Out of My Head 6: The Rhythm of Fiction

Three elements to keep in mind with regard to narrative flow: story rhythm separates plot from random strings of events; there must be equal parts action and reaction (yang and yin); there must be movement, either internal or external.  The hero must change.

  1. Story Structure is rigid (the traditional pyramid):
  • First crisis
  • Exposition
  • Second crisis
  • Transition (optional)
  • Third crisis
  • Undercutting (optional)
  • Climax
  • Result
  • Close
  1. Story Rhythm is always in motion, diagramed as a continuously expanding series of loops:
  • Goal
  • Action
  • Disaster
  • Reaction
  • Dilemma
  • Decision

The decision leads naturally to the next goal, followed by action, disaster, reaction, and so on.  The loops get bigger with each repetition as jeopardy escalates to the story’s climax.  This is the try/fail cycle.

ACTION (Yang): goal, action, disaster

REACTION (Yin): reaction, dilemma, decision

Story structure is the skeleton that supports rhythm’s muscles.

The number of times you repeat the try/fail cycle is a principle determinant of story length.