So, here we are! These are the Craft Elements I researched during January and decided to write a post on this week. This is mostly supposed to be a summary of the information I found, not only for myself but for anyone who might be interested. There will be links to other sites, where people explain things better than I can, in each section, and a list of other sources at the end that I also found useful or interesting (and because research is a too good excuse to procrastinate, might as well have a place where it has already been done).
This post is of a more general nature, as I’ll be researching Elements several times and focusing on different aspects each time, depending on my interests/needs. If anyone wants to suggest any, leave a comment!
Story Form and Structure
Stories, like all things, have a shape. This shape is defined by the story’s plot– what happens in it, the sequence of events from the Exposition to the Resolution to everything in between. A story’s structure is also often defined by the story’s genre and form (for example, an epic sci-fi romance novel will naturally be different from a psychological mystery short story).
It’s always important to have in mind, however, that we should always find what works for a specific story, and not try to fit it into a mold that might not fit.
Still, there are elements that most, if not all, people agree should be present in a story. These can be summed up nicely in the Three-Act Structure, which is the simplest structure you can find. Some argue that it’s too simple.
And it’s not hard to see why– a story isn’t just a rise-and-fall sequence. Or, rather, isn’t just one rise-and-fall sequence, at least in a longer work. Before reaching their goal, characters must go through a journey that not only prepares them for it, but also turns them into better people. During the rise, the characters must also fall.
This structure also implies that the Exposition is the beginning of the story, which ignores a favorite literary device of mine, in media res. In fact, I really enjoy non-linear storytelling in general because, when done right, it allows to tell normally overbearing stories in an interesting, refreshing way.
Basically, there are a lot of perspectives on story structure. Some defend Four Acts instead of Three. Not to mention the numerous other structures I obviously missed. Sometimes, I feel a bit overwhelmed by all this, because my ultimate goal is to learn and grow as a writer. However, since I don’t have a guide, the more I read and research the more the different sources seem to clash with each other.
So now, I’m going to create a rule for myself, and to others who feel the same way. Instead of focusing on trying to fit a story into a specific structure, first make sure to define each element.
Define your Beginning, Middle, and End. Figure out the turning points between each part. Then, plan each part as needed. Which, I know, is pretty vague. When I plan my stories, I don’t usually put a lot of detail into it, because I know I’ll deviate from the plan. I’m by no means an expert in these things, which is why I’m going to make a post about Planning nest month.
A concept just occurred to me– throw those structures out the window. Or rather, don’t. Take the structures, study them, understand why they are used. Then, cut them into pieces and mix-and-match their parts to suit your needs. Everything between the Three Acts and the turning points between them becomes a collage, as long as it’s a collage that makes sense not only structurally but also in terms of narrative.
It’s also worth noting that, in a story, there’s an element that dominates the others and, as such, determines the story’s structure. Before anything else, determine which element matters most.
Show and Tell
“Show, don’t Tell” is one of those Writing Maxims that get thrown around and that everyone has to be aware of. But what does it mean, really?
It means that, instead of saying “Alice went to her room and retrieved the book”, you should show it– “Alice left the living room and climbed the old staircase, making sure her feet didn’t land on the noisy steps. She dashed to her room and looked around, finding the leather-bound book on top of her bed. She walked to it and picked it up, securing it firmly against her chest with her hand and arm before dashing back downstairs.”
However, this doesn’t mean that there’s no use for Tell. If the book is important to the story but the process of getting it isn’t, or if she isn’t a central character, then there isn’t a need to show Alice getting the book. If Alice is the story/scene’s POV character, or if she encounters a situation which is critical to the story, then Showing is fundamental.
Showing is what lets readers visualize the story and emerge in it. Telling lets you quickly tell readers important facts without overbearing them. In real life, when you go to, say, a store and want to tell your friend about it, do you describe your journey to the store in detail, even if nothing particularly interesting happens, or do you just skip to the part where you’re already in the store? Use Telling as a connection between scenes that need Showing, and you can even make Telling evocative with just the enough amount of details.
Description is closely tied to “Show, don’t Tell” and, as I’ve mentioned before, I consider it one of my weak spots in writing. (This section focuses on Scene Description. I’m planning on talking about Character Description in the future.)
The reason why I think this is because, one one hand, I feel that sometimes I don’t describe as much as I think I should and, on the other hand, I’m afraid of adding too much detail. I don’t want to come out as bland, but also not as too flowery. I don’t want to stall the plot with too much description. Maybe it’s just me being insecure, since I never recieved feedback on this (though the texts I’ve had reviewed were never much longer than 500 words), but it’s never bad to learn and improve.
