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Six Elements of Fiction

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Hmm. Forum too quiet... must start an interesting thread or two... Okay, there are 6 basic elements of fiction: character, character dynamic, worldbuilding, plot, theme, and register. Most writers are strong in some elements and weak in others, because people of different temperaments think about life more in terms of one or two elements and less in terms of the others. EDIT: definitions Character - A character is the author's mental simulation of a person, which the author then tries to communicate through either first-person narration (written as if the character were doing the thinking and speaking), close third narration (written as if the narrator shared all the character's biases and current mood), or description via other characters' dialogue (Ron said, "Snape's a greasy git!"). A character consists of an archetype overlaid with individuating details. Characters ought to behave consistently (well, as consistently as any human does...). Dynamic characters are those who are changed in some large way by the events of the story, and static characters are those who remain the same throughout the story. Characters are described as being either 3-dimensional or 2 dimensional (aka flat, stereotyped). Usually, main characters should be 3-dimensional and secondary characters more 2-dimensional. The upper limit of main characters in a work of fiction, no matter how epic, seems to be about 8. Character Dynamic (sunandshadow's favorite element! ) - Character dynamic is the relationship between any two or more characters. Standard dynamics include mentor-student, parent-child, lover-beloved, rival-rival, victor-defeated, master-slave, manipulator-manipulated, etc. The ones with more than two characters are like a love triangle, a hierarchy, etc. Often the dynamic between the main characters will shift throughout the story, and when it settles into an equilibrium state this signals that the story may now acceptably end. In other words, no one will complain, "Hey! Where's the rest of the story?! This doesn't feel like the end!" Worldbuilding - Your English teacher might have called this setting, but we science fiction and fantasy writers have to create whole cultures and planets, not just pick a setting on Earth. So worldbuilding is always two-pronged: cultural, and physical. Your physical worldbuilding should basically explore the question: "What if the world were different in X particular way?" e.g. What if my world were a space station? What if my world had magic? What if my world had really high gravity? Your cultural worldbuilding, on the other hand asks "What if...?" questions about psychology, sociology, and history. What if there were a high-technology society where slavery were legal? What if we could program people's minds? What if species Y had the instinct to build nests? What if suddenly there were no women? As with characters cultures should be consistent in either a static or dynamic way throughout the course of the story. Plot - A plot is a series of conceptually linked events that occur over time. TIME is the key word here - plot is where stories get their 4-th dimensional aspect from, the thing that makes them more complex than, say, a painting. Plot events may be of the following types: random physical event (e.g. an earthquake, a part breaking down in a spaceship), character reaction (e.g. he called me something unprintable so I fragged him), or character resolution to action (e.g. I vow to set foot on the Moon before I die). The vast majority of plot events in the average story, however, are character reactions - big complicated chains of character reactions, like dropping a ping-pong ball into a box of loaded mousetraps with more ping-pong balls balanced on them. One common way of describing plot is that an initial incident destabalizes an equilibrium situation, then everything fluctuates wildly until a new equilibrium situation is reached. (I really hope you've all had some chemistry classes, it makes this much easier to understand.) All plots have six stages as described in Freytag's pyramid and other similar theories. (This is described in another of my threads so I won't go into it here.) Stories that start In Medias Res may skip the first few parts or present them as backstory or flashbacks. Theme - this is a moral/ethical issue explored in a story. short stories may have only one theme, whereas novels and computer games usually have at least three. Themes can usually be stated in a vs. format (e.g. honesty vs. diplomacy, being a good cooperative citizen vs. having individuality and integrity, the unrequited lover vs. the uncooperative beloved, etc.). Register - This one's fairly well defined below, right? Basically you choose your individual words and sentence structure to convey a certain atmosphere, a certain palette of emotions and not other incongrous ones, a certain level of formality that subconsciously cues the audience what kind of story their reading and what to expect from it. Did that help, I hope? END EDIT Okay, here's what I want you to do. I want you to say what you think is the most important thing you've learned about each element, and what is a question you have about each element. Okay? Good. Go! [edited by - sunandshadow on February 8, 2003 9:38:44 PM]

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Register is the guiding principle of word choice, if that makes any sense. The emotional tone, the flavor - slangy, archaic, dreamy, stiff... The vocabulary level too. The way you can use word choice (and sentence structure too) to communicate who a character is, how he/she/or it thinks.

