Story Pillar Exercises

By Amy Deardon
Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved

The book THE STORY TEMPLATE contains full explanation of terms and procedures described in these exercises.

Exercise 1: Similar Stories
List some stories from childhood that you loved. Why did you love them? What sorts of stories do you now read and/or go to the theater to see? What is it that attracts you to them?
As you envision your novel or screenplay name three or so stories that might be similar. If you can, take these books or films off the shelf to quickly review them. What do you like about them: interesting characters, exciting plot, a unique vision of the world? What sorts of story questions are raised? How might your story be similar, and different, to these stories?

Exercise 2: Current Status of Your Story
Write down the current status of your novel or screenplay. Why do you want to create it? How much have you already written, if any? Did you stop, and if so, why? If you have a vivid character or situation as the seed of the idea, put that down. What will happen in your story? Quickly list possible ideas, characters, scenes, or actions you might want to include.

Exercise 3: Premise Preference
Based on your answers to Exercises 1 and 2, write down this sentence:
For the story I’m writing, my premise will be THIS (Plot, Character, Moral, Story World). If you’re not sure, just go with one. This decision is not irrevocable.
Now, rank your second, third, and fourth preferred areas.

Exercise 4: Plot
Often at this stage you’ll have in mind only a plot twist or other brief flash. Not to worry: write down as much as you have. Then brainstorm a little: what might be the ultimate outcome of this situation? What could launch a character to get into this situation in the first place? What might be the ultimate goal being pursued? What might be the main problem(s) to achieving this goal?

Exercise 5: Character
Who are some of the people you’d like to tell your story? Do you have one quirky or troubled personality, or maybe two or more characters who have strained relationships? Are your characters male or female, old or young? Do they have interesting jobs or backgrounds? What makes them unique? Also, plot often suggests certain types of characters. For example, a story about a new invention might need an inventor and/or a thief. A romance requires a man, a woman, and probably a rival. Write down a few ideas for characters.

Exercise 6: Moral
What is the main message you want your reader or viewer to learn from your story? It can be something like “Beware evil masquerading as good,” or even “Bad guys get their comeuppance.” Write down some ideas for your moral.

Exercise 7: Story World
Describe the primary environment(s) in which your story will take place. Put in anything that occurs to you—time and date, social customs, buildings, transportation, food, clothing, technology, etc. Does this world remind you of anything?

Exercise 8: Interlinking Areas
Look at your thoughts for the four story pillars in Exercises 4 through 7. Is there anything you can do to reinforce ideas between them? For example, how might constant rain in the story world reflect a theme of sorrow? How might a plot of a disappearing treasure be contrasted by a stand-out character? Go through your exercises and think about any parallels or contrasts you might be able to draw, then write them down.

Exercise 9: Preliminary Shape
Your ideas right now may be breathtaking, but in order for anyone else to understand you must be able to clearly communicate them. Now that you’ve thought a little about the components that might be in your story, take time to consolidate them.
For this exercise, talk to yourself on paper (or computer screen) about exactly who and what your story is about. Is it primarily a romance or an adventure flick? Are there any important lessons learned? Does it end happily? Your writing may be fragmented and take three or more pages, but don’t worry about putting down a lot of mush. You’re clarifying your thoughts.
At the end, summarize your story in a few coherent sentences.

Exercise 10: One Sentence Story Description or Logline
Write your preliminary logline.

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