Setting

“Where’s the story set?”

The answer provides many clues about the story in question. While we ask “where”, the setting actually encompasses somewhat more than location. Let’s find out how setting relates to

  • time
  • genre
  • story world
  • premise

Time

Each Star Wars story reminds us of the setting before it even starts: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. In being reminiscent of “once upon a time”, the famous opening establishes that this is essentially a fairy tale with spaceships.

“Middle-earth” is a valid answer to the question above for The Lord of the Rings. One might be tempted to explain that this is a fictitious realm, maybe say something about how its technology relates to the actual Earth’s history, and possibly mention the connection to the Midgard of Norse mythology.

So in addition to describing physical space, both these examples contain hints and associations about the time when the events of the story take place. (more…)

Conflict

Conflict is the lifeblood of story.

In real life, conflict is something we generally want to avoid. Stories, on the other hand, require conflict. This discrepancy is an indicator of the underlying purpose of stories as a kind of training ground, a place where we learn to deal with conflict without having to suffer real-life consequences.

In this post we will look at:

  • An Analogy
  • Archetypal conflict in stories
  • Conflict between characters
  • Conflict within a character
  • The central conflict

Along with language (in some form or other, be it as text or as the language of a medium, such as film) and meaning (intended by the author or understood by the recipient), characters and plot form the constituent parts of story. It is impossible to create a story that does not include these four components – even if the characters are one-dimensional and the plot has no structure. However, it is formally possible to compose a story with no conflict.

It just won’t be very interesting.

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External Obstacles

In essence, there are three kinds of opposition a character in a work of fiction may have to deal with:

  1. Character vs. character
  2. Character vs. nature
  3. Character vs. society

However, this way of categorising types of opposition is not equivalent to internal, external and antagonistic obstacles. Any of the three kinds of opposition listed above may be internal, external, or antagonistic. It depends on the story structure.

External opposition

In any story, the cast of characters will likely be diverse in such a way as to highlight the differences and conflicts of interests between the individuals. In some cases, certain roles may be expected or necessary parts of the surroundings, i.e. of the story world. In the story of a prisoner, it is implicit that there will be jailors or wardens, whose interest it will be to keep the prisoner in prison, which is in opposition or conflict with the prisoner’s desire for freedom.(more…)

Location

Any event happens sometime and somewhere.

We have discussed time a great deal in this blog. Of course, the spatial dimension may be just as relevant.

The Story World

We may distinguish between the overall story world location and specific locations. By story world we refer to the overall setting and logical framework of the story. This is always unique to the story, although that becomes most obvious in stories set either in a fantasy world (like The Lord Of The Rings) or in stories that have a setting tightly bound to a geographical feature, such as Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now, or Deliverance. In each of these latter examples, a river – and the journey up or down it – provides the story world. Yet story world is more than just physical location. It describes an entire environment, including the ethical dimensions. Consider Wall Street or The Big Short, stories that describe a “world” where making money comes first.

The setting is usually established in the first part of the story, and the rest of the story should be true to what has been set up at the beginning.

Locations

Within the entirety of the “world” come the specific locations(more…)

Emotional Stance

A character in a story has beliefs, values, ideas, passions. In short, an emotional stance. It’s this bundle of feelings that make the character a character.

By emotional stance we mean belief-system and value-set. This is particularly important when one considers that often stories show value-sets in conflict, and the theme of the story may present one of these value-sets as preferable over the other.

An emotional stance does not emerge in a vacuum. Stories exhibit cause and effect, and the emotional stance of the characters is no exception. A character’s emotional stance has causes. Since we’re talking about emotions, they can be hard to pinpoint – while at the same time being somewhat obvious.

As an example, take a contrast story like In The Heat Of The Night. The Police Chief in the USA’s deep south is a racist bigot. That is his emotional stance, and for the purpose of this story also his internal problem. That he is a racist does not surprise the audience at all. It is completely credible given his origins. He comes from an area where, at the time at least, such bigotry was rife.

What we’re getting at here is that the emotional stance a character displays has to be made plausible to the audience, which may be achieved by making the origins of that character explicit. In many stories, where a character comes from has to be(more…)

Change

If there is one thing that ALL stories have in common, it is change.

Internal_6_Beemgee_Change

A story, pretty much by definition, describes a change. Indeed, every single scene does.

The most fundamental change that stories tend to describe is one of recognition of truth. What is not known at the beginning of the story is recognised and thus becomes known at the end. This is obvious in crime stories, but holds true for almost all other stories too. The story therefore amounts to an act of learning. Often the learning curve is observable in the protagonist, who tends to be wiser at the end than at the beginning. But the point is really that the recipient, the reader or viewer, is actually the one doing the learning – through experiencing the story.

So within a story, what changes?

At the very least,

  1. one of the characters, usually the protagonist
  2. often other characters too
  3. sometimes the whole story-world

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Beginning and Inciting

More than any other part of a story, the beginning has to grab the audience’ or reader’s attention.

In the beginning, before audience or readers are emotionally involved and concerned about the fates of the characters, the danger of them turning away from the story is greatest.

Now, there’s more to a beginning than the kick-off event. While being an attention grabber, the entire first section of a story also has to establish the following:

  • Who the story is about
  • What the story is about
  • Where the story takes place

That sounds self-evident, but all the elements needed to answer those three points amount to an awful lot of information. And at this stage, the audience or readers are not yet patient or forgiving, because they are not yet emotionally hooked.

In this post we will:

  • look at the who/what/where
  • determine the two key events that the first section of a story must include
  • provide a checklist of all the elements the first part of a story requires

Who/what/where

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