Home » How to write a story? The Prop method

How to write a story? The Prop method

by Zeeshan Khan
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Hello everyone! Today I’m going to explain to you how to write a story.

Originally an oral story, the tale is a learning story questioning society through the fantastic or the marvelous. This type of story was popularized by authors like Charles Perrault, the Grimm brothers, Voltaire and Maupassant.

The tale remains popular even today. Indeed, it is rooted in all the creative arts:

  • in the novel: the works of Paasilinna, the old man who didn’t want to celebrate his birthday by Jonas Jonas son, etc.
  • in animation: Rapunzel by Disney, The Swan and the Princess by Richard Rich, etc.
  • in the cinema: Oliver Dohan’s Tom Thumb, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, etc.
  • in video games: The Path from Tale of tales, American McGee’s Alice from Rogue entertainment
  • in the series: Tales from the Crypt

In this column, I will present to you a method developed by Vladimir Prop in The Morphology of Tales   in 1928 for writing a good story.

If writing a tale does not interest you, I give in this article a method for writing a novel.

With that, I suggest you take a look at Prop’s.

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Prop’s 7 functions for writing a story

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Before building a plan and writing a story, you have to create a universe. For Vladimir Prop, there are seven character functions that must be fulfilled in order to achieve a cohesive world:

  • the hero: this is the protagonist of the story, the one who will lead the action. In general, he has a pure heart
  • the villain: he is the opposite of the hero (if the hero is good, he will be bad and vice versa), he is the character who will have to be defeated to complete the story
  • the false hero: he is a rival of the hero. At first you might think he’s the hero but in the end you realize he’s an imposter or can’t take on the role of hero.
  • the giver: at some point in the story, the hero will help a character who will thank him by giving him an object, often magical, to help him in his quest
  • the auxiliary: he constitutes the hero’s ally. In films, it will often be the funny sidekick (Jonathan in Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy) or the intellectual (Cisco in season 1 of Flash)

Normally, there is only one function per character. However, it is possible for a character to combine several functions.

For example, in several stories, the king has two functions: guarantor of the initial balance + mandatory. Likewise, the auxiliary can become ally + donor. It’s up to you to do your thing!

Once these functions are completed, you can move on to the plan stage.

Prop’s plan for writing a story

Vladimir Prop structures his story in two parts.

Act 1

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Act 1 consists of 4 steps:

  1. the exhibition: in a world in balance, an event disrupts the balance (kidnapping the princess, theft of magical objects, disappearance of a magic seal, etc.)
  2. the call of adventure: a mandate asks the hero to complete a quest to restore balance (Gandalf entrusts Frodo with the mission of plunging the ring into the mountain of destiny in The Lord of the Rings)
  3. the good Samaritan: on the road, the hero helps a person in difficulty (the donor). In exchange, the latter will give him an object to help him in his quest. For example, the protagonist gives his bread to a beggar who turns out to be a fairy who gives him a magic sword.

Act 2

The completion of the duel stage marks the entry into Act 2. It is made up of 5 stages:

  1. the new world: the start of act 2 corresponds to a change of scenery. This is the moment in films when the hero discovers a new land (skull island in king Kong) or new people (song of Mr. Chandelier in Beauty and the Beast). This is a happy stage where everything seems resolved but it is an illusory feeling, evil still exists.
  2. first test:  While heading towards his quest, the hero confronts a force of nature
  3. second test: Still on the way, the protagonist must then defeat the villain’s minions.
  4. third test: the hero discovers the villain’s lair. By his intelligence, he manages to infiltrate to face the villain. Unfortunately, everything goes wrong and he seems lost. Fortunately, his assistant arrives and gives him the magic object which allows him to destroy the villain (Plumes who brings Gryffindor’s sword in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)
  5. The reward: the world regains balance and the hero receives a reward: a kingdom, the love of the loved one, etc. For example, in Luc Bison’s 5th Element, Corban Dallas sleeps with Lalo (both characters are rewarded)

Now you know how to write a story!

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The Bonus Tip

Finally, I would like to give you a little tip. It can be interesting to include a tale in a novel. It will expand your universe.

For example, in Harry Potter the tale of the Three Brothers creates a real mythology around the Deathly Hallows.

Of course, for the latter the structure is a little different than Prop’s, since he uses what I call the 3 attempts structure.

Nevertheless, it is quite possible to create a tale within a story with the method of the Russian mast

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