One of the common writing challenges that people often encounter is how to build a narrative. How do you figure out how to tell your story?
Let's take a look at how you might go about figuring this out by using teen drama Riverdale as a bit of a template.
What’s your story about?
Think of this as a bit like an elevator pitch - the advertising blurb on the back of your book that helps compel potential readers to pick it up and take a look.
What’s Riverdale about? It’s the seemingly perfect town full of dark secrets.
That short description immediately sets up an expectation of how that narrative might unfold.
When you're figuring out how to build your narrative, try and articulate the essence of your story. Tell someone, in a sentence, what your story is about.
Who are the core characters?
A good starting point is to develop detailed character profiles on the main people in your story - these are the key characters that are going to drive the narrative forward, these are the characters that will do, say, or react to the important stuff.
In Riverdale, there’s four - Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica. Obviously, there’s a multitude of other characters that feature in various episodes, but the entire narrative is built on the four main characters.
Who are the key drivers in your story? What are their relationships with each other? How do they interact and how do their lives and actions intersect?
Initially, focus in on the most important characters when building your narrative structure. These characters and their actions are the building blocks of your story.
What’s the finishing point of your story?
A successful series such as Riverdale has multiple seasons, and numerous episodes within each season. But - as a general rule - you don’t start filming a series unless you know where your story is going to finish up at the end of it all.
Where is your story going to leave your characters? It’s often easier to think about the end of your story before contemplating the beginning.
What happens in each episode?
Think of your story in chapters - break it down into episodes. Once you’ve worked out where you want your story to finish up, you can then work backwards - how do you get your characters to that finish point?
In each episode - or chapter - something needs to happen in order to move the story forward to where you want to end up.
A narrative device that’s often used in television series is that each episode has an A story and a B story - focusing on different characters, all moving the overall narrative forward.
Who’s telling the story?
Riverdale uses the character of Jughead as the narrator. Generally, each episode starts and finishes with Jughead giving some context about how the story is unfolding and how it all fits together.
While the series often explores some creative flourishes - such as a musical episode, or an 80’s flash-back - using the narrator gives us a consistency of style and a consistency of perspective. We know who’s telling this story. We know the point of view of the narrator.
Try writing a few different approaches to the point of view of your story - which works best? Which feels the most natural or compelling point of view for your narrative?
What’s the emotional hook?
What is it about your story and the characters that you’ve created that will engage the reader? How will the reader connect emotionally with this story? Why will the reader care what happens?
Your story may not be as dramatic as the ups and downs of life in Riverdale, but there's got to be something about your story that keeps the reader turning the page.