The Five Laws of Storytelling

Jun 21, 2017 / Writing / storytelling

As mentioned last week, I started reading Pride & Prejudice. What a wonderful book! I couldn’t put it down even though I already saw the movie and knew what would happen.

I was reading the annotated version of Pride & Prejudice. This book is annotated by Shawn Coyne, a book editor of over 25 years who wrote Story Grid: What Good Editors Know. Story Grid gives advice on how to improve stories. You do this by making sure you give the reader obligatory scenes that they subconsciously expect. For example, in the love story genre, there has to be the following scenes: lovers meet for the first time, confession of love, first kiss, a break-up, proof of love, and a reconciliation. If your love story does not have all of these elements, the story will be äóìoffäóù (but the reader will not know why), and the story will not work.

I read Shawn Coyne’s book a long time ago, but I didn’t really get it, so I set it aside on my bookshelf. Until now.

It was eye-opening to read Pride & Prejudice with Story Grid’s analytical framework. After every chapter, Coyne analyzed what Jane Austen did in terms of the the 5 Laws of Storytelling:

  1. Inciting Incident - something that happens that upsets the status quo of the character
  2. Progressive Complication - some conflict / problem that arises that gets in the way of what the character wants
  3. Crisis - a point in the story where a character has to choose between two bad choices (the äóìbest bad choiceäóù) or between two equally good choices (the äóìirreconcilable choiceäóù)
  4. Climax - the character makes a choice
  5. Resolution - the character lives with her choice.

A story must have each of these elements or else it will not work.

This led me to wonder whether these elements exist in my work-in-progress. Since A Million Suns is supposed to be a story in pictures, does it have these elements?

First of all, I don’t think that all these elements can exist in one image. That would be asking too much of one image. You can’t put inciting incident, progressive complication, crisis, climax, and resolution in one fine art image. I think these elements require time to unfold and develop.

One thing that also occurred to me is that some of these elements may come from the viewer and is not actually supplied by the image. It goes back to connotation and denotation. I think most images and paintings work this way. It presents one of the elements, say the crisis, and the viewer fills in what must have happened before (the Inciting Incident) and what may happen after (the Resolution).

One Image Can’t Do It All

So this is a limitation of using photographs for storytelling. One photograph cannot be Inciting Incident, progressive complication, crisis, climax, and resolution. You need multiple photographs that unfold over a length of time. That is why movies are superior media for storytelling. It has images sequenced over time, not to mention spoken words and sound effects for an immersive experience.

Sequence of Images As A Prerequisite of Story

Once you introduce more than one image and place them in a sequence, then the function of each image can be different. One could show the inciting incident, another the progressive complication, another one the crisis, the climax, and the resolution.

By putting the image above at the start of A Million Suns, I’m essentially saying that this bad presentation, where the protagonist has a breakdown because he can’t explain a specific graph, is the inciting incident that gets the story started.

It’s interesting to analyze A Million Suns from the 5 Laws of Storytelling from Story Grid. I’m finding I’m missing certain things. (Sigh). I will have to work on that.

My Inciting Incident for Storytelling
The 5 Components of Myth
Your Hero's Journey Could be Large or Small

About the Author

Jonah Calinawan

Hello! I’m Jonah Calinawan, an accountant turned artist.

I create cyanotype art that makes you think and write about the creative mindset to help and inspire you.

When not shooting photos, I teach myself piano and recommend pianist Josh Wright’s Propractice tutorials (affiliate link).

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