Story Loops

Story Worksheet - Story Loops

Story loops are a powerful technique for improving your storytelling. Before you read the examples below, allow me to give you an analogy.

Are you familiar with the parallels between storytelling and textiles?

There’s the word, “text” itself, then there are the phrases “spinning a yarn”, and “weaving a story”, and hundreds of others…

Knitting and crochet create fabric by pulling loops through loops, and weaving by alternating.

Story loops work along similar lines. A loop is created when a new story emerges, and is tied off when the story is concluded. These internal loops can be mysteries, anecdotes, character arcs, themes, try/fail cycles, or any other narrative phase that you wish to track.

But beware: if you drop a loop (i.e. you forget to close it), you risk your work unravelling!

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Story loops can serve several purposes:

  1. They keep readers engaged and turning pages.
  2. They delay the conclusion of the story to create anticipation, and suspense.
  3. They interrupt the story and make it more difficult for readers to remember key details, which can help to set up impressive plot twists.
  4. They give the story rhythm and flow.
  5. They increase the complexity of the plot and make the story richer and more engaging.

How to Use Story Loops

Here are some ideas for using your Story Loops worksheet. You can begin and end loops in any order you choose, have as many loops on the go as you feel comfortable with, and leave them open as long as you like…

The numbers along the left-hand side of your worksheet can stand for any story or narrative unit you find useful: scenes, beats, chapters, pages, minutes, hours, days…

And you can use the horizontal guides to start and end loops whenever you need.

Set Up Mysteries

Open Loops:

  1. Pose a question (about an event, a character, an object, etc.).
  2. Discover a clue.
  3. Begin investigating.

Close Loops:

  1. Answer the question – often this answer will spark another question.
  2. Explain the clue (who owns it, who placed it where it was found, why it was there, etc.).
  3. Complete an investigation.

A mystery will repeat these loops indefinitely to sustain the suspense. Usually, the closure of one loop will open another. The final loop will close with a dénouement or  éclaircissement.

Relate Anecdotes or Jokes

Open Loops:

  1. Begin an anecdote.
  2. Relate how you came to hear or experience this anecdote.
  3. Relate why this anecdote is important to your story.

Close Loops:

  1. Conclude the anecdote.
  2. Deliver a punchline.
  3. Deliver a moral.

Characters telling stories within the story are an easy and extremely effective way of developing the plot, the characters, and the world. How about inventing an anecdote that perfectly sums up the personality of each of your characters?

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Switch Perspectives

Open Loop:

  1. Begin telling a story from one character’s point of view.
  2. Switch to the narrator’s point of view.
  3. Switch to a second character’s point of view.

Close Loops:

  1. Return to the original character’s point of view.
  2. Return to the narrator’s point of view.
  3. Return to a second character’s point of view.

“Meanwhile…” is a classic indicator of a new story loop opening while another is still ongoing. Switching story perspectives is a very convenient and convincing way of delaying closing a loop and creating more pleasurable anticipation for the reader.

Keep Your Readers Engaged

Open Loops:

  1. Foreshadow a coming event or revelation.
  2. Give an overview of the story, the world, or the character’s life.
  3. Start a flashback or flashforward.

Close Loops:

  1. Detail the event you foreshadowed.
  2. Return to the details of the present moment.
  3. Return to the present time.

Open new loops near the end of a page or chapter and leave them open until the next page or chapter, in order to encourage readers to keep reading.

Set Up a Frame Narrative

Open Loops:

  1. Introduce the story as part of the “real world” (the reader’s world).
  2. Introduce the writer or reader as a character in the “real world”.
  3. Begin telling the story.

Close Loops:

  1. End the story.
  2. Conclude the character’s story in the “real world”.
  3. Conclude the story of the story.

Sometimes the frame narrative will only be present at the beginning and end of a story, but more often the frame narrator will intervene in the telling of the story and create further loops.

Insert a Mini Quest

Open Loops:

  1. The character needs something from someone.
  2. Someone asks a character to retrieve something.
  3. The character sets off on a quest.

Close Loops:

  1. The character completes the quest.
  2. The character rewards the quester.
  3. The character fails to complete the quest.

Mini quests are perfect examples of small, compact loops that can be inserted at almost any point of a story for conflict and development.

Interweave Try/Fail Cycles

Open Loops:

  1. A character begins planning something.
  2. A character sets off to do something.
  3. A character’s task becomes harder.

Close Loops:

  1. A character fails to do something.
  2. A character succeeds in doing something.

Interweaving try/fail cycles can help you give a sense of a character who is faced with increasing difficulties.

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Nested Loops

With nested loops, the first loop begins, then the second, then the third… then the third one ends, the second one ends, and finally the first one ends.

This creates a nice symmetry in the structure of the story, and it can give readers a sense of circularity and of loose ends being neatly tied up.


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