Storytelling Through Change: A Basic Outline

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Stories are about change. You’d be hard pressed to find a good one that isn’t. Think about your own life and what stands out for you. Often, what sticks out in our minds are the times that changed us. The stories that made our lives the way they are. You can cherry-pick a scene from your life—a loved one smiling in a restaurant, your daughter blowing out the candles of a birthday cake—but everything you can think of is a scene from a story.

It’s what we know as humans and it’s what keeps our lives interesting. It’s what makes writers want to capture some of what this means to them in ink. So, ye abstract experimental prose writers, the door’s thataway; we’re about to get to work.

The Happening

One of the questions any writer must ask themselves is: What happened?

Why are you about to write about whatever you’re writing about? What’s going to happen to your characters that makes this a story? Will they meet someone special? Especially evil? A piano falls on someone’s head?

Something needs to happen to your character or the world around them to initiate the change they will face.

The Consequence

What will happen because of the event you just put your character through? The consequences of the happening, whether in the character’s mind or the world around them, should affect them so the readers can see what they’re made of. No one wants to read a story about a man who is stuck in line at the courthouse, where everything is going according to plan except there’s a dragon on the loose in Raleigh, North Carolina (just kidding, I totally want to read that).

This is part of the character’s growing experience that will lead them to…

The Change

This is the part of the story where the happening is resolved in one way or another. Did your character finally get caught for that crime they committed? Did the young lovers take their vows? Was the Great Dragon of Raleigh defeated?

What change will happen because of the original event?

The Aftermath

This is a subsection of the change. This is where the writer gets to tie the story up with a little bow and tell their reader how everything turned out once the character made it through the great change. What did the character learn as a result of the times they just went through?

At this point in your story, you can really send home how this affected the characters’ worlds. What happened to them should change them somehow, even if just a little. Because if the times we went through didn’t change us, we would have no need for stories.

Try to think of interesting happenings and changes to put your characters through. Try subtle happenings, big changes, strange consequences—whatever makes sense for the story you’re trying to tell.

And whatever you do, never stop writing.

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About Author

John Paul Schmidt is a former news journalist. Now he's a freelancer by day and bartender by night while he works on his novel.

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