The three main rules of storytelling

I’m surprised I never heard this before today, but I just stumbled on a fantastic summary of the three main rules of storytelling. I heard it thanks to John Rodgers on an episode of TableTop – which is a great webseries by the way, it really makes me want to play more board games – and they go like this:

  1. Who wants what?
  2. Why can’t they have it?
  3. Why do I give a shit?

Motivation, conflict, and interest, all in three quick questions.

I wondered if this was as brilliant as it seemed, and after running it past the few pieces of authored fiction I encountered today, it is. Motivation, conflict, and interest – if a scene has those three elements, chances are it’s going to resonate with someone. Or at least it’s off to a good start.

2 thoughts on “The three main rules of storytelling

  1. So awesome that you watch TableTop too- we’ve bought so many games because of it (mostly the co-op ones). It really is interesting how games can use storytelling as a game mechanism, like Fiasco, Once Upon a Time, and Dragon Age to name a few from TableTop (and how players can add in the storytelling elements on their own- just watch Wil or the other actors/writers on any episode). It’s great to watch a show like this because you really get a sense of how the game is played (great job by the producers) and the guests make it entertaining. I’ve been introduced to a lot more geek actors/writer/entertainers since watching the series, plus had fun watching people I recognized.

    I agree that quote is very insightful, and is something to keep in mind, whether you’re writing/reading/viewing/creating things. I’m not a writer/creator by any means, but I do consume a lot of books and shows, and I find the whole process of creating a story very interesting. Thinking back to your post a while ago with the link on the levels of consuming art, I switch between levels 2 and 3, since I like being able to analyze the story and what the author is trying to do as I’m going along, but also have that emotional connection to the story and curiosity about where the story is going. I like to keep these kinds of things in mind to be a better consumer and maybe someday a creator, if I ever do decide to attempt to write down whatever ideas are rattling around in my brain someday, even just as a personal achievement. In the meantime, I think it makes for a more enjoyable experience.

    • I’ve just started watching TableTop, and I’m trying to resist buying every other game they play. Not for lack of wanting to play them, mind you, but because I don’t have many good board gamer friends where I live. The day that changes though… *shakes fist at the sky*

      Between level 2 & 3 is a good place to be – it shows you’re perceptive, curious, and familiar enough with storytelling to get inside the creator’s (or the story’s) head, but not so jaded as to not enjoy it viscerally when possible. That’s the ideal I think, at least for those who aren’t masochistic enough to climb into level 4!

      Now I ought to get back to work so soon you can be trying to get into my head.

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