Creative Writing Project: Structure Your Story | Dani and Steve Alcorn | Skillshare

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Creative Writing Project: Structure Your Story

teacher avatar Dani and Steve Alcorn, Authors, Mentors, Online Instructors

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Plot vs. Story


    • 3.

      The Dramatic Elements


    • 4.

      Project: Create Your Story's Structure


    • 5.

      Next Steps


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About This Class

The Creative Writing Project series helps you complete a novel, short story or screenplay. Each class focuses on a specific step in the creative process, from brainstorming to publication. The goal is to get you published!

This class shows you how to structure your story. You’ll identify your passion, the theme you wish to convey to readers, your main character’s story structuring flaw. Then you’ll put them all together in the class project, where you’ll create your story’s premise. When you complete this class you will have a clear understanding of the structure of your Creative Writing Project.

The classes in this series include:

  • Creative Writing Project: Brainstorm Your Story
  • Creative Writing Project: Create a Character
  • Creative Writing Project: Structure Your Story
  • Creative Writing Project: Write Act 1
  • Creative Writing Project: Write Act 2
  • Creative Writing Project: Write Act 3
  • Creative Writing Project: Structure a Scene
  • Creative Writing Project: Create a Setting
  • Creative Writing Project: Write Great Dialogue
  • Creative Writing Project: Energize Your Manuscript
  • Creative Writing Project: Publish Your Book
  • Creative Writing Project: Market Your Book

Meet Your Teacher

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Dani and Steve Alcorn

Authors, Mentors, Online Instructors


Steve Alcorn is the author of many novels and non-fiction books. His publications include mysteries, young adult novels, a romance novel, children's books, history and non-fiction about theme park design, and the writer's guide How to Fix Your Novel.

Dani Alcorn is the Chief Operating Officer of Writing Academy, a writing instructor, and author of Young Adult fiction, screenplays, and a screenwriting handbook. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Northwestern University, where she majored in Psychology and Radio, Television, & Film.

Steve and Dani have helped more than 50,000 aspiring authors structure their novels. Many of their students are now published authors.

