The Essentials of Storytelling

Image from Flickr by joinash

Image from Flickr by joinash

My son hates to write. By write, I mean the physical act of taking pencil to paper and shaping the letters that form words that form paragraphs. He’ll get there; it’s simply that his hand can’t keep up with his mind, which is whirling with stories, always. And boy, can Gabriel tell stories.

The other day, his sister decided to type one of Gabriel’s stories as he was telling it. It turned out pretty good, so I sent him with a copy for his teacher, who praised him and encouraged him to read it aloud to his classmates. (Don’t you just love teachers?)

Inspired by this triumph, Gabriel enthusiastically asked me to dictate another story for him the next day. I smoothed out a few transitions, otherwise it would have been one long sentence punctuated several times with “and then!” but otherwise I did not prompt him in any way.

When I printed this out and read it over, I was struck by Gabriel’s natural instincts for storytelling. In one paragraph, he captured the essentials that so frequently seem to elude writers—the simple three-act structure of setup, confrontation, and resolution. Here is “The Dinosaur and the Rock,” printed with permission by Gabriel Corral:

The Dinosaur and the Rock
Gabriel Corral

Once upon a time there was a dinosaur who was hungry. When he got to a plant, he noticed a big rock in front of it. He whacked it away with his tail. Then the rock bounced off a piece of rubber and killed the plant. Then the dinosaur picked up the plant with his horn, then the rock hit him and flung him to the top of a silo. When he slid off, he whacked the rock again, then he ate the plant.


I know, adorbs, right? Our hero doesn’t change much, so there is the problem of character development, not to mention physics and the issue of the mysterious piece of rubber. Keep in mind this is a first draft.

But the basics are all here—we have a main character who has a problem: he’s hungry, and there’s a rock standing between him and his dinner. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Your character needs a problem to solve, and your readers need to know what it is right away. Next, we have rising action as the dinosaur attempts to solve his problem and is continually thwarted by his antagonist. Finally, we have resolution as our hero prevails, and eats his dinner.

Details can be worked out later. For now, who is your protagonist, what’s her problem to solve, and who or what is standing in her way? Go write her story, and don’t forget to throw in plenty of cool action scenes. Silos are highly recommended, but optional.


  1. That is absolutely fabulous that his mind has already grasped the universal struggle between desire and fulfillment, and how it takes work to get from one to the other! Kudus to you as inspiration! Love you! XXOO

    • Hi Leah,

      Thanks for commenting! I don’t know if he’s been more inspired by me or Pixar and Dreamworks, but I’ll take it either way, hahaha. 🙂

  2. Oma Naranjo says:

    Very cute! I liked his story and I really liked your interpretation. You write so well. Love you.