Diagrams of story structure

Discussion in 'Fantasy Authors' started by wakarimasen, Jan 7, 2015.

  1. Peat

    Peat Journeyed there and back again

    I don't, but I'm beginning to think I should.

    Something I'm becoming more and more a believer in is that the average writer spends too little time seeking to become a better writer and storyteller. That they key to our success isn't how wonderful our ideas are but rather how well we write. Story structure feeds into that. I've done a few experiments with following other people's structures recently and sweet baby jesus, it makes everything so much easier. Because I'm really bad at it.

    Ironically, this makes more and more books bad to me, because they start trying to force the story before I give two craps about the characters and at that point I'm gone.

    I look at what's new and big and I think slow starts that focus on the characters are still very popular. Look at Harry Potter - that's a very slow character based start and we may not see a bigger book in our lifetime. The trick is to do it well and to ensure something is still happening. Something else I'm becoming fanatical on is the difference between Slow vs Sloooow. One day I may even figure what it is.

    What becomes a Classic and what doesn't is harder to predict than that. I'd suggest The Eye of the World is well on its way to becoming a classic and is definitely somewhat formulaic, to pick one example.
  2. Sparrow

    Sparrow Journeyed there and back again

    I think to be considered as a "classic", a book must be more than just popular with the average genre reading public... it must also be up to snuff with the literary world. In the case of Fantasy/SF, that means it must transcend genre fiction in some way. It's interesting to think what, if anything we're reading now will be recognized as a classic 100 years from now.
  3. Matticus Primal

    Matticus Primal Journeyed there and back again

    You're right, it doesn't stay up to date, but it's a good skeleton to start building the meat of my story around. To wit: Yesterday I sat down to start outlining my chapters based on these note cards. I was midway through chapter two when I realized I only had 26 chapters (including prologue) while the last book at 35 chapters (including prologue). This meant I had to go back and break down some of my chapters into two, as well as adding some additional subplots.

    My next step is to create a new Word file and break out the beats in each chapter, and this too is really useful when it comes to updating because when I discover a subplot I was unaware of when I started, I just go back and add a few notes in applicable parts of the chapter outline. This way I can sort of work backwards from the end by seeding the subplots after I know how they're going to turn out.

    Which is why I believe the outlining process is so important. Realizing that I needed to reconfigure my whole story was much easier when it just consisted of some note cards and four pages in Word than if I was midway through my rough draft.

    As to using a hierarchy software, I've never considered such a thing. If you try it out, please let me know how it worked for you. I do have a system I used for a CYOA style webseries that never got picked up that might also be of use.
  4. Matticus Primal

    Matticus Primal Journeyed there and back again

    @Tanniel, I also break things out by the date, but usually in an Excel spreadsheet (that was my day job for years). It's also really useful for a timeline of major events in the world.
  5. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    A classic= a great book + time.
    For some a classic is a work they feel they should read or pretend they have. Others feel a classic is such, because it has remained in print.
    I agree with the idea that a classic just ticks the boxes for a great plot, an authentic and clear setting that brings to the reader the feel for a place, for a period. Great characterisation with appropriate dialog and development tied to the convention of its time. A great, round story that bears the pass of time.
    I personally think that some classics have become dated and are overrated and in the end, who is going to contradict the scholar who says otherwise…? On the other hand, I feel other great pieces haven’t been singled out as “classic” and therefore have been left in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books as Zafón would say.
  6. Charles Parkes

    Charles Parkes Stood on the wall with Druss

    I was just wondering what this was? (If you don't mind me asking? :))
  7. Matticus Primal

    Matticus Primal Journeyed there and back again

    You asked for it, but beware the consequences. And also know that this idea is now almost ten years old, so I do not speak to my writing ability way back then. I also chopped out 10 pages of character/ storylines from the original doc to leave just the model itself (sort of like a lobotomy).

    Let me know if this is something you can ever use since it's just been gathering dust for years. The whole point was to make a CYOA that could play across the internet/ TV while still remaining episodic.

    Attached Files:

  8. Charles Parkes

    Charles Parkes Stood on the wall with Druss

    I like the division of choice into moral and progression choices. The way you lay out the pathing is very clear too. Interesting that you considered the medium of tv, that was pretty unexpected :)

    Thanks, that was really interesting.

    I do feel I'd benefit from laying it out like this. And as I mentioned previously, a way to make the elements movable would be particularly great, to keep up with the evolution. (though given the benefits of sticking with the plan, maybe that would be a recipe for disaster)
  9. Peat

    Peat Journeyed there and back again

    I'm now mulling over the choices I'll make my characters take as moral and progression choices, I have to admit. It seems to offer a clearer distinction of the dilemmas I want them to face.
  10. Matticus Primal

    Matticus Primal Journeyed there and back again

    Glad it could be of use to you (or at least that you're kind enough to say that it might be). I've thought a lot about this (albeit nearly 10 years ago), and I really think, no matter what path the characters go down and how they branch, each thread needs to escalate in tension/ structure similar to the traditional Hero's Journey outlined by Campbell.

