Story Design - Story Telling pt.1
Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 11:10PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Story

There's something I highly respect and value that I need to make clear up front. It's your opinion, your feelings, and your personal story. Seems like a strange way to open an article about the craft of stories in video games and other media. But, believe me, stories are perhaps the most important tool we have for understanding the world and each other. 

I have a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing. So, story design is my area of study. Over the years I've found that many talk as if they understand what a story is and how its parts work, yet their statements are far from anything substantive. Before one can talk about what a story is, it helps to be clear about the parts of a story.

I started the Critical-Gaming blog by creating a bridge between the theories of literary critique and game design. I figured that starting with something familiar (stories) we could understand game design more easily. From there I created and defined many terms and explained why descriptors like "good" are utterly imprecise and unhelpful. The idea is by breaking down every facet of game design, we can be more clear about what's happening design wise, which would in turn shed light on why we like or dislike a particular aspect of a game. I think this is a solid approach. So it's time to do it again with stories. 

The following is a universal system to break down and compare all types of stories. While I've come up with some revolutionary and radical game design theories in the past, I believe tackling story design will be much simpler. Our intuitions about the craft of storytelling should go a long way here. So, be patient if it all seems somewhat obvious. 

To best understand stories, we must understand three main categories: content, execution, and discourse


see full image here


A story is nothing more than a series of events. Before we worry about deeper meaning or execution, we must focus on the fundamental details or the content.



Stories are more than a collection of details or a list of qualities. Whether linear or non-linear, how the events are presented is storytelling or execution. If the execution is too slow, too obvious, too jumbled, or too fast even the best story content can fail. 



Though we may not do it consciously, we're always evaluating the quality of a story based on how it compares to everything else we've experienced (especially other stories). In other words, we're constantly looking for originality. On the one hand we're drawn toward the familiar. Yet, on the other we crave the new. It's a tricky line that most of us don't realize we walk. 



Resonance (Harmony)   


If a story has one of these elements great. If it doesn't, it's no big deal. One habit that we must move away from is looking for the details that make a "bad story." Like with game design, the real impact of a story emerges from all of the smaller pieces. Because this process is so complicated, it not very helpful or accurate to look at an individual detail, or lack of a detail, then judge the whole. A better way to discuss "bad" stories is to explain how various facets actually undermine or deconstruct its better qualities. More on this later. 


In part 2, I give examples, lots and lots of examples because that's the best way to grasp these concepts. 

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (
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