Seed: The Beginning of Every Story

[Be sure to check it out on a non-mobile device to see the annotations, Animals!]

Seed

The first cubby to concern ourselves with in short form storytelling is “seed.”

So what is a “seed?”

This is your story in its most basic form.

Its most primal form. Its most conceptual form.

A fundamental idea that the rest of the story revolves around. It’s an idea that the rest of the story grows out of.

As a storyteller, this is where you start.

Functionally, it’s defined as an inherent fantasy.

Expressed as a “what if” statement:

  • What if dinosaurs were resurrected?
  • What if time travel were possible?
  • What if toys could talk?
  • What if you were stranded on a deserted island?

These are all good starting points.

You take this fantasy, and you pull out a “premise” for your story.

You extrapolate it out into a clear, specific, expression.

For Jurassic Park, the fantasy was:

What if dinosaurs were resurrected?

That fantasy could go anywhere.

As we’re building the story, where specifically are we going to go with that fantasy?

How about a theme park?

A venture capitalist has funded research to clone dinosaurs and it’s worked! He now wants to build a type of theme park/zoo to have people visit these wonderful creations.

The fantasy: What if dinosaurs were resurrected?
The premise: Dinosaur theme park.

Now that we’ve pulled out a specific premise from the basic fantasy, how do we execute? How do we dramatize this?

Through the course of the story, we explore the “what if…” fantasy through four distinct phases:

Phase one: A neutral exploration of the premise.

You’re simply establishing the fantasy and the premise. Introducing it.

Phase two: A positive exploration of the premise.

This is where you explore the positive aspects of the fantasy and the premise.

Phase three: A negative exploration of the premise.

This is where you explore the negative aspects of the fantasy and the premise.

Phase four: A resolution of the premise.

This is where you resolve the premise. You have some kind of resolution that finalizes the fantasy.

As we’ll see when we get to the “plot” cubby…

Your short form story will be broken into four “acts.”

These acts will correspond with these four phases here.

  • Phase 1 = Act 1
  • Phase 2 = Act 2
  • Phase 3 = Act 3
  • Phase 4 = Act 4

Each phase, each act, gets an equal part of the story.

Let’s take a deeper look at this seed/fantasy/premise structure…

…with the Jurassic Park example in mind:

Fantasy: What if you could resurrect dinosaurs?
Premise: We’re building a theme park with live dinosaurs!

Act 1 (phase 1) is spent establishing this idea.
Our paleontologist main characters are taken to an island where John Hammond’s team of genetic researchers have succeeded in resurrecting dinosaurs.
His orientation film explains how they accomplished it. It’s possible, and they’ve done it.

Act 2 (phase 2) is spent exploring the positive aspects of this idea.
They tour the park and see all the majestic beasts. This is a paleontologist’s dream come true! Their life’s work, come to life!

Act 3 (phase 3) is spent exploring the negative aspects of this idea.
Everything goes wrong.
Dinosaurs escape their enclosures, terrorize and eat some of our characters. The park has become a hellish nightmare.

Act 4 (phase 4) is spent bringing this idea to some kind of resolution.
In this case, the resolution is that this whole thing was a bad idea. We shouldn’t have played with nature like this. Our ignorance and hubris led to disaster.

Notice, the resolution could have easily gone another way.

It just depends on where you want to take your story.

The phase 4 resolution could have easily been:
This was a disaster, but still worth it because of X, Y, Z…

The fantasy can go in any direction you want it to. In fact, many different stories grew out of the same inherent fantasy.

What if time travel were possible?

That’s Back To The Future, Terminator, Hot Tub Time Machine, and every other time travel story out there. The same seed can be grown into an entirely different story.

But what if my fantasy is:

“What if teddy bears are alive, and they love everyone.”

What’s the negative aspect to explore in that?

  • Maybe that love becomes overbearing and maladaptive when expressed in the wrong way.
  • Maybe the bear’s love inspires boundless devotion, which leads them into bad decisions.
  • Maybe they’re paired with cruel unloving people, and their love is seen as a weakness to be exterminated.

There are always positive and negative aspects to every concept, you just have to find them.

Seed:

  • Establish the fantasy with a basic premise
  • Find the positive
  • Find the negative
  • Then a resolution

Looking at the seed in this way, is really looking at the four acts of your story in their most rudimentary and basic form. As we look at the other cubbies, we’ll see how the four acts get filled with 14 other (cubby) ideas as well.

Now that we’ve tackled the seed and its four basic phases, there’s one more piece to concern ourselves with:

The Hook

What’s the hook?

It’s that special something.

It’s that novelty, that immediate appeal, that commercial aspect that makes you go:

“Oooh yes! I want to see that!”

With our Jurassic Park example above, the hook is basically buried in the premise. Before that book/movie/story came out, where had you ever experienced a dinosaur theme park tale? Pretty much nowhere. At the time, it was a super novel idea. One with immediate appeal for most people.

But that’s cheating. It clouds the idea to have the premise and the hook be the same thing.

Let’s take a look at another example, something more clear cut:

Memento.

The fantasy: What if you couldn’t make new memories?
The premise: A man tries to find his wife’s killer.
The hook: The whole story will be told to the audience chronologically backwards.

You can see how these three ideas are separate, but flow into one another beautifully.

We start with that basic fantasy:

What if you couldn’t make new memories?
That’s a pretty good fantasy. It’s different. It’s intriguing. And it has, within it, an immediate dramatic punch. If you can’t make new memories, that’s going to make day-to-day life quite difficult.