In my last week’s post, I talked about an exercise I learned on planning and writing description. I’d like to complement this with the notion that description is affected by the point-of-view. What would the character notice? What would the character feel? Which details in Alice’s room would let the reader know more about her? How would the description of a richly decorated mansion be affected by the view of a man who never had much, versus of that of the owner? The description must also be vivid and specific.
Description is where “Show, don’t Tell” comes into play. “The house was imposing” may be a description, but it isn’t particularly interesting. “The house had the tendency of making newcomers stare in admiration at its size, some in fear that they would get lost among the rooms behind the countless, large windows” transmits the idea that the house is ‘impressive in size’. Still, it’s always important to not overdo it, like I feel I did with this example.
There are many uses for Description, from setting the story or scene’s atmosphere to highlighting something in particular. It’s also an opportunity to use Symbolism, which I’m planning on talking about in the future.
A question still remains, though– how much Description is enough? Well, it depends on the story and its pace. If you describe in detail during a very action-oriented scene, then the pace will be lost. If you don’t describe at all, then the reader will be lost. What I’ve started doing is just write out the story and later add or expand description where necessary.
Setting answers the “Where?” and “When?” of your story and is one of its three main elements. Setting influences both plot, since it defines what is possible and expectations for the story, and characters, who, like people, are shaped by the enviornment they live in.
There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to Setting, I’m not even sure how to begin. If I’m writing a short story, chances are that Setting will come naturally once I get an idea of what to write, except for any elements that I feel the need to research. Longer works, however, demand more extensive planning in order for the Setting to feel realistic and alive. Alice may live in a town, but what kind of town? Industrial? Fishing? And in which time period? What exists beyond the town, and how does it influence it?
Building your Setting requires a lot of research, especially when writing stories in other time periods, countries, or worlds. This is important whether the story takes place in a fishing town in the 19th century, Contemporary New York, or a colony in another planet. This also applies to culture and social customs and norms.
But say, imagine you already have all the necessary details for your Setting and want to start writing. How do you introduce Setting?
If I’m adopting a third person POV, I generally start from the general to the specific, the specific being the main character– show the reader the town, then focus on Alice’s actions at the moment. If I’m adopting the main character’s POV, I introduce it through their eyes– if Alice is, say, on the way to school, I’ll describe the town as she walks. And of course, it’s important not to reveal everything in one go. Let the story gradually reveal the Setting, let the Characters and readers explore it.
Story Form and Structure
Eva Deverell, “The Fool’s Journey”, http://www.eadeverell.com/the-fools-journey/
Ingrid Sundberg, “What is Arch Plot and Classic Design”, http://ingridsundberg.com/2013/06/05/what-is-arch-plot-and-classic-design/
Ingrid Sundberg, “Plot vs Structure”, http://ingridsundberg.com/2013/06/17/plot-vs-structure/
Narrative First, “Accurate Story Structure Ain’t Easy”, http://narrativefirst.com/articles/accurate-story-structure-aint-easy
Narrative First, “Four Acts not Three”, http://narrativefirst.com/articles/four-acts-not-three
Narrative First, “Plot Points and the Inciting Incident”, http://narrativefirst.com/articles/plot-points-and-the-inciting-incident
Philip Brewer, “Story Structure in Short Stories”, https://www.philipbrewer.net/story-structure-in-short-stories/
Story Board, “That Narrative Structures”, http://www.storyboardthat.com/articles/e/narrative-structures
Janice Hardy, “Form Fitting”, http://blog.janicehardy.com/2010/01/form-fitting.html
Show and Tell
Annie Jackson, “Show don’t Tell”, http://anniejacksonbooks.com/show-dont-tell/
Helping Writers Become Authors, “Show and Tell”, http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/show-and-tell/#
Mandy Wallace, “Writers Balancing Show don’t Tell”, http://mandywallace.com/writers-balancing-show-dont-tell/
She’s Novel, “Balance Show don’t Tell”, https://www.shesnovel.com/blog/balance-show-dont-tell/
Writer’s Digest, “Showing and Telling in your Writing”, http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/showing-vs-telling-in-your-writing
Write to Done, “How to Write Better Descriptions”, http://writetodone.com/how-to-write-better-descriptions/
Writer’s Digest, “How to Write Vivid Descriptions”, http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/how-to-write-vivid-descriptions
Writing World, “The Art of Description”, http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/description.shtml
Novel Writing Help, “Building Your Story’s Setting”, http://www.novel-writing-help.com/story-setting.html