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Character -> Being able to identify (even if not personally) with the character. IMO there is no good to have a charater in a book noone thinks he is real or has any connection.
Chracter Dynamic -> Not quit following (sorry, not experienced writer )
World Building -> Important on stories/books/games where there is a lot of travelling. Saying "They travel to city A then B then C until they reached their final destination, city D" leaves to nothing but fustrating, why was it city D and not B and C and A ? While stories that don''t really on the travelling aspect (even if it is there, the travelling isn''t a big part of it) World building isn''t that necessary (a good case of Tolkien vs Card).
Plot -> I would define any story by its plot. Being simplistic or not, it''s what the story is about. A strong long plot can be as good and a short one. So, the most important thing for me is probably the relation (or path) of the characters with the task at hand (Frodo and the Ring, Ender and the Buggers (tho its completly disleading , etc).
Theme -> Dont really care much about this, so I dont think I have whats important.
As lofty said, what is register ? (and no, your answer didn''t make it much clear for me

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what I learnt ? Mmmh, maybe that''s a bit too much to ask from me. I''ll just write what I think I know

character : it''s hard to write anything that you dont know about, so most characters tend to illustrate aspect of your personality (usually the main characters) or aspects you like/dislike in you or others. Well, that''s what I have observed, especially in roleplaying games.
I don''t think it''s really a problem, as long as you are aware of it. If you are not, you might end up always reusing the same kind of people, which is a bit, well, unoriginal ?

character dynamic : although it is something that annoys me, my experience tells me that dynamic usually comes from conflict. It''s more interesting to observe the dynamic of a conflict, and its possible resolution, than people being all cute happy with each other. That''s why buddy movies work so well, for instance; while the BAtman and Robin duo is just lame...
Disfunctional families (Six Feet Under, anyone ?), passionate couples (Perdita Durango, I loved that movie), enemies forced to cooperate (mmh, From Dusk till Dawn ?), give a much more fertile ground for drama that balanced families, placid couples and perfect partners.
Note that the conflict can still exist in the complementary nature of two persons, rather than in their relationship per se (in Monkey B, Monkey B is a robber, but she fall in love with Brendan who is a perfect school teacher. Their relationship is perfect, except for the fact that they have totally opposite kind of life. As it happens, the quite life of Brendan is the escape Monkey B was looking for...)

Worldbuilding : on that one, I am biased as it is something I am looking a solution to. My method is to use the dialogue of characters to expose the nature of the world they evolve in, usually in a teacher/student relationship. It seems a bit lame though, but it''s more useful to go in depth than simple descriptions of the landscape.
I like the approach of Pratchett, which kind of puts the reader in the world and seamlessly takes break from the action to stop and explain aspects of the world, in the form of disgressions (sp?). I am sure there is a literary word for this POV Which works very well. I just havent had a chance to try it, but I am very much thinking about it.
(I hope that''s what you meant by "worldbuilding", though)

plot : well, to put it simply, it''s like character dynamics, the more conflict the better. In this case, this means opposition on what would otherwise be a straight road. Enemies to vanquish, problems to solve, obstacles to overcome, unplanned incidents, traps, false leads, you name it.
Sticking to the classics seems to help, too. Although, sticking too closely make a story predictable and possibly boring. Unless you are really skilled in other domains, I guess, like Jack Vance''s Lyonnesse, which has a fairy tale quality to it (you just *know* what''s gonna happen next) but precisely it''s the style that makes it so good (well, for me anyway).

theme : mmmh. I dunno there. The theme is a bit like choosing colours for a painting. You don''t really do a painting saying "I wanna do something with lotsa blue, and some pink" (well... *normally* you don''t). you just decide what colours you are gonna use to represent the idea you want to transmit.
Maybe I am misunderstanding theme, here. You mean the ideas to transmit ? Or the background style (genre, period, etc) ?
If you mean the ideas to transmit, then what I just wrote doesnt apply.
In this case I am not sure, but I have a feeling that themes that allow for unresolved issues, or unbalanced, unfulfilling endings seem to have quite a panache to them.
Something like sacrifice : someone sacrificing its life to save people, unbeknownst (I hope I spell that right) to them. There is something in me that screams "bloody hell that''s not fair", and yet, that''s what make so much more dramatic.
I like themes that allow to illustrate the foly of it all. Stuff like Saving Private Ryan, for instance, really worked for me. The whole "yeah it''s pointless, but it''s a symbol, and that''s why we are gonna do it" thing makes me jump with joy, especially when I hear other people saying "the plot was stupid, pointless".

Maybe you could explain theme a bit better, I am sure I could thing of something more specific to say.

register : well, I dont really know what to say. Register is just a tool you use to give your character more, well, character It''s another layer that you add to the description of a character, in a way.
I don''t really see what more importance you could give it. Not using variation in register is, well, a sign of a lack of vocable for a start. But then again, using too much of it can be quite "heavy" for the reader. For instance, serpents that constantly "sssspeak like that, becaussssse they have a ssssslight problem with the tongue", is just plain annoying, and not very creative.

for those who didnt understand register (and assuming that it''s not one of those "false friends" words again), let me illustrate :
"Greetings ma demoiselle, it is a pleasure to find you in such a radiant mood, today. I daresay your splendor brings a most welcome light in this most depressing environment".
compare to
"Hello my lady, you look quite beautiful, today. A bit of light in a place of despair, in a way."
"Yo mamzel, it''s some pair you got there. They make me all fuzzy jsut looking at them, surely better than all the gloom in this hell hole".

