Narrative Strategy (Story Engineering and Physics #12 of 12)

Part of a series of posts on story engineering based on the book of that title and its companion volume Story Physics.

Story Engineering & Story PhysicsWe finish this series with one that can provide the twist of lime that takes your cocktail over the top to immortaility.

Narrative strategy is how we choose to tell our tale, the method of conveyance and who is involved. It embodies primarily two elements: point of view, and framing.

  1. Point of view — Who is telling the story?
  2. Framing — How is the story conveyed?

Point of View

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Vicarious Experience (Story Engineering and Physics #11 of 12)

Part of a series of posts on story engineering based on the book of that title and its companion volume Story Physics.

Story Engineering & Story PhysicsIf your book makes me feel like I’ve participated in an experience I could never have in real life, but wish I could, it’s the single greatest indicator of whether I’ll read more of your work.

That’s both a blessing and a curse.

Blessing, because I’ll forgive all kinds of things from illogical plot developments to thinly-developed characters if, in the end, you took me on a ride I wanted to take.

Curse, because there are so many things that can yank me out of the magic place we’ve gone together, and suddenly, instead of fleeing thugs down a dark alley, I’m reading a book with a confusing or misworded sentence. Instead of having a chat with a flying unicorn, I’m reading a pointless description of how to shoe a flying unicorn.

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Hero Empathy (Story Engineering and Physics #10 of 12)

Part of a series of posts on story engineering based on the book of that title and its companion volume Story Physics.

Story Engineering & Story PhysicsWe get hung up on the word “hero” and make inaccurate assumptions about what that means. As a result, some writers (and writing teachers) assume a hero must be heroic; a hero must be likable; a hero has to be the good guy.

If that works for your story, super. We can all root for a heroic likable good guy, can’t we?

And that’s the point: the reader has to root for them to achieve their goal, or we’re all wasting our time.

We’re rewatching the entire TV series Lie to Me. Cal Lightman (brilliantly portrayed by Tim Roth) is not heroic. He makes mistakes, needs a team to get the job done, and bases his drive on a negative experience. He’s not likable, that’s for sure. An arrogant jerk, a manipulative chronic liar, he’s impossible to get close to. Okay, he’s the good guy, in the big picture. But in any give scene, he might be the one you want to kick in the ankle. Or worse.

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Expositional Pacing (Story Engineering and Physics #9 of 12)

Part of a series of posts on story engineering based on the book of that title and its companion volume Story Physics.

Story Engineering & Story PhysicsI love a book or movie that starts slowly and builds. Though sometimes, I like a move that starts with a bang and then turns into a whirlwind on a freight train.

That’s pacing.

Books that start slow and stay slow are fine for intellectual improvement. If we’re writing to entertain, we need to be more aware of the speed of our story.

During the first 25%, the Setup, the pace is often slower, because we’re introducing our characters, setting the stage for the hero so when we get to the First Plot Point we’re invested and engaged; we care about the stakes.

During the Response and Attack, those two middle quarters, pacing rises and falls as we create tension through action, then create tension through inaction, thought, exposition, etc.

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Dramatic Tension (Story Engineering and Physics #8 of 12)

Part of a series of posts on story engineering based on the book of that title and its companion volume Story Physics.

Story Engineering & Story PhysicsLife is conflict. The very act of birth is one of the most physically and emotionally taxing events in human existence.

And we spend the rest of our days resolving conflict.

That’s a good thing. If you don’t resolve the conflict between the current state of your stomach and the desired state of your stomach, before long, you’ll be facing a more powerful conflict. If you don’t resolve the conflict between your current emotional state, physical state, plane of existence, and the ones you desire, you’ll die or hate life.

Struggle is neither good or bad; it’s what we struggle for, with, against, toward, which determines the character of the work we do.

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Compelling Premise (Story Engineering and Physics #7 of 12)

Part of a series of posts on story engineering based on the book of that title and its companion volume Story Physics.