    Also, this sort of structure works really well for mysteries: The event the character is trying to figure out remains constant no matter what. The variables are how the characters discovers the clues to the mystery. So in a lot of ways it's a who done it story where the protag can dig into the past/ present of the other characters involved in the situation. That makes the protag a bit of a proxy for the audience to discover the world/ mystery through their own predispositions.
  11. Charles Parkes

    Charles Parkes Stood on the wall with Druss

    Mmm. It's giving me pause for thought - mainly in connection with the Interactive Fiction Competition this year. If I submit anything it would be based around randomisation - so if you read one part, the code would randomly choose a selection of words- bad example: for hat: it would choose between 'hat, fez, fedora'. The difficult bit being teaching the story to match articles with nouns and then use an appropriate verb. (Teaching the machine to speak)

    I say your explanation is interesting, because if there's a focus on randomisation then how do you maintain a coherent direction? The answer probably lies in structuring in a coherent direction. One that is still relevant whether the machine is telling you a man or woman is walking in a desert, or over a glacier, like the murder mystery outcome you aim towards to prevent your choices derailing narrative direction
  12. Matticus Primal

    Matticus Primal Journeyed there and back again

    Oh, that randomization of nouns sounds significantly more complex than what I was thinking about. Like a living mad-libs story. But if the major nouns can change every time (desert/ glacier), then that sort of cuts out any description of the location other than said major noun since the setting changes.

    I obviously have no clue what Interactive Fiction is, so the idea of direction is indeed problematic. Do you just tell one story that the setting/ details change every time?
  13. Charles Parkes

    Charles Parkes Stood on the wall with Druss

    No you're right on the money. What I was talking about with the randomisation diverges into the realms of experimentation.

    The idea is that static text can now be manipulated. In my view that means what you can do with it is as unlimited as your imagination. (Though in most cases people choose to focus around providing choices - literally interactivity)

    To return to my confusing experiment : ) I am trying to teach my story some language, so it can fool reader into thinking each part of a sentence was written with author intent.

    So, while in the foreground I want the reader experiencing the choices that are typical of IF, in the background I want the story to be clever enough to create flavour - partly by itself.

    So to return to our desert metaphor, how much can I teach the story about things you'd expect to find in a desert, or a glacier. Then getting more advanced - about things that break that expectation (creativity!).
  14. Matticus Primal

    Matticus Primal Journeyed there and back again

    Wow, that is a big undertaking and far beyond my ken. That said, I remember an article (here) about trying to teach computers to write articles. Perhaps it might be of use because I am not exhausted in my knowledge.
  15. Charles Parkes

    Charles Parkes Stood on the wall with Druss

    That was good. Thanks! This sounds really stupid but I haven't been out looking for examples of what other people were doing, and this gives me context which helps me see different objectives/possible focuses differently -

    "Instead, I wanted to use a neural network, a computer model inspired by the human brain, that could assess a bunch of input data, infer its structure, then represent that information with its own original output.

    If a robot’s eventually going to take my job anyway, why not get it to help me become a better writer first?
    This approach could ostensibly produce something more complex and less predictable than the bots that spend their days filling in the blanks."

    'Bots filling in blanks' describes what I was trying to say I was playing with. The 'inference machine' - that is really interesting. It makes me wonder whether I should:
    1. Tell my code to produce 'riskier' sentences (guess its own sentence structure)
    2. Then create a way to read them in series, 'telling' it which ones are acceptable ('yes', 'no', 'no')
    (The really groundbreaking bit would be: 3. If it could assign a higher value to these acceptable sentences like it each time. To learn, rather than requiring me to literally vet everything it ever produced to function properly)

    Anyhoo - enough of me clogging the forum with speeches. I hope no one is irritated by my pompous overenthusiasm!
  16. Silvion Night

    Silvion Night Sir Readalot Staff Member

    Definitely not. The whole discussion has been an interesting read.
  17. wakarimasen

    wakarimasen Journeyed there and back again

    I second that @Silvion Night - I love where this thread has gone. Props to @Charles Parkes and @Matticus Primal
    On the subject of writing structures in film/formula, I did pitch a feature recently and one of the criticisms was the lack of definition of the lines of conflict in the structure, albeit this was early stuff so clearly it could be worked out. That did lead though to a discussion about structure and formula where I was left with the sensation that the idea that would eventually be developed would be a pretty predictable creature and a mediocre film. (I mean CLEARLY my idea was way better :pompus:;)).

    Point is, it's good to know the craft, and great to have tools (I've been interested in Dan Harman's story circles take on things lately too http://channel101.wikia.com/wiki/Story_Structure_101:_Super_Basic_Shit ) but adhering to those structures in a Dave Grohl style to achieve commercial success is a pretty good way to churn out some big portions of meh. (No - not a Foo Fighters fan... nice bunch, but the music rarely does it for me...
  18. Matticus Primal

    Matticus Primal Journeyed there and back again

    Huh, I was surprised to see that it was THAT Dan Harmon of Community/ Rick and Morty (GREAT freaking show) fame who drew that circle. But I guess I shouldn't be surprised that someone successful would have his own theories on structure. And the cyclical pattern might reflect his medium of the sitcom in that the story must conclude by returning to the status quo. How else can they have new episodes unless the show as a whole has returned to the state from whence it started?

    Not a fan of the band's music either, but I have to say that Dave Grohl sounds like the coolest guy ever and I would probably sacrifice a finger or two to hang out with him. For some reason I have it in my head that he was an extra on the X-Files twice because he was such a fan. Not a guest star, mind you, just a random guy in the background. Doesn't sound very rockstar, which is what makes it so cool.
  19. Tanniel

    Tanniel Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    I think maybe that ended up being to the detriment of Community; the more that the show changed actors in later seasons, the more they fought desperately to maintain some sort of status quo.

    Rick and Morty is absolutely amazing though, I keep re-watching old episodes while waiting for season 3.
  20. Matticus Primal

    Matticus Primal Journeyed there and back again

    Hope this doesn't fall too far into the realm of self-promotion, but I ended up writing two blog posts about structure after being inspired by this thread (with another on the way in two weeks):

    The Basics
    A Bit More Advanced

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