Monday, June 20, 2016

Story Structure's Underpinnings?

Last week I talked about the hoary three-part structure of a story and my inability to find an alternative one.  This led me to wonder what, if anything, lies below that three-part structure besides the normal and boring words, sentences, paragraphs, etc.  To be clear I want to know exactly what constitutes a story?

Stupid question, no?  Everybody knows what a story is.  It's something that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Along the voyage we encounter plot, characters, scenery and summary activities that involve all of these as a grouping of scenes or acts. Are these just convenient tokens we use to mark time as the story is told?  If we strip all of those away do we still have a story.

Is there a foundation that supports the tale that is apart from these tokens??  Can Story be a thing independent of its content or form?  Do we have some innate mental model that allows us to separate a story from a shopping list?

Perhaps if I can get closer to an answer to that question I will be able to find that alternative pattern?


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Alternative Story Structures

I keep coming back to the issue of structure of a story and pondering alternatives to the three-part/act design.

For those of you who do not know what I am talking about here is a simple explanation:
Structure is the way the story is presented to the reader.  It is NOT the plot, the time-sequence, or the style.  It IS the way the events logically proceed, regardless of the physical or chronological arrangement presented.  All stories, plays, and movies are structured in three acts/parts; try-fail, try-fail, try-epiphany/denouement. The plot contained within this structure might be the hero's journey, a romantic adventure, or simply a puzzle piece.  The story might wander all over creation (if it's a novel), or jump back and forth chronologically.  You can even start telling the story with the epiphany and work backwards. I've done all of these and, regardless of how I write them, there's always a three-part structure underlying the story.

I wonder if the three-part structure has something to do with our mental makeup; an inherent part of human thinking processes. Perhaps this has to do with the way we experience time as a sequence of events and have a bias toward chronological order.   Or the tripartite story might have something to do with impatience - any  number of try-fail beyond three becomes boring and suspense prolonged too long bores us. Or maybe three acts are the most we can hold in our head at a time without confusion.  The three partness of story telling certainly has been with us since the dawn of recorded  history and I'm sure our simian ancestors  used it to spin campfire tales.

Given the above, is there possibly another STRUCTURE that would facilitate story telling? If so, I certainly want to hear about it.


Monday, June 6, 2016


For the last few months I've been in a funk with writers block, unable to craft a decent line. Perhaps it was because I overdid it in the preceding six months - finished one novel, made some progress on another, and submitted two novellas, a novelette, and a couple of short pieces. I am going to see six stories published this year, but those were last years products so that didn't help lift me out of my malaise.

Along came BaltiCon 50 and I was asked to conduct a writing seminar* which turned out to have two students.  We had a great conversation about writing during which I think I imparted some insights based on my own experience and that I'd received from others.  Either that or I scared the desire to write short fiction out of them.  Nevertheless, it was refreshing to feel their enthusiasm.

Twenty-some GOH from previous BaltiCons were there, some of whom I managed to chat with briefly. I also sat on panels with other writers, had a few at the bar with SF friends, and had a number of interesting and challenging conversations with other professional writers who graced me with their presence.  I even got some queries that might prove interesting down the line.  I also signed books.

I returned home exhausted and had a day of rest. On the third day I arose from my bed, rushed to my computer and blocked out two stories while doing research on a third. The words began to flow once more and for the first time in months I feel invigorated about this miserable business of writing spec fiction.

I think it's a result of the contact high I got from sitting in the Green Room.

*For free, after all this is a con.