Writing Fiction for Dummies
Creating a Story World #
- Setting: Looks at the laws and physical limitations of the setting.
- Cultural Groups: Find the cultural drivers that make people form into certain groups, and what their relationships are.
- Do they get along? Do they hate each other? Is it a weird mix of the two?
- Religion, economics, class, race, magic, there's many possible cultural drivers.
- Change Drivers: What makes change possible in the story?
- On the brink of a disaster?
- Recovering from a disaster?
- Does a character want to make a change? Escape a situation?
- What has prevented this change from happening? How does this limitation change or get removed?
The Story Question #
The basic question that fuels the entire story, which drives its core. A good story question has five traits:
- Objective: know when the protagonist succeeded or failed
- Simple: know what success or failure looks like
- Important: know the question matters and why
- Achievable: The story question answer could be yes
- Difficult: The story question could be no
A starting framework for a story question is "Can [lead character] achieve [story goal] in spite of [story obstacle]?
Fleshing Out Characters #
Ways to create their stories:
- Childhood and teen years
- How they handle adulthood (if they reached it)
- Interview them like a journalist would
- Find their
- Which ones are still continuing today.
Avoiding Stereotypes #
Need to balance "average" and "obscure," since most real people are neither. Mix in a few unusual traits that deviate from their "typical" aspects. The more they deviate, the more awareness of this the character needs. This can be emotional responses or simple acknowledgement when it's pointed out.
A Character's Core #
- Values - what they hold strongly to be true
- Something that when asked why, they say it's obvious and they shouldn't need to explain it further. Can't come up with a rational reason for them.
- Readers only need to believe that the character believe their values are obvious, true, and consistent
- Characters should have 2-3 values, and they should conflict. It makes the character interesting and less predictable.
- Ambition - one abstract thing the character wants in life
- Should be vague and squishy, and need a lot of detail and planning to actually reach at some point. Don't need to go into all that detail though.
- Something they can try to achieve, like "I want world piece" or "I want to be very rich"
- One ambition per character
- Characters can have similar ambitions from different values
- Story Goal - the one concrete thing a character thinks will let them realize their ambition
- If the character wants world peace, how are they actually approaching it?
- It should have these properties:
- Objective - know when the character succeeded or failed
- Simple - know what success or failure looks like
- Important - know the story goal matters and why
- Achievable - The story goal could be accomplished
- Difficult - The story question could be a failure
The various character's story goals should oppose each other to create conflict. Remember, each character believes they're the hero of their own story. Each story goal defines a different plot thread.
Showing, Not Telling #
- Characters love to discuss themselves
- Lies are helpful too, shows how characters want to be perceived
- When words and actions contradict, actions win out
- Includes body language
- Should lead to deductions about thought and intention, not say them outright
- How a narrator describes someone, including themselves, shows their perspective
- Conveys character and dynamics too
Interior Monologue #
- Similar to dialogue, and expressed more heavily with word choice, logic, grammar, and judgements
- Show their character to the reader, even if the character isn't aware of it
Interior Emotion #
- The degree of emotional reaction (high to nothing) sends a message to the reader
- The emotions the character has, and the ways they choose to express them
- Use sparingly and on major moments (best or worst or times, likely worst). Helps empathy
- Show potential directions the story may go in
A One-Sentence Summary #
- Short, 1-2 sentences, 25 words or less.
- 1-2 mentioned characters
- Most essential story thread
- Never name the characters
- Emotive, what emotive experience your story promises
- Emotive adjectives
- Indulge in a little bit of hype, like battles
- Arouses curiosity, raise the story question demanding an answer
- End with a surprise or emotively punchy word
This helps people tell if they want to read the story or not. A good starting point is the story question for the main character.
The Three-Act Structure #
- A sequence of increasingly horrible disasters (usually three)
Popular framework is first disaster is out of the protagonist's control, and the others are due to them trying to fix the first disaster.
Act 1 - about a quarter of the story, ends with the first disaster. The first disaster commits the lead to the story
Act 2 - second and third quarters. Each one ends with an even worse disaster. These disasters ramp up the tension, and are what the lead are forced to find a solution for.
Act 3 - The last quarter, includes a climax (or resolution) that answers the story question. The climax itself is late in the last quarter, and things wind down from there
Five-sentence summary: #
- Introduce the lead characters and the story world
- The beginning and the first disaster, which forces the decision framing the story question
- The first part of Act 2, leading up to the second disaster
- Second part of Act 2, leading up to the third disaster. Forces the decision to pursue the final story question
- How the story ends, with the final confrontation and needed wrap-ups
Each scene is a mini story. At least one character must undergo at least one kind of change
Two types of scenes #
- Proactive Scene
- Most common type of scene
- The character has a goal they want to achieve, but encounters one or more obstacles to that goal (most of the scene, don't be afraid to be cruel), and ultimately hits a nasty setback (as late as possible, character is worse off, logical yet unexpected).
- Usually the character is now worse off, or they achieve what they wanted with some kind of negative cost
- Usually followed by a reactive scene, but can go through consecutive proactive scenes for a faster pace or switching character POVs.
- Reactive Scene
- Reaction - Reeling from Proactive scene setback, getting back control of feelings
- Dilemma - A good setback leave no good options, and character choosing from the least-bad option. New options should come as some kind of surprise
- Intellectual, not emotional
- Decision - Sets goal for next scene, which should be proactive
Scene Goals and Decisions #
- Goal: easy to understand since it's a small part of the story
- Decision: easy to understand decision
- Goal: the reader can visualize what a success in the scene looks like
- Decision: reader can see what your character wants next
- Goal: why bother reading it?
- Decision: reader should believe character would make this decision based on their values
- Goal: an impossible goal or decision kills the tension
- Decision: could lead to success in the next chapter
- Goal: an easy goal or decision doesn't interest the reader
- Decision: reader has doubts the decision will work