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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Difficulty in finding story structure

   
Author Topic: Difficulty in finding story structure
Makari
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In attempting to put together a story that has been stuck in my head for years I've attempted to organize and start things a few times, but have an incredibly hard time structuring the story

in browsing through these pages I've read several times about OSC's 4 types of stories, character, event, milieu and idea I believe they were, and how they each had their own structure. that made a lot of sense to me so i went back and tried to figure out what my story should be.

but again i ran into difficulty, unsure if character or event or idea or even milieu would be the most appropriate for the story, so I thought I would take a look at a few of my favorite books with two goals in mind:

1. see if a particular story type stood out as my favorite, I figure if most of my favorite books were a single type I would probably best be served trying to write in the structure that I've seemed to enjoy the most.

2. see if in trying to determine known books type from the 4, it would help me determine if the story in my head had anything similar that would lend it to a certain story type.

However, again i ran into problems.

Now, as a disclaimer, I have ordered both OSC's sci-fi and fantasy and character and viewpoint books, but have not recieved them yet, I expect they will shed a lot of light on the subject, but am looking for other input as my impatience demands, as I'd like to have some idea of what structure my story will eventually be as I'm reading [Smile]

for example in taking a look at Ender's game. I can see extremely strong cases for it being considered a Character story - Ender is an extremely well developed, relatable character that displays growth as the story progresses (traits of even OSC character I can think of). I can also see extremely strong cases for it being an event story about the war with buggers. I could even see weaker cases for it being a milieu story about child military service in the setting.

the same happens for other books i look at... at the very best they seem to me to fall under at least 2 of these story types. As an answer to my first goal it seems most of the books I enjoy are character or event stories, with a few milieu and almost no idea stories that I know of. So I suppose that at least narrows down my selection to character or event, but I'm still unclear on how to differentiate between the 2 since most of my favorites seem to be both.


Also on a related note, does a character story have to be about a single character? My story would revolve around two characters in particular who have taken very opposing methods to solve a single problem

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Meredith
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A short story might be only one type in the MICE quotient. Most novels have at least some elements of all four, but one will predominate most of the time.

Try listening to the Writing Excuses podcast (http://www.writingexcuses.com/). This season they've got a writing master class going. There are also back episodes on the MICE quotient and a lot of other things. (They're all still available.

K. M. Weiland also has a lot of posts about story structure that might help in a different way. (http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/)

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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OSC's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy take a structural approach to the MICE categories, so that may be of more help to you at first than Character and Viewpoint. (I'd point you at the correct pages, but I've loaned out my copy.)

As for putting published works into the categories, it can be argued (and actually has been, for that matter) that Lord of the Rings fits all four categories and includes character stories for many of the characters therein (not just Frodo, but each of the other hobbits, as well as Aragorn, Boromir, Faramir, and Eowyn, Gimli, Legolas, etc).

What you have to decide (and OSC's structural explanations may help here) is which of the four is the main structure.

Hope this helps.

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Disgruntled Peony
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A story does not, in fact, have to be about a single character. The more characters you have, the less focus you can put on each one individually, but there's certainly no reason to limit yourself to one main character.

If you're having trouble structuring the story, it might help to look at things from a different perspective. Don't let yourself get so bogged down in the planning and technical terminology that you never start writing the story.

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Makari
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Thanks for the input, atleast I know I'm not missing something and these stories were not suppose to clearly fall under a single dominant story type.

i think my copies of sci-fi and fantasy and characters and viewpoint are both suppose to arrive this evening, hopefully they can help me get a structure for my story that feels right

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extrinsic
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Ender's Game and energiec * narratives generally, regardless of length, emphasize one of Card's four Milieu, Idea, Character, Event features. Milieu is a specific form of setting features, largely an antagonal cultural situation though time and place as well. Dystopia is an example of a milieu emphasis; that is, the setting's milieu is antagonal, causal, and tensional. George Orwell's 1984 emphasizes milieu overall, though is also at times Idea, Character, and Event emphasis.

Idea is related to theme, for a broader perspective; a narrower perspective that Card details is an idea that is a narrative's anatgonal focus -- the central complication wanting satisfaction. An individual and nature is a common literary theme that discovers the clash, the congruency, and the satisfaction of an individual and nature. Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea is an idea emphasis narrative.

