Story Class 2.3 – The dramatic tension of the undercurrent

A story usually begins with someone in some situation that is for some reason unstable. The context in which a story starts is usually too good to be true or too unbearable to endure. Either way, there is always an undercurrent of pending imbalance. This underlying dramatic tension will feed the story and propel it forward.

For little Red Riding Hood the imbalance is illustrated by the fact that she always wore her red riding hood – so much so that people forgot her real name and called her Little Red Riding Hood. There is the hint of an undercurrent that says to the reader/listener: This situation can not last long, something must change…

In our story class this week we created 4 very promising characters:

1. Lady Mariana who hates violence and has managed to keep peace in her land with the help of her magic sword. But now she longs for purpose and meaning. She has her peace, now what?

2. Lord Charles the can’t-sit-stiller, who loves adventure and action, but has never really felt like he had done something worthwhile. He itches for something full of action and risk, but also meaningful so that he can feel he deserves some rest. Until then, he feels, he can not ever sit still.

3. Queen Elizabeth, the control freak, who reigns her kingdom with a strict hand and a clear understanding of what is right and proper. Yet, she is lonely and longs for a companion to share the responsibility so that maybe for a moment she could let her hair down and have a minute of fun.

4. Gemima the extravagant drag queen who loves beautiful expensive things and who knows how to have a good time. She is popular and successful on the outside, but longs for a lost love from a long time ago whom she cannot pursue. She is also aging and she knows her moments in the spotlight are counted.

There is great potential for character development and transformation for all four these characters. Our challenge for the coming week is to present them with a Call to Adventure that will focus their energy and propel them into their journeys.

It may be helpful to think about a last straw kind of experience. This is an event or opportunity that grabs the attention of the character and forces them to take action of some kind.

Ideas we have already mentioned are:

1. Queen Elizabeth organises a big celebration in her palace to which she invites all manner of performers to come and entertain her guests. Gemima is one of the first to respond…


What is the occasion that warrants such a celebration?

What does this opportunity offer Gemima that she is so keen to jump for it?

2. A huge battle breaks out in the Land of Isle (where our story takes place) and pulls in both Lord Charles and Lady Mariana.


Who started the fight and why?

Why is Lord Charles involved? What is at stake for him and why is it so important?

Why is Lady Mariana involved and again what is at stake for her and why is it so important?

3. The very same battle happens to interrupt the Queen’s celebrations and she is forced to break her her routines and change her plans.


How did the battle come to involve her?

Why was she unaware or unmoved by it at first?

Idea: Was this perhaps the Queen’s battle and she was already celebrating her victory when she met unexpected resistence…?

With all this in mind, please finish your stories for the coming week using the following as a guideline. Always remember that the formula or template I offer is just to spark your thinking. Use it to make sure all the elements are there, but don’t necessarily follow it to the letter.

The first stage of your story needs three elements:

1. Protagonist: The main character is introduced and the scene is set.

Once upon a time there was… (someone somewhere in some situation)

2. Ordinary World: All is well, but there is an underlying problem. Usually the protagonist does not see the problem, but can experience some sense of dissatisfaction. They are either stuck in something too idyllic too last (Lady Mariana) or in a situation that is becoming unbearable (Jamima).

Everyday he/she/they would…(they do something that shows who they are now, but with underlying dramatic tension)

3. Call to adventure: The hero (protagonist) becomes aware of the problem and is asked to address it somehow. The enemy or antagonist often shows up in this scene.

Then one day…(a crisis calls them to action and potentially change. They may meet an enemy).

Looking forward to next week!


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