11 Apr

ABCs of Story Analysis

Posted in DIY MFA, Plot, Tips, Writing, Writing Exercises

Today’s technique is one I learned from my thesis adviser and I found it so helpful that it’s stayed with me.  While you can use this technique to develop your own stories, you can also use it as a method of analyzing stories that you read.  Today, I’d like you to take a few minutes and read Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find.

This story is one of my favorites in terms of plot development because while it follows the ABC method beautifully, it is by no means predictable.  In fact, even though you know what’s going to happen, it’s one of the most suspenseful stories I’ve read.  What keeps you reading is the How.  You might have a hunch what the ending will be but you want to know how we get there.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  First the ABC method of Story Analysis.

A = Action.  The action sets the story in motion.  Some teachers give this a fancy name–“inciting incident”–but really all that means is that an action has to kick-start the story.  (Tip: If it takes too long for an action kick in, maybe you need to start the story closer to where the action starts.)

B = Background.  At some point early in the story, you need to establish who these characters are and what their story is.  This doesn’t mean giving pages and pages of back-story.  Rather, a few well-placed details can give us all the background we need.

C = Conflict.  This is probably the most important element in your story.  Without conflict, you might have a great sequence of events or a lovely character study, but you don’t have a story.  90% of the time, the conflict comes from the character wanting something and an obstacle getting in his/her way.

D = Development.  Most of the story or novel occurs in this phase.  This is where we see various obstacles get in the character’s way.  This is where subplots emerge.

E = Ending.  The ending consists of 3 C’s: Crisis, Climax and Consequences.

  • Crisis: The events leading up to the climax.
  • Climax: This is the final showdown, the big event at the end of the story/novel where everything unravels.
  • Consequences: Also called “Denouement” is where some or all of the plot threads are tied together.

Now you know the ABC method, I’d like you to look at the Flannery O’Connor sometime this week and try to identify the different elements in that story.  It’s not a very long story, but take your time with it and really try to pick apart how O’Connor crafts this story.  The ABC elements are your guide.

Homework:  This week I would like you to read and analyze A Good Man is Hard to Find.  In addition, today, I’d like you to take at a piece of your own writing and examine it using the ABC method.  Jot down some notes on how elements A-E and the 3C’s function in your piece.

What did you discover from your analysis?  Did you notice any elements missing from your story?


Comments on this post

  1. MJones says:

    Wow, what a story.

    1. Gabriela Pereira says:

      I know, right? It's one of my favorites for talking about plot because the story's so tight and well-crafted. Not to mention, it's nearly impossible to put the story down!

      1. Najela says:

        I read this story my fall quarter and it was one of my favorites.

        1. J.C. Martin says:

          Cool story! And great advice for story analysis. I knew of the elements before, but they're never been presented in such a memorable way!

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