Podcast

Ep. 127: Meeting Reader Expectations for Your Fiction Sales Category

In episode 127, I welcomed James Thorn, an author of dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction and Story Grid Certified editor. We discussed the opening of Toasha Jiordano's Epoch Earth: The Great Glitch and how you can discover reader expectations related to your sales category. 

We talk about how dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction are similar and different, and which must-have elements will help you tell a satisfying story in these categories. The editorial mission encourages you to discover the specific sales category expectations for your story, whether it's dystopian fiction, a category romance, a character-driven literary novel, or something in between.

 Meeting reader expectations for Sales Categories and Style Genres episode 127 at www.writership.com

 

Listen to the Writership Podcast

Note to the Author

Dear Toasha,

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us! You have a great premise for a dystopian story. The scene includes what we call a Save the Cat moment (when we immediately identify with and root for a character because they do something kind). The protagonist’s innocence is ripped away by a traumatic event, but she is able to protect her brother. That’s a big dramatic moment that really works, and it speaks to her potential to do what’s necessary in the story’s main conflict.

Our biggest suggestion for you here has to do with this scene as the opening of the story and reader expectations for this particular genre and sales category. 

Genres and Sales Categories or Styles

Before I get into our specific advice for you, I want to talk about genre generally. Genre is a label that is a sort of shorthand for what the reader can expect in the story. Sometimes we use genre when we mean sales category, so it’s important for revision purposes to unpack what these terms mean. You’ll want to meet the reader expectations for both genre and sales category.

Content genres are what we’re talking about when we focus on a particular type of protagonist and the specific change they experience over the course of a story. Here are a few examples:

  • A hero risks her life to defeat the villain and save the victim (Action).
  • Multiple characters who are part of an underclass within a society expose the hypocrisy of tyrants to gain power (Society).
  • A stranger who lives outside society comes to town to right a wrong (Western).
  • A naïve protagonist with simplistic beliefs about life encounters a challenge and chooses to adopt a more nuanced view of the world (Worldview-Maturation). 

Sales categories generally indicate where you would shelve your story in a book store. In Story Grid terms, these extra elements might relate to a particular setting, but could also include any of the following:

  • Style genres describe how we experience the story. Examples include comedy, drama, or epistolary styles.
  • Reality genres describe how much the reader must suspend disbelief. Your story could be, for example, fantasy, realism, or factualism.

Each choice comes with specific reader expectations, and while you want to consider them as a whole, it’s useful to understand them separately too. 

Dystopian novels, like your story here, typically have Society for the Content Genre with specific elements of fantasy. They can be comedic, dramatic, epistolary, etc., in style.

Because Dystopian stories focus on “bad places” and the power clashes within them, readers typically expect to be introduced to the world before an inciting incident upsets the character’s status quo. The reader needs a context to help them place the events of the inciting incident in perspective.

The Hunger Games is a great model for this. The mundane world is revealed, and from that foundation, the inciting incident forces Katniss Everdeen to choose between suicide or her sister’s death. It’s a powerful way to open and pull the reader into the story.

The category has shifted from the twentieth century focus on political and economic struggles (as seen in Animal Farm and Brave New World) to a focus on Young Adult coming-of-age stories with female teenagers as protagonists. This becomes the source of the huge power differential you need for a society piece.

Dystopian stories examine gender roles and identity, race, or the distribution of wealth, among other elements, where certain groups gain power over others. These stories are popular, which makes sense when you consider “Society stories are about experiencing the fear and exhilaration of rebelling against the establishment without the risk. Exploring themes of power and powerlessness.” The dystopian arc is about whether justice will be served from the bottom up by an “everyperson” protagonist (as opposed to a heroic one).

Young women historically are among the most powerless members of society. Adolescents are old enough to no longer need adult protection (though they still need love and guidance), but they aren’t yet autonomous adults. Physiologically they are going through big changes, which impacts their emotions, and they get a bunch of guff and pressure related to who they are, how they’re showing up, and what they are going to do in life. (This makes me think of the Twisted Sister song “We’re Not Going to Take It,” a great adolescent anthem of rebellion.)  

Not all Dystopian stories must start the way The Hunger Games does, but the dystopian reader needs to understand the world where the events are unfolding. Society stories are allegories we use to make sense of our own times, and we need a firm grounding from which to compare them.