Idea also may be a what-if scenario that relates to theme though distinguishable from theme. Ender Wiggins is an individual and the gods (or authorities) theme; however, a central idea of the novel is what if a third-born child, cruelly drafted and trained in a severe crucible, is wanted to save humanity from an impossibly difficult enemy.

The idea is somewhat related to a traditional belief familiar to Card of birth pecking order. A third-born child is a natural-born diplomat from mediating squabbles between older siblings and parents, for family peace if not attention seeking. First born, natural-born leader; second born, natural-born subversive, likewise for attention seeking from the shadow of a first-born's dominance.

Character emphasis is, of course, an external, antagonal clash between characters (agonists) or an internal, antagonal clash of one character, or both. Joyce Carol Oates' "Where are you going, where have you been" emphasizes both.

Event emphasis, likewise of course, focuses on antagonal, causal, tensional, usually external, and usually chronologically linear timeline, sequence of events. Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games emphasizes event sequence.

Event is the customary and easiest to read, if not write, more appealing structure for a narrative, regardless of MICE emphasis. Readers associate and identify most easily with events, and hence, are most readily engaged by events. Humans are far more likely to share and be familiar with events though events happen to individuals and in settings and milieus with which readers may not be familiar. Event foremost; Milieu, Idea, and Character will follow.

Ender's Game is all four of proportionate variation emphasis while the complication satisfaction action unfolds. Part of the novel's evinced mastery is the proportionate emphasis distribution and noteworthy for any master class narrative. The key is that MICE is not a matter of one or the another, that one may be emphasized at any given moment though the others are no less relevant and they take their timely and judicious moments of emphasis.

An analytical method of determining which emphasis dominates at any time dissects which is most pivotal to the action -- the introduction, development, and outcome of complications to be satisfied, of a whole and proportioned to parts. Wiggins, for example satisfies complications while the overall action he's selected for unfolds, and with likewise setback reversals.

* energiec is a rhetorical term for the lively energy of profluent movement of a narrative (draws readers or viewers forward). Energia is most easily developed through event emphasis; however, proportioned milieu, idea, and character emphasis are also crucial for profluence, not to mention, plot as organization criteria separate from event sequence, and as well discourse method, particularly irony (or satire or sarcasm) or poetic prose language (SPICED -- Setting, Plot, Idea, Character, Event, Discourse).

Also, complication is a primary energia feature for narratives; that is, antagonal, causal, and tensional want and problem wanting satisfaction. Give an agonist a want or a problem to earnestly want to satisfy; make the complication length-proportionate difficult to satisfy, satisfy the complication: beginning, middle, end.

[ July 06, 2015, 12:00 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Makari
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I've had a few false starts on this story already getting a few chapters in each time, and I really think a lot of it came down to me not having things organized in my head enough to begin. the chapters came out disjointed and the story just wasnt flowing, I went through the lengthy prologue phase, and i went through several other bad openings that just didnt feel right.

*reading OSC's short writing lesson about beginnings really resonated about how difficult it was to continue writing because the beginning was just not correct. Thought it was really nice of him to put on display several drafts of his openings that were failures to show how much had to change.

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Disgruntled Peony
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I was having trouble with outlines awhile back, which seems fairly similar to what you're struggling with. Maybe something in that thread will help:

http://www.hatrack.com/ubb/writers/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic;f=1;t=007942

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Makari
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I had actually read that about a week ago peony

you actually ended in much the same way that I have been outlining, starting with a rough third person explanation of the story.

I can use this to do scene summaries easily enough, have done several for key scenes that I am sure will be in a final draft even if heavily changed. the problem i have is in taking that next step back and outlining the scenes coming together... I've went through several drafts of stringing together different scenes to get started and so far nothing is sticking.

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extrinsic
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Consider, instead of beginning at the beginning, beginning at mid climax and drafting back to the beginning, then drafting the outcome, the end -- the denouement.
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Grumpy old guy
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I'm confused. The title of the thread is: "Difficulty in finding story structure." However, to me, you seem to be struggling with finding the real story, not its structure.

Milieu, Event, Character, and Idea, to me, are all story elements, not structural components. And all four of these elements need to be included in any story. And yes, it is usual for one of these components to dominate the others; Catcher In The Rye is a character driven story, not and idea, milieu, or event driven one. So, is your problem deciding what story you are going to tell or is it what shape the plot should take?