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1. Introduction: Hello and welcome to the creative writing project. I'm Steve Alcorn, your instructor and mentor. These classes air all about projects. They're all about creating your own original novel, short story or screenplay step by Step one project at a time. The ultimate goal of this course is by the time you've completed these projects, you'll be ready to publish. I'm the author of a number of novels, travel books, Children's books, nonfiction books about the theme park industry and the book How to Fix Your Novel, which tells you all about the techniques you'll use to structure and create your own original work of fiction. It's techniques that will draw upon throughout this class in order to achieve your ultimate goal of getting into print. So let's get started. The creative writing project. This lesson is about structuring your story. This is an overview and in this overview will talk about this introduction and key concepts that include plot and story, a quick review to remind you of the difference between the two. It's important because we'll need to know that as we look at the next key concept, the dramatic elements I'll show you the four dramatic elements on which all fiction is based and help you to develop your own. Then, in the project section, you'll formalize those by creating your story's dramatic elements in written form. Finally, I'll show you some next steps to further your writing career, so let's get started. 2. Plot vs. Story: if you are following these projects along one by another in order from brainstorming to getting published and marketing your work, then you may have already heard a lecture about plot versus story. But it's so vital to some of the concepts in this course, but I think it's worth doing a quick review and especially if you're not following the projects in order than you'll need this information to go on with this project. So what is the difference between plot and story? We tend to use these terms interchangeably, but they're actually very different, and we need to be concerned about the difference between them, because structuring our project involves balancing the difference between them. Plot is your main character, your protagonists physical journey, whereas story is your protagonists emotional journey. So plot is physical and story is emotional. Plot is your protagonists physical journey from place to place or time to time. While story is your protagonists, emotional journey of changes they overcome that flow we talked about in the character project, so plot can be thought of his action and story can be thought of as reaction. But plot is not just activity, it's meaningful action it's directed towards the characters. Goal in your story. Don't have them do things unless they're important. Each thing that they do should build the plot, and story lets us get to know your character. So make sure that anything that is internal to them is building that character and not just pointless frittering because too much story can bog down your novel. Books tend to be more story oriented than movies, and that's because we can get inside of a character's head. Unlike a movie where we can only look at what the actor is doing to interpret the characters emotions. So James Bond is an example of ah, movie Siri's that is mostly plot, although lately they've added in a little bit of story. But the vast majority of the older Bond films are all action oriented, whereas Twilight is an example of something that is very story oriented. We spend the entire book inside the main character's head, and very little happens. Harry Potter, on the other hand, is a great example of a balance off plot and story where Harry becomes a wizard and Harry overcomes his lack of self confidence and a variety of other flaws throughout the Siris in order to succeed. So a nice example of how plot and story can work together. So just to remember, as you proceed with the lessons and projects in this course plot is physical, and story is emotional. 3. The Dramatic Elements: what are dramatic elements, and how can you use them in order to create your project? The dramatic elements are the four elements that underlie every good story in this lesson will take a look at each of them one by one and show you how you can use them in order to create the structure that will almost make your story write itself. If you get it right, and then we'll have a project following this that allows you to construct those elements and to try them out yourself. So the first dramatic element is passion, and it's not necessarily about your story. It's more about you. It's answering the question of why you want to write this particular story. You need to understand that because having your passion clear is what's going to keep you motivated to get all the way to the last page of that 100,000 word document that you plan to write. You need to remain passionate about it, so it has to be something that's important to you. The theme is the message that you want your readers to take away from them from reading your story. Often it is the same as your passion. For example, I wrote an example story for one of my classes that was about conservation of forests, and I'm passionate about conservation. And the theme that I wanted my readers to take away from was, I wanted them to feel that conservation was important as well. But sometimes your passion could be very different from the theme. For example, if my passion was that I wanted to have lots of readers who would buy my book, that was an action story. Then that's my passion. But that's not the theme that readers take away from reading the book. The theme they might take away from is that action stories air exciting? Or that I'm a good author? Or that this character is a terrific representation of an action adventure character? See, so theme can sometimes be shallow, and sometimes it can be quite deep. It's all depends upon the type of story that you wish to write. The theme is generally created by the characters flaw. Oddly enough, you want your character typically to be the opposite of the theme that you want readers to take away. So if you do, then theme of your story is going to be the importance of self confidence, and the most important moment of your story will be the moment when your character changes . When the character realizes. Golly, I've lacked self confidence. I need to change and the message E readers will take away is then self confidence is important in order to accomplish your goals. So that's how you create your flaw from your theme and your theme from your flaw. They work together. And then finally, there is the premise. The premise of your story is a concise one sentence statement that pulls together the plot and story that we've talked about in previous lessons and pulls together the flaw of your protagonist to show how they physically accomplish what happens in your plot. So now that you're familiar with the four dramatic elements, let's go on to the project in this course, and you can use them to construct your own dramatic elements. I'll see you there 4. Project: Create Your Story's Structure: so now is your opportunity to create your story's structure, and we'll use those dramatic elements in order to do so. So first, I would like you to open a file. And in that file, I would like you to write down a one sentence description of why you want to write this story, something that reflects your passion. What's important enough about this story to keep you writing all the way until you get to the end. Then, in the next paragraph, I would like you to write down what message readers should take away from your story. Now this should not be a sentence long or a paragraph long, and in fact, it might only be a word or a few words, and it may very well incorporate the name of the flaw that you're going to select in the next dramatic element. For example, if you want readers to take away the message that you need to have self confidence to succeed in life, then the flaw that you should give your character should be lack of self confidence. So in the next paragraph, I'd like you to write down 12 maybe three words that describe what your character's flaw is and try to draw upon that list of flaws that we had in the previous lesson. I'll attach a reference, uh, page for those flaws in the supplemental material section so that you can refer to it. But things like lack of self confidence, stubbornness, prejudice, inability to put the past behind those air, great flaws to give your character. Then, finally, I'd like you to write your premise, and the premise takes a very specific form. It should only be one sentence long. It should be posed as a question, but note that it is not a question that is unanswered. It's a what if question that actually tells us what does happen. So don't write it as an alternate reality of something that didn't happen in your story. Write it exactly as you expect it to occur in the story and arrange the elements in it in the order that they do occur in your story. So you'll have a protagonist and will discover what's wrong with that protagonists. So, for example, what if a person who lacked self confidence would be a good way to start your premise? Then you have to establish the problem that they encounter early on in the story, and so this might be the fact that they have to take a test, for example. So the problem would be simply stated as what if, ah, person who lacked self confidence had to take a test. Don't go into a lot of plot details here. Those don't belong in the premise. We're just trying to get the actual structure of the underlying story. So now what do they have to do In order to take that test? They have to overcome their lack of self confidence, so this might seem redundant. But I want you to name their flaw twice in this premise. I want you to establish it at the start, and then I want you to explicitly describe them overcoming that flaw, even though it sounds redundant to repeat it because those will occur in two very different points in your story. So what if a person who lack self confidence had to take a test and they had to believe in themselves or overcome their lack of self confidence? However you want to phrase it, but it needs to directly relate to that flaw in order to and now state the problem that they have to overcome. And in this case, the solution is to do well on the test, So it's very simple. This may all seem redundant when you put it together into a premise, but there's no clear way to state what your story is about. What if a person who lacked self confidence had to take a test and they had to overcome their lack of self confidence in order to do well on it? That's a concise statement of a story. Now the story might have hundreds of more complex plot points added into it afterwards. But you can boil down almost any great story novel, plot, screenplay, movie whatever into a very short, concise premise like this. And if you do, you'll see the clarity of the underlying story to which, in a few more lessons, we're going to add a whole bunch of plot details. So try this. Process yourself and post your results in the community so that we can share your work and comment on it. So you there 5. Next Steps: thanks for joining me on this journey. I've enjoyed it and I hope you have to. Thing is one of a dozen different projects that are available through this series, of course, is if you follow all of these projects from brainstorming all the way to marketing, you'll be able to bring your idea for a novel, short story or screenplay to reality, step by step and project by project. In the meantime, I hope you'll follow us on Facebook and be sure to sign up for free writing tips. I look forward to seeing you there. Until then, happy writing.