The three simple elements of a story: Take them to 11
Stories are — at their core — very simple. They need:
- A relatable character (AKA the protagonist)
- A desire the protagonist wants
- Conflict and obstacles that get in the way of the protagonist getting what they want
Of course, on top of these basics, storytellers weave in advanced techniques like point of view, subplots, time lapses, etc…
Mark and I get inspired every time we see how non profit storytellers take these basic elements and make them theirs. Last week, we conducted a training in the Bronx and we were wowed by the stories developed by this group of front line professionals working to help those living with HIV, to reduce the rates of teenage pregnancy and to assist immigrants throughout the five boroughs.
Here’s one storyteller who took these basic elements to 11. (Spinal Tap reference).
First, the basics. In this story, an unnamed protagonist wants to get home from work. As he tries to finish his last email, he encounters obstacles (if you can even call them obstacles) — a deluge of memories.
If you are as inspired by this story as we were, check out some more of Stephen’s work here.
Feeling and Moving by Stephen Beasley
He hurriedly forged toward his home, while simultaneously completing his final work tasks of the day so that he could have complete free time to refresh and renew himself once he finally reached the nearly bare top floor of a family house in Bedford Stuyvesant that he called “Simplicity” .. which in reality.. held within its walls some of the most complex events of his entire life.
He well knew that at some point the next day… he would cry about having to physically assist a friend (the hour before) who has had a sudden deluge of health problems.
He knew he would not only cry about the events of that night, but as a result of a deluge of emotions that build and occasionally erupted from others whose legacies, stories and struggles affect him deeply.
He remembered the sudden urge to get up sweep his floor at 1am a few days after Chrys passed. “Sweeping and Weeping” he thought to himself.
He remembered doing pre and post counseling for an HIV test she just randomly popped up at his job to take, years before.
He remembered that they shared the undeniably earth-shaking, life-altering experience of being in love with someone who is HIV positive … but felt guilty for drawing any comparison to her marriage of 20 years to a man she had 3 kids …with his year and seven month relationship between the ages of 22 and 23 that he occasionally still analyzes with his rabbi shrink at 35.
He then has a sudden urge to check in with 4 other HIV positive friends he treasures… But plotted to do so… in an unemotional fashion… via text ..in 4 respective brands of foolish banter..
But he would do so.. after he finishes this one. last. email.
He remembered peaking through the curtain at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital on what he believed to be the start of the final paragraph of the last page of Chrys’ battle with Pancreatic Cancer.
He remembered Jon losing his battle with the same condition a year later, and searching through their email check-ins at the funeral, and giggling at some of their exchanges.”Bless your high yellow boots,”
Jonathan had said to him in one exchange.
He loved being that impacted by such a great black man, but had long resolved he’d rather not bear the weight of being such a great black man…
He then remembered having to work the day of Chrys’ funeral and realized in hindsight that perhaps he purposefully chose to work, because he’d said goodbye to her in that hospital, and had resolved to continue scraping together the money to travel to say an annual hello to his mother and sister… who were alive and well.. but 896 miles away.
He remembered the transformative final 2 weeks of Tammys life. There was who he was before that 2 weeks in March, and there was who he was after. Still being overwhelmed a year later that he became part of the planning behind of when she was taken off the resperator and being part of the Chaplin service and getting “the call” on the way home 2 hours later
He walks around feeling slapped in the face with all the emotions of the stories of all of the people in his life and all of his the emotions
The next day, on the way to a storytelling workshop, was the avenue where there was a shelter, that he had, in another life, dropped a friend off to.
He then pondered how crazy he felt that he could never be this emotional in therapy because its his only safe space and he’s always just so happy to get there that he cant stop smiling.. much less cry.
He then laughed at he and his Rabbi Shrink putting the proverbial “smack down” on themselves and making it mandatory that in the next session that they would NOT socially engage with one another until the end…. Because he needed to do some body work to get the tears flowing about a set of emotions he’s actually repressing.
Being that he was 20 minutes late to said workshop..
He certainly knew he would have to keep moving…
He certainly knew he would need coffee to do so…
…and he knew that no matter what, his stories would accompany him.