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Story Elements

Whether you’re going to join in with us in NaNoWriMo or you’re working on a short story you need to include the basic story elements in your work.

1. Setting: Include the place, time of day or night, what country, season, inside or outside, year or decade. These can be stated if they are important or weave it in your opening scene. For example, suspense novels sometimes have a date stamp at the beginning of each chapter (12:15 am, January 13th). Another way to indicate when your story takes place could be” Jane’s calf length suit skirt caught on her leg as she ran to a phone booth. Her white gloved fingers jammed a dime into the pay phone and she looked over her shoulder.

  2. Plot: If nothing is happening to your protagonist then you don’t have a story. In the first few paragraphs you have to grab your reader’s attention or they won’t purchase your book. Something has to happen or  be in motion to get things rolling.

3. Conflict: Without some type of conflict and challenge, the character has nothing to react to or to solve. The conflict can be internal or external. It can be a combination of both. An internal conflict could be a crisis of conscience or beliefs. External conflicts come from outside the protagonist. External circumstances or actions can be man versus man, man versus circumstances beyond the character’s control, and man versus society or social issue.

4. Characters: Your key characters are the protagonist (hero or heroin) and an antagonist. Also, develop the secondary and incidental characters who are included in the story. Leave out any character who does not have a reason for appearing in the story or furthers the action. Give your characters a personality, background, physical features, and quirks. Remember that even your antagonist needs at least one redeeming quality.

5. Point of View: Decide which character’s point of view the story represents. Either write it in 1st person or 3rd person.

I like to add a 6th element: Theme: This is the main idea or central insight behind the story. It helps you stay focused on the direction and meaning you want to give the reader.


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Memoir Writing

As you probably already know, I’m teaching a memoir class this month. I’d like to share some of the information from that class with youl

We are focusing on creating a theme for your memoir. Not all memoirs have themes, but many that are published to have one.

Your stories are like pearls and the theme provides the string that holds them together. One option that people use when writing memoir is to structure the content around a theme.

Theme provides: development of an idea, conceptual coherence, a guide for what to include in your story and what to leave out.

The biggest problem in writing a memoir is that you know every detail of your life – what happened to you, around you, how you felt or reacted, things you’ve accomplished, where you’ve failed and where you’ve triumphed. You know what you’ve overcome and what challenges you’re still working on. The greatest challenge is that you know too much. You make the decision about what to include and what to leave out.

Life sorting: This is a little like recycling, you need two containers. Have you ever seen the television shows where they go into someone’s home and rejuvenate a room that is filled to the ceiling with junk? They have bins for sorting: Keep – Give Away – Throw Away.

I propose that we use these categories as columns for sorting the stories and the details in those stories.


Give Away

Throw Away



Keep = details that you want to include in your memoir

Give Away = stories or details you want to put aside for now and use later in another story or chapter

Throw Away = details or stories that you consider best left out

These are flexible categories and you can change them from one category to another, but only after you’ve written your basic story.