The Story Tree

Ciao, SEers! Happy Arbor Day!

Today is a day (in several countries, the US included) dedicated to planting trees. Trees give us air. They give us shade. They give us beauty.

They give us stories?

Not exactly. I’m not talking The Giving Tree. (And don’t get me started on how tragic that story is.) And I don’t mean in the sense that wood becomes paper in some instances, which could eventually become pages of books.

So, what do I mean? In honor of Arbor Day, I thought we’d have a little fun and compare trees to story.

The Seeds

You can’t have a tree without a seed. This could be planted by someone or a naturally occurring event in the woods (or even your yard). But to grow a tree, you start with the seeds.

You start a story the same way. Just the kernel of an idea is all it takes to eventually blossom, grow, and mature.

The Roots

Every tree needs a strong root system to stabilize it and to pull moisture from the soil. Some are deep taproots, from which other roots grow. These anchor the tree. Other roots are spread under the canopy, providing water and nourishment so the tree can thrive.

Stories need a central message to build upon (a taproot) and supporting content to drive the point home (ancillary rootlets).

The Trunk

The trunk is a support structure for the tree. Without it, there’s no way to get the nourishment in the roots to the foliage.

The trunk of your story is the plot. It’s the vehicle through which your idea is brought to fruition and ultimately flourishes.

The Branches

Leaves don’t often sprout from the trunk. They bloom at the end of limbs. Some of these are thick and support most of the smaller branches. Others are barely twigs and hold only a leaf or two. But all are necessary to support a full canopy.

The branches are like the characters in your story. A few main limbs (or main characters) carry the load for the rest. These are your protagonists and antagonists. Smaller branches are your secondary or beta characters. They help the main characters and still carry a decent load, but they aren’t the main focus. The tiny twigs at the end are the one-and-done characters who serve a single purpose and then are never seen again. They aren’t strong enough to bear the weight of the story, but they do add to the fullness.

The Leaves

The leaves add the ambiance to the tree. Spring buds, lush green summer foliage, brilliant fall colors, or dry, shriveled fronds barely hanging on in the winter. This growth sets the mood.

The leaves are the setting of the story. They establish the mood. (Remember, we just spent four weeks talking about setting. You can find the atmosphere post here.)

The Whole Tree

It takes all the elements to make a tree, but the TYPE of tree is determined by that first tiny seed. Does it grow into a weeping willow? A wide-spread maple? A tall spruce? A white-barked birch? Yes, all the elements are necessary, but every type of tree is different. EVERY TREE IS DIFFERENT. Just like snowflakes, no two are identical. Never think that because you’ve seen one oak, you’ve seen them all. Each is an individual beauty.

It doesn’t matter what genre you write or what type of story you want to tell. People say every story has already been told, and authors today just find new ways—amazing ways—of telling them. No story is exactly like another. Enjoy each for the wonder that it is.

I admit this might be a clumsy metaphor. Or I may have chosen to label my tree parts differently than you would have. But I think you get the idea. Would you label anything differently? Do you have a better metaphor for the development of story? Let’s talk about it below.

And go plant a tree! (Story, actual, or both.) Saluti!

Staci Troilo's bio

85 thoughts on “The Story Tree

  1. Ah, there is no reason to convince me. I am already there. A nature buff. My last novel was “The Dead Girl and Wandering Tree”
    Lol and my next novel (as different as different can be, released on the first of May this year) takes place in the old Caledonian forest which existed as continents moved. A small part of it still exists in the Western Highlands of Scotland. Some in Siberia and the northern wastes of Canada and Alaska but it is different here. It is a Northern rain forest. Soaked all winter, spring, and autumn, drying only in mid-summer. Lol and knowing Scottish weather; not dry for long. I enjoyed the allusions. Thank you for a very enjoyable post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like the idea of the tree metaphor, Staci – very creative. I watched a couple years ago featuring a well-known fantasy author, and she compared stories to skeletons and everything that goes into covering the skeleton. Have a great weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the idea of comparing trees to stories, and I wouldn’t change a thing. This is a lovely post to celebrate a wonderful day. Years ago my husband came home with the single twig of a pine tree. His work place was giving them out in honor or Arbor Day. We planted it in a pot and nurtured it through years until it was large enough, and strong enough to plant in the ground. That small twig is now a healthy thriving tree. Every time I look at it, I’m amazed how it grew from something so small.

    I’ve nurtured a few stories through the years, too. A few of them have even bloomed into published books. 🙂

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  4. I don’t think it’s a clumsy metaphor, Staci. Nature teaches us much, if we take the time to observe and understand. Many design elements come from nature, and we ignore nature’s lessons at our peril. Every tree grows in its own way.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think you came up with a perfect metaphor, Staci. I love this so much. You are so right about each tree being different, even though it is of the same species. And the same is true with our stories. We could all take the same subject and come up with completely different stories. Fantastic post for Arbor Day!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Love this, Staci! Perfect metaphor for story. Happy Arbor Day!
    If everyone planted one native tree — one! — we could greatly reduce our carbon footprint. Some say, it’d stop climate change altogether. My husband and I plan to plant a row of trees (excellent way to block neighbors) once the ground thaws enough.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Brilliant, Staci! A great metaphor and wonderful writing, in and of itself. Best of all, it makes perfect sense. I’m definitely keeping this to refer to from time to time. It will help keep me aimed in the right direction. Thanks for a super post! 😀 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Pingback: The Story Tree | Legends of Windemere

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