Post-Apocalyptic Stories

Post-Apocalyptic stories are different and the readers of these stories have different expectations.  For example, The Walking Dead, we’re dropped right into the thick of things because it’s more about action or horror than power struggles within society. There’s a lone cowgirl or cowboy figure, and the core emotion (what we go to these stories to feel) is excitement. The life value isn’t power and impotence, but life and death.

There clearly are life and death struggles in dystopian stories, but the story doesn’t on that value. Another way to say this is that the primary question in our minds in a post-apocalyptic action or horror story is, will the protagonist survive? In a dystopian society story, the question that drives us forward is, will the revolutionaries successfully overthrow the tyrants?

In this opening, we’re dropped into action right away, which is more of a post-apocalyptic convention. You’ve already published the story, so you wouldn’t necessarily want to change it, but it’s something to consider for future stories.

Unrelated to the genre, we wanted to mention point of view because we’re in first person point of view (past tense), which means we could potentially feel what Synta feels and notice what she notices, but the language feels almost journalistic. We have the opportunity for close narrative or psychic distance, but the language keeps us at arms’ length from her, even though when she’s telling us about this, she’s recounting these events at a later time. It seems at odds with how she interacts with her brother. There might be a reason to have her narration be detached in this opening, but I wanted to mention it to see if it’s intentional.

Thanks again for sharing your scene with us, Toasha!

All the best,

Lesli

 

Editorial Mission—Investigate Your Genre and Sales Category

It's important to understand what your typical reader expects to find in your story. But how do you discover them? This mission is designed to show you how. 

First, nail down your content genre, that’s one of the twelve main content genres. (Episode 118 focuses on content genres and how to choose one.)

Nail down the sales category. Find books that are similar to the story you want to tell in content genre, style, and level of reality, and keep a list of the sales categories associated with them.  

Find out what readers of the content genre and sales category want? Read books in that sales category and read their reviews (particularly the reviews that rate the book from two to four stars). What do you notice? What do reviewers mention? Keep a list.

When you want to focus on innovating the way you meet reader expectations, read books and watch movies outside your genre and category for inspiration.

Go to Amazon to find what’s selling in your sales category. Study titles, covers, descriptions. As James mentioned, this will show you the difference between “what people say they want” in reviews and what they are opening their wallets for. 

Wise Words on Dystopian Fiction

Quite how Dystopia has gone from a literary form beloved of the political satirist to a cinematic genre beloved of YA franchises is a bit of a mystery. While Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World will forever be the great twin pillars of Dystopian fiction of the 20th century, so far in the 21st century nightmare futures largely been a metaphor for “grown ups don’t understand me” while that near-cousin of the dystopia-the post apocalypse has grown more and more popular. Writers seem more interested now in how humanity deals with a complete breakdown of society (whether it be because of famine, disease or zombies) rather than a society which is deliberately broken to favour the few.
— Dave Golder, author of Dystopia: Post-Apocalyptic Art, Fiction, Movies & More
 

Our Submission

Want to find out what happens to Synta? You can read on here


 

About My Guest Editor

James Thorn writes post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction, including The Final Awakening trilogy, which James co-writes with Zach Bohannon. Be sure to check out The Post-Apocalyptic Reader’s Guide, a great resource if want to find out about what it takes to deliver a satisfying story in this category. To find out more about James, his podcasts, and Authors on a Train, visit jthorn.org

 

7 Day Scene Intensive

Scenes aren’t the whole story when it comes to writing a great story, but mastering scenes is the most efficient way to become a better storyteller because you internalize macro story structure with the smallest complete unit of story. The 7 Day Scene Intensive is designed to help you master scenes with information, practice, and a quick loop of supportive, specific feedback, similar to what we offer on the podcast.

The 7 Day Scene Intensive is online May 27–June 2, 2018, so there's no travel involved. Because we offer individualized feedback each day for seven days, we're limiting the intensive to four participants. If your story isn't where you want it to be, this might be just what you need. You can find all the details here.

 

The Writership Index

Listeners have asked for an index of the podcast episodes and the topics discussed, so we've put together a Google spreadsheet containing details of each episode, its airdate, author name, story title, genre, story type, published location, author website, and topics discussed. Get access to the spreadsheet here.

