Capturing Authentic Human Reactions in Fiction

Note: I’m taking a break this week to enjoy the holiday in the U.S., so am sharing this shortie instead of the usual post and podcast. Enjoy! The goal of all memorable fiction is to capture the truth about humanity. Sometimes that truth is weighty and all-encompassing, such as the ubiquitous “good triumphs over evil.” […]

8 Ways to Avoid Cardboard Characters (and Plot Contrivances While You’re At It)

“The plot was contrived, and the characters were cardboard.” Ouch. That’s about as bad as it can get when it comes to negative story reviews. It’s also perhaps one of the most common complaints audiences have about stories. Certainly, it’s one that irritates me the most! Here’s the thing though: cardboard characters often cause plot contrivances—and […]

Understanding the New Normal World of a Story’s Resolution

A story’s Resolution is a tiny section of the overall story. From the perspective of structural timing, the Resolution represents 2% or even less of the story’s total running time. Some stories give it the generous portion of as much as a few chapters. But in other stories, the Resolution may be implied more than […]

Understanding the Underworld of a Story’s Third Act

A story’s Third Act is unique. We often think of the Third Act in terms of its being climactic—and therefore full of excitement and high stakes. And it often is. But ultimately the Third Act fulfills a much more symbolic function within a story. Simply put, it is the proving ground for all the character […]

Understanding the Adventure World of a Story’s Second Act

Every story is an adventure. No matter its genre, focus, or tone, a story is always about an undertaking of some sort, whether cosmically large or familiarly small. This is why writers can use the metaphor of the Adventure World for a story’s Second Act to better understand this crucial part of story structure in […]

Understanding the Normal World of a Story’s First Act

No matter their genre or focus, stories are about something happening—a shift in the status quo. Where the characters begin is not where they end. This may refer to their literal physical surroundings, or to a more metaphorical state of being—or, very possibly, to both. Whatever the case, it is important for authors to understand […]

Deepening Your Story’s Theme With the Thematic Square

How can you deepen your story’s theme? This is a question most writers find themselves asking at one point or another. And there are many answers. As an inherently abstract concept, theme can be approached from many different directions—and still feel hard to get at. But as one of the most important factors in creating […]

6 Ways to Find Your Best Ideas Before You Start Writing

For writers, ideas are the primal matter. No ideas, no stories. But sometimes trying to figure out how to find your best ideas is like catching butterflies. They flit in; they flit out. If we aren’t paying attention, sometimes we don’t even recognize that they’ve been there. Even when we do stop short in awe […]

The Role of the Antagonist in Story Structure, Pt. 2 of 2

One way to think about plot is as a “push-pull between protagonist and antagonist.” Although the protagonist is the character who frames and, indeed, decides the story’s structure, the role of the antagonist in story structure is equally important. Last week, I shared an overview of the antagonist’s role in the first five major structural […]

The Role of the Antagonist in Story Structure, Pt. 1 of 2

If you’re a student of story structure, then you probably have a pretty good idea how each of the major plot beats affects your protagonist—and, indeed, how the protagonist in turn drives the plot beats. But what about the antagonist? What is the role of the antagonist in story structure? Plot can be described in […]