A lord, a commoner, a ruffian. 3 registers, three to express the same thing.

Anyway, that''s all I got time for now

Sancte Isidore ora pro nobis !

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Here''s a few of my thoughts here then.

Character - This element would be important where you need to set out the basic principles of the chracters you intend to protray as. This may include the physical, mental and, if required, the supernatural components of the character. At first you would need to list these attributes of the character to get the general idea of what you want to express about them in the story and then use this list as you write your key points for the plot.

Character dynamic - the element where you have the inter-character relationship for your characters. Here I would define how one character may percieve another character from others. Perhaps using the D&D series as an example where you can have parties with good and evil alignments, how do they react to each other''s actions? The good alignment may take offence at the evil alignment''s natural observation of perhaps a decaying body found during the quest. But they may still bounded by the same objective of their quest.

Worldbuilding - This element would contain the details of the world. It may include the geological aspect, perhaps through a basic map which may show where the key places to be reffered to during the story are and their importance/relevance to the story. So here you would need to put down some notes/details about the places of interest before starting the plot/story in further detail.

Plot - This would perhaps be the most continually adjusted aspect of the story. You might start with a simple paragraph of what you intend to have for the plot. And then when you have started your first drafts of the other elements which gives you a more informed idea on paper of how you can blend them into the plot. After the first drafts, you''d go back to the oringial plot and then add in more details to the plot which extend it to pageful or two of plot ideas. Going back to add more details to the other elements would then give you more information to add into the plot and perhaps then here you''ll be ready to set out the chapters for the story.

Theme - This element would be the first one to determine. You are creating the setting that will affect the characters, their dynamics, the world settings and perhaps the register. Is it to be fantasy? Then everything would need to be based on the fantasy concept, but you need to define here your version of the fantasy.

Register - ahw''s description of this element makes more sense to me. So this element could be how refined the game''s society is then? How different the characters would be interacting based on their background/race/education? If that''s so, then I''d probably refer it back to the character dynamics here but perhaps in more detail here for the story, in particular where NPC behaviours would be determined.

And there''s another element which I''m not sure how you''d call it or if it is part of register. The form/order of the story in how you tell it.. E.g., take pulp fiction, you have the ending and then the begining to the ending again in full. Do you tell it from start to end in conventional manner? Or will you use flashbacks? Or do you tell it in real time format? By real time I mean do you tell it with multiple sub-stories at the same time (I think I explained this one poorly)? Here I might also refer to an excellent text I read for when I was in school, In the Lake of the Woods, this story is quite profounding in how it''s written..

Ok I''ve rambled plenty here today.

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o.O Hmm, I suppose I really should have defined my terms at the beginning, but that''s the kind of thing you forget when you post at 3 in the morning. I tend to forget thet not everyone here has spent years being an English major and memorizing these things... Anyway, I''ll go edit my initial post to add definitions to it.

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For a good example on the use of register, you should read Dennis Lehane''s books, in order:

A Drink Before the War
Darkness Take My Hand

And so on.

Great stuff. And great use of register.

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So I wasn''t too far of the mark for "theme" then

I was thinking about it and I had to add an example that illustrate the kind of unbalance I enjoy seeing.
If you haven''t watched Mullholland Drive, what are you waiting to go and see it!?

Anyway, this movie is a perfect illustration of what I would call an unbalanced resolution.
During the whole movie the action is seen through the eyes of the hero, the good guy, desperately trying to uncover an enemy despite everybody''s disbelief.
You see him struggle and, as all good story should be, you expect that in the end, after an unbearable dramatic tension, all will be solved and the hero will win.
But he doesn''t.
Now, if that was just the end of it, it would be unbalanced, and unsatisfying, as the resolution of the story would go against our sense of "what ought to happen".
The reason it works is because suddenly, you realise that you have been watching not a hero trying to defeat the bad guys, but in fact, the bad guys trying to use the hero in their own schemes, and succeeding.
As you are made aware of that "over-plot", the story make sense, and is indeed balanced (resolved), although in the bad guys'' favour.
Brilliant use of perspective.

This is similar to "the 6th sense", although I like Mullholland Drive even because of the fact that the bad guys win, in a way. Which makes it all the more horrible.


what about you SunandShadow, are the answers what you were thinking about ?

Sancte Isidore ora pro nobis !

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