Story Engineering & Story PhysicsIn the first post in this series I talked about the differences between premise, concept, and idea, and gave these examples of premise:

  • An elderly Irishman traveling in America meets and woos an elderly Englishwoman during the Irish War for Independence, and when he discovers she’s ignorant of the war, creates humorous havoc in his attempts to prevent her from learning that their two homelands are in conflict.
  • An elderly Irishman traveling abroad during the Irish War for Independence meets and woos an Englishwoman who feigns ignorance of their two country’s conflict in order to preserve their romance.
  • A young teacher in modern Chicago tells her elementary school students the story of her grandparents’ romance in an attempt to teach them the value of overcoming prejudice.

Let’s dig deeper into what makes a premise, and then talk about what makes one compelling.

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Writing Voice (Story Engineering and Physics #6 of 12)

Part of a series of posts on story engineering based on the book of that title and its companion volume Story Physics.

Story Engineering & Story PhysicsHave someone begin reading to you from the middle of a book. See if you can tell who wrote it.

When you hear a familiar voice on the phone you know who it is before they’ve said anything significant. You recognize their voice.

When you read the opening words of a book, before anything happens, before it’s even clear what genre it is, you’re hearing the author’s voice.

Think of Dr. Seuss. Raymond Chandler. James Joyce. Those are extreme examples, but it’s impossible to deny their distinctive voices.

Consider Dan Brown, Maeve Binchy, Isaac Asimov, and J. R. R. Tolkien. Again, if you read their stuff, you could probably pick out a sample of their writing just because of how it sounds.

Voice is best when it comes naturally.

Most writers ruin their voice by failing that simple test: naturalness. … more … “Writing Voice (Story Engineering and Physics #6 of 12)”

Scene Execution (Story Engineering and Physics #5 of 12)

Part of a series of posts on story engineering based on the book of that title and its companion volume Story Physics.

Story Engineering & Story PhysicsWhen showing a first-time guest around your home, the logical manner is to move from room to room, pointing out only the most interesting or meaningful details, sometimes just one thing in each room.

Novels are built, not from words, sentences, or paragraphs, but from scenes.

What is a Scene?

Each scene

  • happens in one physical location
  • in one time period
  • from a single point of view

New location? New scene. Time jump? New scene. Switch from Tom’s perspective at the bottom of the cliff to Alice’s at the top? New scene. (Though if we’re with Tom at the bottom and Alice simply calls out to him or interacts with him, we’re still in Tom’s perspective.)

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Structure (Story Engineering and Physics #4 of 12)

Part of a series of posts on story engineering based on the book of that title and its companion volume Story Physics.

Story Engineering & Story PhysicsStories follow a pattern. In its simplest form, you might put it this way:

  1. Girl finds pony.
  2. Girl loses pony.
  3. Girl finds pony again and learns to keep the barn door shut.

A slightly more complex version has been studied, culled, and formulated by Joseph Campbell.

Campbell and others who study story structure are not creating a template for us, they are discovering an existing pattern — the pattern most stories take, have always taken.

Today, the most successful novels follow a version of this pattern. As always, there are exceptions, and as always, beginners had best learn the rules before breaking them.

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Theme (Story Engineering and Physics #3 of 12)

Part of a series of posts on story engineering based on the book of that title and its companion volume Story Physics.

Story Engineering & Story PhysicsIf you ask someone “What is The Lord of the Rings about?” and their answer could just as easily apply to The Magnificent Seven (that is, a band of unlikely heroes comes together to save some weaker realm) what they are talking about is concept.

If their answer has to do with destroying a ring, and hobbits and wizards and elves and dwarves, they are talking about plot or character.

If their answer has to do with good versus evil and how even the smallest act of good control over evil they are talking about theme.

Theme is what our story means in the big picture of life. It is, perhaps, the lesson we hope readers will take away. It is how life is explained by our story — or how our story is explained by life.

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