Then we pull a specific premise out of this fantasy:

What kind of story are we specifically going to tell with this no-new-memories idea?
How about a man who’s wife was murdered? He’s trying to track down her killer.
By itself, it’s a pretty solid idea. Everyone likes a good detective story. But coupled with our fantasy, it becomes great! If our detective can’t make new memories, well then that’s going to be one interesting investigation!

Then we’ve got the hook:

What can we add to this story to really add jet fuel to the fire? What can we add that will take this story from “interesting” to “oh man, I’ve gotta see that!”

How about: The whole story will be presented to the audience backwards. So that the audience only ever knows as much as our main character does, in any given moment.

That’s fantastic! That’s the essence of the hook. It’s that special something that will hook your audience into immediate interest and desire to hear your story.

Seed:

  • Fantasy
  • Premise
  • Hook

If you want to build your story on the strongest foundation possible, You need ’em all.



Cubbies: The Method for Structuring Short-Form Stories

Cubbies

When assembling a short form story, the “cubby” method is your best friend.

The cubby method conceptualizes a short form story as one large structure, one large piece – with fifteen different categories.

An overall unit – with fifteen different compartments.

These compartments are the different aspects of a story that need to be present, consciously designed, and utilized.

It’s important to understand that each cubby is a necessary part of a well rounded story.

Some of these may be familiar, some may not.

These fifteen cubbies are:

The cubbies are an organizational tool used to both evaluate and design your story. To see conceptually what you have, and what you still need.

We’ll be diving into each cubby separately and swimming around for awhile.



Rock: The Structure Behind All Stories

“Rock” is based in structure, logic, and specific, intentional, design.

It’s the logical, premeditated, directional, masculine side of you story.

By contrast, “juice” is improvisational, free-associated, intuitive, and feminine.

Why is “rock” necessary?

It gives your story form and shape. It’s the catch-all term we’ll be using for the infrastructure that a story is built around. The skeleton beneath all stories.

If story is all about communication, then “rock” allows the writer and the audience to be speaking the same symbolic language.

How so?

This common language is story structure itself. The form and shape of the development of the story.

By utilizing well designed story structure, your story resonates with the natural patterns the audience feels should be there. They feel your story develops “naturally” and feels “organic.”

That’s what “rock” is…

The pattern that is instantly recognized by the human psyche as the natural form a story should take.

This goes well beyond just “beginning, “middle,” and “end.”

For each of the different types of stories:

  • Long form
  • Short form
  • Mini form

There is a corresponding structure to understand in depth, in order to tell these stories well:

Let’s look first at short form stories, where the “cubby” method is the way to go.



What is Story?

What is Story?

Story is life.

A microcosm of our reality, communicating our experiences within that reality, to others.

Fundamentally, our psychology is built to understand the world via story. Specifically. Because of this basic truth, stories are how we teach and how we learn.

Story is how we make sense of the world around us.

We use stories to connect, to challenge, to stimulate, and entertain. The best stories do all of these things simultaneously, and more.

To study story is to study life itself. Psychology, philosophy, morality, human behavior – everything.

This will be the center of our study here in this series. The study… of everything.

Fundamentally, a story has two main elements:

“Juice” and “Rock.”

What are those?

Juice

It’s the creative ingenuity of a story.

The fluid inspiration, energy, and intuition that permeates your story. It’s the life blood.
We’ll get into the “juice” side of things much later. For now, we’ll be diving into…

Rock

It’s the inherent structure that a story is built around.

A building needs load bearing walls, a body needs a skeleton, and a story needs its ROCK elements. The pieces that make all the other work possible.

  • Inspiration and Skill.
  • Art and Structure.
  • “Juice” and “Rock.”

Let’s first take a look at crushin’ that “rock.”

Broadly speaking, there are three “types” of stories to concern ourselves with.

There are three general “forms” your story can take:

Long form

“Long form” storytelling is when a story is told over multiple volumes. Such as a television series, a book series, or a film series.

There are many CHUNKS of story, that all aggregate into an overall whole.

Long form storytelling follows a “seven season” structure.

Now the term “season” is borrowed here from television, but the idea relates to any kind of serialized storytelling:

Seasons of a TV show, books in a novel series, movies in a film franchise.

Any story that is intended to be broken into separate volumes, or what we’ll call “seasons,” is considered “long form” and will follow the seven season structure.

We’ll get into the details of the seven season structure as we move forward.
To jump straight to the seven seasons now, click here.

Short form

A “short form” story is a story told as a single piece. A novel, a film, a book, a play.

It’s a stand-alone story, that is not meant to be continued. It can be continued in a sequel. But it’s originally constructed as a single piece unto itself, with a definitive ending.

“Short form” storytelling follows a structure we’ll call “cubbies.”

The “cubbies” refer to the fifteen different elements that make up a well constructed short form story. All the pieces you NEED to have.

We’ll be covering the cubbies in detail very soon, but to jump straight to it all now – click here.

Mini form

“Mini form” storytelling is when a story is told as a single mini section, or slice, of a larger story. Such as a single episode of a TV series, or a chapter in a book, or a single scene in a movie.

Mini form storytelling uses an “episodic three phase” structure.

“Episodic three phase” refers to the three basic phases that an episode progresses through.
Here again we borrow the term “episode” from television. But the term simply refers to any small slice of an overall story.

We’ll get into the deets a little later, but to jump straight to “episodic three phase,” click here.

So…

To understand the rock of long form stories, you’ve got to understand the “seven seasons.”

To understand the rock of short form stories, you’ve got to understand the “cubbies.”

To understand the rock of mini form stories, you’ve got to understand the “episodic three phase.”

These structures, and all of their elements, will be our main focus for the foreseeable future.

Settle in, there’s a lot to cover.