I am not a fan of story formulas, but when I read Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver, it showed me the clearest and most understandable story structure.
Here it is:
CONFLICT + ACTION + RESOLUTION = STORY
It seems dumb and simplistic, but this is the first time it made complete sense.
So let’s break each piece down.
CONFLICT is composed of two elements: want and obstacle. Someone wants something, and something stands in their of getting it.
ACTION is what the character does to overcome that obstacle and get what they want. You need to show it on the page for the audience to see.
RESOLUTION answers the question: does the character get what they want or not? It’s not always a clean ending. There can be compromises and losses, but you must offer a sense that the character’s attempt at getting what they wanted can’t continue any further.
So that’s it. I’ll not overcomplicate it too much today. But if you don’t know these three elements, or have them written clearly in your story, then it will suffer.
Don’t let the simplicity of this fool you. Just because I’ve only listed three story elements doesn’t make it easy. As Cleaver says:
These story elements are what you will spend your writing life working to master.