K. A. Servian on the web:
What type of stories are you writing?
I recently read an article by Orson Scott Card on the Writer’s Digest website about story structure that got me thinking. Expecting to see a breakdown of the heroes journey and analysis of the three-at structure, I was surprised when the article discussed not the order in which events take place, but the type of story. It occurred to me that everything I’d read previously had been about plot structure, not about the wider question of story type.
Orson identified four main story types:
The milieu story - The world in which the story is set is the driving force more so than the characters and their personal stories. The term ‘world’ encompasses not just the place, but the culture, family traditions, religion etc... A good example is Gulliver’s Travels. Fantasy and Science Fiction are often this type.
The idea story - This structure raises questions at the start that the characters are required to answer and end when the answer is found. Mysteries and crime thrillers tend to follow this structure.
The character story - These stories are about the character’s transformation. While all stories have characters, this type make them and their personal journey the focus. These stories begin when the character becomes dissatisfied with some aspect of their life and want to change it and end when the character settles into a new role.
The event story - Something is wrong in the world and the characters go through the process of trying to fix it. The story ends when the major event is resolved. Pretty much every Hollywood disaster movie is this type as well as JRR Tolkien’s epic adventure Lord of the Rings.
It occurred to me after reading the article that knowing what type of story you want to create before you start writing is essential to producing a well-rounded and satisfying plot. Once you know the type of story, the beginning and the end are already decided and all you have to do is fill in the middle. Of course, it isn’t quite that simple and it is still important to have a plot structure sketched out so you have a map to follow.
I decided to analyse my own books to determine what type of stories I had created. My first novel, Peak Hill is clearly a character story. The protagonist, Kate, must make changes in her life after a tragedy. She moves from being introverted and risk-adverse to becoming more confident and therefore happy and satisfied in her life. Throwing Light is an idea story. Grace, the main character, uncovers the mystery of her missing birth mother and pursues the issue until she discovers the truth.
My latest novel, The Moral Compass is again a character story as it is primarily about the tough life lessons Florence learns through hardship and the shifting of her priorities and attitudes that result.
It then occurred to me that of my three novels, Throwing Light was by far the easiest to write. It had a beginning - uncovering the mystery and an end - solving the mystery. The other two were more difficult because resolving issues within a character’s personality is much more complex. First and foremost you have to decide what is the root of the real problem making the character unhappy?
Sometimes what seems superficially to be wrong is not the issue at all. And then you have to work out when the problem is ‘solved?’ The character is still the same person even after everything they’ve been through so will they change fundamentally or just superficially?
These are sticky questions and I’m afraid that I don’t have any answers for you as I suspect that every writer’s analysis of their own work will be different. But what I do know is that from now on I’m going to ensure that I am very clear in my own mind as to what type of story I want to write first before I begin the planning process. I believe that this will help immensely with the plotting process.
The Moral Compass (Shaking the Tree Book 1)
Florence lives like a Princess attending dinner parties and balls away from the gritty reality, filth and poverty of Victorian London.
However, her world comes crashing around her when her father suffers a spectacular fall from grace. She must abandon her life of luxury, leave behind the man she loves and sail to the far side of the world where compromise and suffering beyond anything she can imagine await her.
When she is offered the opportunity to regain some of what she has lost, she takes it, but soon discovers that not everything is as it seems. The choice she has made has a high price attached and she must live with the heart-breaking consequences of her decision.
This novel is part one in the 'Shaking the Tree' series.
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