 

 

Join the Writership Book Club!

Join the Writership Quarter Masters Book Club! Each month I'll choose a book from your suggestions. We'll read it then discuss it in our (virtual) book club meeting.

In May we're reading The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson. For more information, visit our Patreon page.


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Ep. 126: Second Person Point of View

In episode 126, I talk with my friend and fellow Story Grid editor Anne Hawley about second person point of view in the context of David Austin's short story "All American." We discuss why you might want to experiment with this point of view, even if it's not right for your story.

 Episode 126: Second Person Point of View at www.writership.com

 

Listen to the Writership Podcast

Second Person Point of View

The important thing to understand about any point of view choice is that it's not just a grammatical construct, and that's not a useful way to make your point of view choice. Think about it this way: When you choose a point of view character or narrator, you answer the question, who should tell this story? When you choose the specific point of view, you're answering the question, how should the character or narrator tell the story? 

If you think of point of view like a camera's view finder, you're on the right track, but goes deeper because certain choices when combined with other writing tools, allow the reader to slip into the character's skin or view the scene from far away in time and space.

Many new writers are discouraged from using second person. It has its disadvantages, like any point of view choice, and is tricky to pull off. But when executed well and in the right circumstances, it produces a beautiful effect. So why might you choose to use this much maligned point of view?

Advantages

●      Immediacy. Even when the story is about something that happened in the distant past, the reader is so close to the character, and the events and setting can feel like reliving rather retelling. When it works, it allows the reader true immersion in the story experience to the extent that they might dissolve into the character.

●      Sensory Details. A rich sensory experience can be created with any choice, but the immersion effect transforms something like a black and white film to technicolor.

●      Persuasion. This POV has a hypnotic quality that works subliminally and is especially powerful when the character is trying to convince themselves or someone else of some Truth. 

●     Direct Attention. Even as the POV has a hypnotic feel, you can guide the reader's focus more directly. Instead of seeing only the landscape of the setting, the reader is drawn where the narator sends them.

●      Intense. Again, you can create an intense experience with any POV, but the immersion experience kicks this up a notch or two.

Disadvantages

That's what you can gain, but what might you lose?

●      Alienation. Some readers don't like the directness of this POV. 

●      Rigid Narrative Distance. Second person lacks the flexibility of other POVs to gain more narrative distance

●      Reader’s Resistance. Most readers would rather observe unsavory characters from a distance and not slip into their skin. 

●      Core Emotion. More generally, readers experience the story's Core emotion with a protective frame. Dissolving that frame can make them feel uncomfortable. 

●     Instructions.This POV can feel like the directions in a how-to book.

How can you evaluate your choice?
 

“Point of View in Fiction: The Development of a Critical Concept” by Norman Friedman

Norman Friedman described different variables involved in point of view, and we've added a final question. We'll apply it to our submission from the podcast. (Listen to the episode for a more in-depth discussion of the questions.)

●     Who is telling the story or talking to the reader? In "All American" the character-narrator is telling the story to you.

●      From what position or angle regarding the story? The character narrator is in the middle of the story, and wants the reader to be there too.

●      From what vantage point in time and space relative to the events of the story (near, far, shifting)? Sometime time in the future, though it's not clear from the first half of the story when exactly.

●      Through which channels of information do we learn about mental states, setting, situation, character? We receive information through the author’s words and the character-narrator's words, actions, thoughts, perceptions, and feelings. We have almost total access within the confines of the character-narrator's direction.

●      What is the balance of telling and showing? The balance weighs in favor of showing, and everything the character-narrator tells us is woven into sensory experience. 

●      Why is the character-narrator telling the story? The character seems to be seeking buy-in or absolution. It’s as if he’s trying to convince the reader that they would do what he had done in these circumstances.

 

Editorial Mission—What Would You Do? 

Rewrite a scene from your work in progress in second person point of view. This is a challenging POV to write in, so do the best you can. View it as an experiment. Read what you write and answer Friedman’s questions.

●      Who is telling the story or talking to the reader?

●      From what position or angle regarding the story (above, periphery, in front, center, shifting)?

●      From what vantage point in time and space relative to the events of the story (near, far, shifting)?

●      Through which channels of information do we learn about mental states, setting, situation, character?

●      What is the balance of telling vs. showing in the story?

