Friday, April 08, 2011

Modern Fiction Story Structures

Office by Jenova Art

Modern Fiction Story Structures
PLOT ARC - The events that happen while the characters make other plans.
CHARACTER ARC -
The emotional roller-coaster that the character suffers in dealing with the Plot. 

The PLOT ARC
If it does not forward the plot - it does not belong in the story.
When I set out to write a tale, I begin by blocking out the plot, listing what I want to happen:
Inciting Incident
Crisis
Reversal
Ordeal
Climax
Resolution
For a 100k novel that's 20 chapters at 5000 words each. I note what I want to happen in each chapter and that's the frame I work from. If I find a better way to twist the plot great! But a detailed outline or block keeps me from wandering all over the place and going over my word count. 
Blocking or outlining is not the only way to build a story. It's just the easiest way. 
Steven King does not Block. (Keep in mind - he is a master at his art.) He writes his opening chapter, then his closing chapter then writes almost pure stream of consciousness to get from one to the other. 
What he does is write a bunch of character-based stories surrounding one event. What makes his books so huge is the size of his cast of characters. This is also why he ALWAYS goes way-way-way over his word count. *grin* But then, his publishers are not about to make him conform, there are too many other publishers dying for his work. 

Plot & Character Integration
To make a cohesive whole, every single event must happen for a reason. Every single character must have a reason to be there and EVERYTHING must tie in together. Every scene in a story should either illustrate Character (Character Arc) or be an Event (Plot Arc)


The CHARACTER ARC
The Stages of Grief: Denial - Anger- Bargaining - Despair -Acceptance
Why Grief?
-- Because STORY needs ANGST to BE Story.

Stories are all about CHANGE; about Adapting and Overcoming circumstancing that should take them down. The hero and the villain change and develop as the story progresses to allow the hero a toehold chance - and no more - to win. This is where dramatic tension is generated.
The difference between the Hero and the Villain is the Villain's failure to change. The Villain fails to face his fears, which allows the hero to take him down. The rest of the cast may or may not have personal growth, but the hero and the villain must. 
Changing takes suffering. Both the hero and the villain should suffer emotionally and physically to allow for their personal changes. 
Think about how hard it is for YOU to change your mind about liking or disliking anyone. What would it take to change your mind? That's the level of suffering - of Angst - you need. 
Plot Arc is all about what HAPPENS.
Character Arc is all about how the characters FEEL.
The Stage of Grief that character happens to be going through dictates how that character will React the event. If you plan it just right, every event will work Against the character's Stage of Grief. 
The whole Idea being:
"That which does not kill me, makes me stronger." - Nietzsche

The plot movements combine both the Plot Arc (Events/Actions) and the Character Arc (Emotions/Reactions)

Flash Fiction / The Vignette
Under 1000 words
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The climactic moment of a single event
1 Movement:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Ordeal - Sacrifice
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  2 characters
2 main characters: Protagonist / Antagonist
1 POV character ~ 1st Person or 3rd Person Limited POV

~~~

The Short Story
5000 to 19,000 words
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
One Small Event in the Hero's life.
3 major movements:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
1- Crisis - Anger
2- Ordeal - Sacrifice
3- Climax - Acceptance
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
1 chapter per movement.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
2 main characters: Protagonist / Antagonist
1 POV character ~ 1st Person or 3rd Person Limited POV

~~~

The Novelette
20,000 to 59,000 words
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
A single event that changes the Hero's life
5 major movements:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Act One
1-Inciting event - Denial
~~~
Act Two
2-Crisis - Anger
3-Reversal - Despair
4-Ordeal - Sacrifice
~~~
Act Three
5-Climax - Acceptance
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
2 chapters per movement.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
3 Main characters: Protagonist / Obstacle Character */ Antagonist
1 or 2 POV characters ~ 1st Person or 3rd Person Limited
~~~
*Note: The Obstacle Character is the Nay-sayer that possesses the opposing opinion. In a 3-character plot, the Emotionally-driven character tends to play opposition for both the Antagonist (Motive-driven character) and the Protagonist (Action-driven character).

The Novella ~ Category Novel
60,000 to 89,000 words
(Many publishers consider anything over 60k a novel.
However, most ePubs will not print a book under 80k.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
A single that changes all the Main Character's lives
7 major movements:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Act One:
Set up - Something Bad has Happened
2- Inciting Incident -Denial

3-Crisis - Anger
~~~
Act Two:
4-Reversal - Despair
5-Ordeal - Sacrifice
~~~
Act Three:
6-Climax - Acceptance
7-Resolution - Acknowledgment
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
2-4 chapters per movement.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
3 Main characters: Protagonist / Main Viewpoint Character */ Antagonist

2 Support characters: Hero's Obstacle Character / Villain's Obstacle Character
1 to 3 POV characters - 1st Person or 3rd Person Limited
~~~
*Note: The Main Viewpoint Character is rarely the Protagonist or the Antagonist. In most stories, the Viewpoint Character is the one caught in the middle, if not completely lost, in the battle between the Protagonist and the Antagonist. (Neo, in The Matrix was the Viewpoint Character caught between Morpheus and the Agents of the Matrix.) 
 
The Novel
90,000 to 125, 000 words
(Publishers rarely take manuscripts higher than 125k.)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
A collection of events that lead to a single Major Event that brings change in all the (main) character's lives.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
9 major movements:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Act One:
1-Set up - Something Bad has Happened
2- Introduction - Innocence
3- Inciting Incident -Denial
~~~
Act Two:
4-Challenge - Anger
5-Crisis - Betrayal
6-Reversal - Despair
7-Ordeal - Sacrifice
~~~
Act Three:
8-Climax - Acceptance
9-Resolution - Acknowledgment
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
2-5 chapters per movement.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
3 Main characters*:
Protagonist / Main Viewpoint Character / Antagonist

3 Major Support characters:
Protagonist's Obstacle Character
Antagonist's Obstacle Character
Viewpoint Character's Obstacle Character
1 to 3 POV characters**
1st Person or 3rd Person Limited, or Omniscient
~~~
*Note: With casts of Characters - Less is more - ALL major character arcs must conclude to fulfill resolution. The larger the cast, the longer the story.
**Note: With Viewpoint Characters - LESS is definitely more. Hopping from Viewpoint to Viewpoint can get very frustrating to the reader who has to keep track of each of those different story threads. And then there's the Fatal Flaw of: Head Hopping.  
Keep in Mind: Each POV character chosen, automatically becomes a Main Character. Woe betide the author that does not conclude all the issues raised with EACH Viewpoint Character - in addition to the Main Characters. Any more than 4 POVs and you're looking at a Massive undertaking to conclude them all, or make plot-holes you can drive trucks through. 

Tragedy vs. Happily Ever After
The difference between a Tragedy and a Happily Ever After seems to be that in a Tragedy, the Protagonist FAILS at their Crisis Point in Act Two. Act Three is merely the death scene that fullfils their failure to change.
To make a Happily Ever After, the Protagonist still Fails their Crisis Point in Act Two, but then replays their Crises Point in Act Three and finally Wins at the end of the Act. The story then goes on to a whole new FOURTH act. 

Additional Reading:
The Internal Journey - Premise Building
Being, Doing, Becoming:
The Heroic Strength, the Heroic Flaw, the Heroic Journey
Enjoy!

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