Out of My Head 6: The Rhythm of Fiction

Narrative flow has three elements: story rhythm to separate plot from random strings of events; action and reaction in equal parts (yang and yin); and movement, either internal or external.

“Stories have to move.”  You hear that all the time.  What does it mean?  Stories are journeys.  They have to end someplace other than where they began.  Movement is what gets you there.

  1. Story Structure is rigid (the traditional pyramid):
  • First crisis
  • Exposition
  • Second crisis
  • Transition (optional)
  • Third crisis
  • Undercutting (optional)
  • Climax
  • Result
  • Close

The traditional pyramid is static.  It’s driven by the requirements of the plot, but it doesn’t flow.  One step lurches to the next: first crisis, second crisis, third, crisis, climax, resolution…  Movement is what flows between the steps.  It’s generated by the dynamic interplay between action and reaction, the give and take, the yang and yin, be it internal or external.

  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.  They’re driven by character.  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.

Plot is what drives the story.  Character is what drives the plot.

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