The five P’s of a good story

Old fashioned storiesLast time we defined a story as being about a person overcoming an obstacle to achieve a goal. That’s the simple definition. But let’s unpack it a bit more so that you can learn to tell better stories of your trips…and of your life.

Good stories – the kind that capture our attention and grip our hearts – tend to share some common elements. I call them the five P’s. You can call them anything you want, but here’s the list:

1. Person(s) – AKA characters, every good story has to have players, both good (protagonists) and usually, bad (antagonists). They don’t have to be people – animals, robots, even nature can all fill the role – but someone or something needs to take action or it gets pretty boring pretty fast.

2. Plot – Stream of conscious ramblings may be entertaining for a while, but without an interesting sequence of events, your story tends to go nowhere. With travel writing, one of the most common problems is that the writer thinks the plot has to follow the same sequence in which the trip unfurled. But good stories aren’t constrained by linear time. They do, however, need some kind of plot.

3. Point – Good stories all have a theme or moral to them. Maybe it isn’t obvious, even to the writer. But we want our stories to mean something.

4. Purpose – What’s the goal the protagonist is trying to achieve? Without an objective, however minor it may seem at first, a story tends to go flat.

5. Problem – Remember, a story is about someone overcoming something to achieve a goal. That thing they are overcoming, that’s the problem.

In working with clients or in telling my own stories, especially travel stories, the last element is the one that gets left out the most. Most of us don’t like problems or conflict so it doesn’t make it into of our stories. And that makes for some very boring stories.

Conflict is your friend. Embrace conflict because without it, both your stories and your life will tend to wither.

Next time, we’ll explore this issue of conflict more and see how it applies to our trips. But for now, think through the above five elements of a story. Think of a recent experience you had. How could you tell it as a story? Does it have a player? A message (point)? Is there a goal the protagonist is trying to achieve? How about a plot: does the sequence of events tell the story in the most compelling way? And finally, is there conflict or a problem to overcome?

Learn to incorporate these simple elements and I guarantee you your stories will get better, at home or on a trip.

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