your story is about; establishing the storyline is the most important thing you can do before you begin to write. Who do you want to write about? Why would people want to read it?
For a short story, a good storyline or plot must be clear and concise or you won’t be able to complete your story within the word limit. Try to sum up your storyline in one sentence, for example: a boy sets out to find hidden treasure and discovers something more valuable – friendship.
Next, a good story must demonstrate cause and effect (consequence). For example: Nash was tired of being cooped up at home; in his favourite storybooks, something wonderful always happened so when he discovered the old, weathered treasure map he instantly knew that a great adventure was waiting for him.
If your story has an exciting or emotional climax, or an unexpected twist, you can use cause and effect to create momentum or escalation: After hours of searching through twisting pathways, Nash was hungry and thirsty but he was determined to continue. However as daylight slowly faded, he began to have doubts about this whole venture and wondered if he should just turn around and go home…if he could even find his way home. “Just five more minutes,” he promised himself, and just then he noticed lights glimmering ahead, illuminating a scene he could never have imagined.
As you are writing a piece of fiction, your main character need not be a person; you can choose an animal or even an object – the best examples can be seen in classic fairy tales such as Hans Christian Andersen’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier.
You may be wondering, why do I need a main character? The answer is simple: because you are telling a story! Without a main character your essay would become merely a report, review or a descriptive essay.
The character also helps readers connect with your story. Try to create a character who is believable or one that readers can relate to. It’s not necessary for the character to be a hero – even a villain makes a good character! Essentially, an emotional connection is all you need as readers need to like, support, or even despise the character to stay engaged with the story.
There are many different ways to end your story. Sometimes, it makes sense to end at the beginning, bringing the reader full-circle; other times, your conclusion may be climactic and reveal something completely unexpected. Your choice of a conclusion depends on your storyline and what works best to enhance your story and leave your readers thinking ‘Wow! That was a great story.’
Ideas to Make Your Story Compelling
- Craft an opening line that intrigues the reader; this invites them to read further.
- Make it personal. Readers can relate to the character if they understand his/her feelings, desires and motivations.
- Use your descriptive skills to bring the story to life; this brings readers into the world you have created.
- Remain focussed on your storyline and only keep elements that enhance your story.
- For your initial draft, don’t spend too much time worrying about the word limit and just let the story flow; you can edit the story down later.
Submit your essay to the Maybank Foundation-Perdana Leadership Foundation Writing & Photo Contest 2015! Open to all Malaysians from 13-21 years. There are two age categories: 13-17 years with stories themed ‘Heroism’ between 350-500 words and 18-21 years with stories themed ‘Courage’ between 750-1,000 words. Multiple entries are allowed; submit essays via the official online contest submission form found on www.MaybankPerdanaContest.com. For more information about the Perdana Leadership Foundation, visit www.MaybankPerdanaContest.com, or www.facebook.com/PerdanaLeadershipFoundation.