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What is Story?

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Beth Revis

on 31 October 2013

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Transcript of What is Story?

Character & World Building

What is Story?
Story is what happens.
Plot is the structure of what happens.
Character Development
Show early in the story:
World Development
The goals of the character informs the world;
the world informs the goals of the character.
World Building Steps
Reader believability within the world is key.
The story cannot happen to anyone but this character.

The main character must be an active participant of his world.
The character's main goal is a result of a problem with the world.

The world has a problem which only the main character can solve.

The conflict of the story comes from the obstacles. This can be from many things, but today we're focusing on the story world.

The story cannot happen in any other world/situation.
Reader Empathy
1. Create sympathy for the character:
- hero as the victim of some undeserved misfortune
2. Put the hero in jeopardy (make the reader worry about them)
3. Make the hero likeable
- hero as kind, good-hearted, generous
- hero well liked by others
4. Make the hero funny
5. Make the hero powerful and/or good at what they do
Physical lack: a tangible object the hero needs (i.e. a cure for a disease)

Emotional lack: a personality trait or emotion that the hero lacks (i.e. courage)
Need vs. Desire
The character may want one thing, but need something else. If these two things are in direct conflict with each other, there is automatic tension.
The world adds obstacles
Obstacles create conflict.

The character should not just react to the world, but be a proactive force to change the world as it is.
The character's personality is linked to the world
What traits in the character makes the world a particularly difficult place to be?
If the hero fails again, the story is a tragedy (and typically literary).

If the hero succeeds, the story has a Happily Ever After (and is typically commercial).
The character starts in a state of failure in some key aspect.

This can be physical and/or emotional.
The Hunger Games
A knife to Katniss is different from...

A knife to Peeta, which is different from...

A knife to Effie Trinket.
Harry Potter
The importance of friends and working together is different to Harry Potter than it is to Voldemort or Snape or Draco or Sirius.
"Gimme Points"
You can only go to a certain point of asking the reader to suspend disbelief.
"Truth is stranger than fiction."
--Mark Twain
Fiction MUST make sense.

Fiction MUST stick to possibilities.

"But it really happened!" is no excuse.
There is a
or lack
within the character
The character faces a retrial of the original failure or lack
Based on Jim Harvey's speech structures
A Character's Story
"Give them a limp and a scar"

-Blake Snyder, Save the Cat
The limp/scar comes as a result of the world. The world has changed the characters in a significant way.

Better: tie a physical scar to an emotional one.

Example: Luke's hand is lost because of Darth Vader/his father
Add Richer Details
What is the character's biggest fear?
The world = road blocks that the character must face.

The world provides the fear the character must face.

Example: The Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man when facing the Wicked Witch
Every character is wounded. Every character hides the wound behind a mask.

The character's true self is behind the mask.
By experiencing the world, the mask of the character is taken off, and the true self is revealed.

Example: Fiona in Shrek
The bad guys and the side characters are the heroes of their own story
As the writer, you need to be able to flip the world and see it from the other character's POV.

Example: The Operative in Serenity
The identity of the character informs the way the character sees the world
The character's viewpoint is the lens of the world.

Example: a main character who is an artist looks at the world the way an artist would
The Character's Lens of the World
Beware Explanations
Questions leads to more questions.

Focus on what the book is ACTUALLY about--the story--moreso than the explanation.
Make the World Dirty
Add in the extra details that show the world is lived in, and old.

Leave things lying around that can become key details later.
Obey Your Own Rules
What's the worst thing that can happen for my characters specifically?
You cannot explain anything to the reader beyond what is in the text.
World obstacles
provide the change

Now it's
your turn!
Now it's
your turn!
Now it's
your turn!
Now its
your turn!
The more impossible the goal seems, the more the reader wants to read.

One solution leads to another obstacle.
It should be: "therefore..." "...but..."
NOT "and then..."

Real vs. fake tension
Five Visible Goals
To stop
To escape
To deliver
To retrieve
To win
Michael Hauge
Writing Screenplays that Sell (book)
The Hero's Two Journeys (DVD/CD)
Blake Snyder
Save the Cat (book)
Cheryl Klein
Second Sight (book)
The Narrative Breakdown (podcast)
Alexandra Sokoloff: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors
John Truby: The Anatomy of Story
Robert McKee: Story
Donald Maass
Writing the Breakout Novel
The Breakout Novelist
The Fire in Fiction
The Career Novelist
Anne Lamott: Bird by Bird
Diana Wynne Jones: Reflections
James Scott Bell: Plot & Structure
Full transcript