Initially, the idea and the premise shape the plot. Once that has been decided upon, the plot and the characters are shaped to fit your chosen dramatic/tragic/comedic structure. Some of these could be based on Campbell's The Hero's Journey, or Freytag's Triangle--Introduction, Inciting incident, Rising action, Climax, Falling action, Denouement, or you could simply resort to a beginning, middle, and an end type of simple structure.

So, I guess I'm wondering just where you think you have a problem: Story, Plot, Character, or Dramatic structure?

Phil.

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Makari
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I guess I'm having problems with both to some degree, or maybe having structure problems because I'm having story problems.

I may have went too far down the rabbit hole in having the story in my head for soo long. I'm beginning to think I'm going to have to strip the story down to make it cohesive because i've had it developing for soo long that I have let it develop into what is really more than a single story.

Now i've got to decide which elements are truly needing to be cut and which can just be minor touching points, but not the focus of THE story.

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extrinsic
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MICE are "drivers" of a story and plot's fluent flow, or profluence. They are organization principles. They are separately distinguishable though indivisible from structure. For example, Card describes a milieu's template structure: an individual migrates to an unfamiliar, non-routine setting (time, place, and situation). The milieu complicates the individual's life. The individual returns to a routine, either back "home" or to a new-normal routine in the now-familiar exotic milieu.

Holden Caulfield of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, for example, leaves military school, more or less runs away from routine home life. The novel is, though, character emphasis. The central idea of the novel resolves around superficiality of family and acquaintances -- everyone to Caulfield is phony -- and of note though not directly stated, implied Caulfield feels phony himself.

The pivotal event of the novel that incites Caulfield is the untimely death of near-same-age brother Allen, though that event is a backdrop -- backstory item -- for why Caulfield feels phony. He has not satisfactorily grieved Allen's death. The novel's end is a restoration to home and family life milieu, of one meaningful, non-phony, sincere family tie, sister Phoebe, who needs Caulfield, the sentiment is mutual -- both idea and character satisfaction and resolution, and an event satisfaction; that is, Caulfield reunites with Phoebe and experiences a cathartic accommodation to Allen's death.

Anyway, Card's poetics texts give greater details about MICE, content and organization, character and plot. From study of the texts, a stronger understanding of MICE influences on structure will develop.

Next, consider Damon Knight's Creating Short Fiction a companion text.

Meanwhile, give doubt and confusion their reins; they are products of aesthetic hunches something is missing and needs realization. A story too long on the drawing board loses passion at least, if not becomes an unmanageable behemoth of multiple and chaotic motifs, seeking a realized center of focus, wandering in the dark either through planning intellect or discovery intuition, or both. Realize missing content, a story's passion reignites, and focus emerges. Four hundred thousand-word narratives, or longer, often lack the all-important focus.

Focus: what's the substantive complication? What does the central individual want? That want is the focus pivot for any and all narratives. Passion could, probably will be reignited by the back and forth oscillations of complication progress and setback, especially problems that both aid and delay complication's want satisfaction.

By the way, Card uses the term "conflict" to span conflict and complication. Conflict is motivations, stakes, forces, and outcomes in opposition, like life and death. Want for life in the face of deadly problems is both conflict and complication. Complication is the focused want and problem wanting satisfaction, like certain death due to a bug-eyed monster invasion problem incites a want to live. Again, separately distinguishable though indivisible features.

[ July 07, 2015, 01:10 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Robert Nowall
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I've wondered if I'd like The Catcher in the Rye better if I reread it today---'cause I sure hated it a lot when I read it as a teenager. (Required reading for school.)
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Grumpy old guy
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For me, the quickest way to re-focus on a story which has 'cooked' too long is to sit down and just write it out. Begin where it begins in your head and keep writing, without editing, cutting and pasting, or anything else, until you type, "The End."

This is your Draft Zero; not intended for anything other than to provide inspiration and some original thought. Once you have that, write out its plot and work from there.

Phil.

PS. Hated Holden Caulfield, the little twerp. Also required school reading; what a 'writer's rort' that is. Kept wishing he'd do me a favour and off himself.

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Scot
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Amen, Grumpy old guy. On both points.
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extrinsic
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The Catcher in the Rye was on the local schools' banned reading lists when I was in high school. So, of course, I read the novel first time then, and six or so times since. The degree of Caulfield's ennui and angst is heavy handed yet apropos of his age and existential crisis.
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