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In Part One in this series, we talked about folktales being stories stripped of everything but essential human truths. And we asked you to think of a folktale that speaks to the best and oldest part of who you are.
Now, let’s look at the four story elements we discussed last time and use them to reverse engineer our folktales. These elements will help us uncover the frameworks we need to do the emotional heavy lifting in our own stories.
Step 1 – Get a good main character
Stories aren’t about what happens to people, they’re about what happens to people. A good main character keeps our attention and becomes our way into the story.
Step 2 – What do they want?
There’s no story without desire. You can have the most identifiable main character, but if they don't want anything or do anything, … well, pfft. For a really good story, our main character has to want something enough to brave life and limb, risk humiliation, or go against public opinion in some way that puts real stakes in the game.
Step 3 – Put them behind the 8-ball
You can have the best main character – identifiable, filled with motivation – but if they don't risk anything, there's nothing to care about. There need to be obstacles for the main character to overcome on the way to their goal.
Step 4 - How do they change?
The essence of any story is shown in the way the main character changes or evolves through their experiences. There’s a moment for every main character when, because of the situations they’ve experienced or survived, their old ways of doing things no longer work. Familiar methods fall away, to be replaced by what’s to come.
Applying this to folktales
How does this help us get at folktales’ story-goodness? Let’s look at how the steps apply to a well-known folktale:
Step 1 - Get a good main character
Little Red is a charming, energetic child, loved by everyone in her village. One day, her mother asks her to take some cake to her grandmother, who is feeling unwell.
Step 2 - What do they want?
Little Red is tempted to go exploring, but she's been told not to leave the path, and she manages to do as she was told.
Step 3 - Put them behind the eight-ball
Enter the wolf. He tempts her away what she should be doing by encouraging her to do what she desires. Grandmother gets eaten. Red gets eaten.
Step 4 - How do they change?
After the woodcutter cuts Little Red free, she realizes that grown-ups know important things about the wicked ways of the world. Now she does, too. She’s gained that wisdom.
What happens if we use that same narrative structure, but put Little Red Riding Hood in space?
Steps 1 & 2
Scarlett glances out her cockpit window, feeling unsettled about this diplomatic escort mission. Now halfway to their destination, the journey so far has been too … easy. With half an eye on her charge, the diplomatic envoy ship The Flying Fruitcake, she flipped through scanner channels. Band 135. Band 215. Band 285.
Something was wrong. She flipped back a band, then forward.
But there was nothing on band 285. No engine signatures, no star info, not even background radiation.
“Leader, this is Starboard 432. I’ve got something on high-band scanner I’d like to check out. Permission to break formation.”
Coms crackled into Scarlett’s ear. “Permission denied, Starboard 432. We’ve got a ship full of Diplomats to deliver. Stay on course."
Over to you – what happens next?
Some things to think about: What makes the space version of Red a good main character? How does the missing signal motivate her? What obstacles get in her way? How does she change by overcoming those obstacles?
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