Lesson 4: Story generation

Story craft is in essence the explicit understanding of communication.

Storytelling Education - Lesson 4

Coming up with a story

Lesson 4 deals with the matter of putting a story together.

From feedback and experience, prospective storytellers fall into a number of main categories:

    1. Know exactly what they are going to tell and how
    2. Undefined story
    3. Undefined narrative

Even if you know what your story is, take the time and answer the following questions.

They are some heavy duty psychological self examination.


You have no idea of what to talk about!

Below are a number of questions to help you uncover the things from your experiences that would offer value to others - and make a good story.

Question 1

What’s your Why? – your Message? – your Mission?

Write down why are you interested in telling a story. What sparked the interest. What is motivating you?

-> go to lesson 1 – figure out your why / message

Question 2

What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?

Be honest. If you can write this down, you have a story.

Question 3

If I could give you 5 lives to live, what would you do with them?

This is a pretty deep question, so take it seriously.

Question 4

What are you passionate about? What makes you feel alive? What are you doing when ‘time’ just disappears for you?

Consider what gives you that spark of excitement? that puts a grin on your face and joy in your heart?

Question 5

Apart from family, who are the people in your life that mean the most to you? Who had the greatest positive influence or was most pivotal in your life?

When you look back on your life, who are the people who significantly impacted you in a positive way and who you would credit as helping make you into the person you are today?

Question 6

What is your greatest failure?

Probably the toughest of the lot. It may not be the first thing that jumps to mind.


These questions seek the inner core of who you are – your deepest values and the things that have helped define you.

Take time. Each question deserves at least an A4 page of text. Refine, re-evaluate and get to the essence. This is a powerful and meaningful activity. Enjoy.


Step 1: Write down an emotion timeline

This is a timeline of the emotions that you experienced over the course of your story.

Labelling the emotions is a good way to recognised the emotional journey, the inherent content of your story and the emotion that will be created in the audience.

Example of an emotion storyline

An example emotion timeline. Yours could look totally different…!

Step 2: Match your emotion timeline to a story arc structure

In Lesson 2: Story Craft, we went over the basic story structures.

Once you have created an emotion timeline, we are now able to see the emotional arc of your story and match it with to one of the six basic arcs.

The emotional arc is representative of the fluctuation of emotional valence – which is the feeling that a particular word creates: think words that you view as positive vs words that have a negative connotation.

An example would be: war vs flowers. ‘War’ generally has a more negative feeling associated with than the word ‘flowers’ does.

So simply, positive content and words = rising valence / happiness, and vice versa.

The original work is found here: hedonometer.org

Six archetypal story arcs

As discussed in this article by MIT, the six basic story arcs are:

You should have your story written down. Now, the task is to go through and replace word with particular words that better support your overall emotional arc, as discussed above. This could also include editing to change tone, voice and any other aspect that will act counter to the emotion you wish to produce or communicate.

Step 3: Character Arcs

In your story, you will have nouns. Noun’s — people, places, things — do not exist in a vacuum. They exist in time. Hence as subject to time they change.

Change is what a character arc is all about – How did “x” become “z”, How did “a” get to “b”.

Generally this is what fascinates us. This seems to be the most fundamental aspect of storytelling: the communication of how something changed / changes.

Therefore take note! A story without change – is it truly a story??

Plan out and define changes that take place in your story. Articulate them and make them real to the audience. Whether this be in yourself, other characters, places, etc.

The main point here is to simply bring to light that along with identifying the emotional timeline of your story, you must also identify the change that occurs across your story.

Step 4: Build in Narrative Devices

We briefly covered engagement in lesson 3.

This step is about generating ideas for how YOU will keep the audience engaged, interested and connected to you.

Once you have brainstorm ideas and selected the ideas that fit most with your emotional arc, build them into your story structure.

  • Think about how you can build curiosity by giving then withhold information.
  • Create interest through mini emotional arcs.
  • Keep everything in flux.
  • Embed puzzles & connect dots.
  • Start with the end and backtrack to the beginning.
  • Craft a journey of change.
  • Complete a story arc in a powerful way.


We are now at the end of Lesson 4!

This lesson has covered questions to ask yourself to help generate a story or to help decide which story you should tell.

It has also covered how to put your story together by identifying the natural emotional arc and exemplifying it.

We have also touched on purposefully building in narrative devices to your story.

Uncover your story

Time to ask some deep questions and uncover the things that have defined your life - the people, places, experiences and values that form the person you are today.

Think back to the emotions and memories that were most profound. Think back and pull up the feeling your experienced.

Redescribe those moments to yourself - go through sense by sense - hearing, sight, sound, taste, touch and smell.

Relive them and choose the experiences you want to share.

Define your story arc

Mold your story into a defined narrative.

Understand the emotions.

Use a well established timed tested story arc.

Map your story onto your chosen story arc.

What is your point A and what is your point B?

What happened in between and why?


Story Generating Questions: Questions to help uncover stories.

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Story Generating Questions: Questions to help uncover stories.

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