●      Why is the narrator telling the story?

What do you notice about the POV you’ve chosen by comparison? 

 

Wise Words on Point of View

Second-person narration is rare. On one hand, like first-person narration, it has an intimate feeling. On the other hand, while the intimacy of first-person narration is that of storytelling, the intimacy of second-person narration is that of telepathy: the book is... directly telling you what you think or feel ...

You’ll usually find second person narrative keeping close company with Present Tense Narrative, to reinforce the impression that this isn’t just happening to you, but it’s happening to you right now.

If you look hard enough, you will discover indications that the second-person narrator is not supposed to be You, the Reader. [This causes You the Reader to wonder] why the author ... would dare try to make you identify that intimately with a second-person narrator who is, um, not you.
— tvtropes.org
 

The Submission


 

About My Guest Editor

You may remember my friend Anne Hawley from episodes 106, 108, and 114.

After a career in public service during which she wrote fiction to stay sane, Anne Hawley has turned her talents to writing professionally.

As a founding member of the Super Hardcore Editing Group and a graduate of Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid Workshop, she writes and edits from her small house in Portland, Oregon. When she leaves the house it’s usually on her Dutch bike, Eleanor.

Her new novel, Restraint, is a sweeping historical love story about a gifted and sexually repressed artist in Regency London. Under the dangerous gaze of high society, he must deny his attraction to the young nobleman who has hired him to paint his portrait, or else risk his livelihood and his reputation by giving in to his secret desires. It's Pride and Prejudice meets Brokeback Mountain in a bittersweet story of two men who fall in love in a time and place where homosexuality is still a capital offense. Find out more here.

 

Mentioned on the Show

Norman Friedman wrote about literary theory and criticism last century, and though he's not mentioned often these days, his work is a treasure trove of smart thinking on story structure and execution. His articles aren't easy reads, but if you are willing to spend some time with them, you'll deepen your understanding of the writing craft. The questions for this episode are from "Point of View in Fiction: The Development of a Critical Concept," originally published in PMLA, a journal of hte Modern Language Association of America. You can find the article online here

In this post, Emma Darwin discusses how to move point of view, and if you scroll halfway down the page, you'll find a section on the three ways that second person point of view can be used. 

The balance of showing and telling are relevant to analyzing the point of view of your story. If you need help telling these two modes of storytelling apart or need to understand when to use to use them, this post, also from Emma Darwin, will help you on your way.

This post from Chuffed Buff Books contains great examples of second person point of view. 

 

7 Day Scene Intensive

Scenes aren’t the whole story when it comes to writing fiction or narrative nonfiction, but mastering scenes is the most efficient way to become a better storyteller because you internalize macro story structure within the smallest complete unit of story. The 7 Day Scene Intensive is designed to help you master scenes with information, practice, and a quick feedback loop of supportive, specific feedback, similar to what we offer on the podcast.

The 7 Day Scene Intensive is online May 27–June 2, 2018, so there's no travel involved. Because we offer individualized feedback each day for seven days, we're limiting the intensive to two participants. If your story isn't where you want it to be, this might be just what you need. You can find the details here.

 

The Writership Index

Listeners have asked for an index of the podcast episodes and the topics discussed, so we've put together a Google spreadsheet containing details of each episode, its airdate, author name, story title, genre, story type, published location, author website, and topics discussed. Get access to the spreadsheet here.

 

 

Join the Writership Book Club!

Join the Writership Quarter Masters Book Club! Each month I'll choose a book from your suggestions. We'll read it and, together in a (virtual) book club meeting, analyze it the way I would for a Story Grid Diagnostic.

In April we're reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Join now so you'll be in the group for this month's book announcement. For more information, visit our Patreon page.

 

The Sell More Books Show Summit

Jim Kukral of the Author Marketing Club and the Sell More Books Show is doing another big conference. This time in Chicago in May of 2018. It's called the Sell More Books Show Summit and you can learn more and get a ticket here.

Join 175 other writers and publishing friends for this interactive, two-day conference and networking event in Chicago! Eat, drink and learn together, and be on your way to building a stronger and more profitable career as an author.

Only 175 seats are available. Click here to grab your ticket.


Do you want editorial missions sent directly to your inbox?

Sign up to join us aboard the Writership Podcast! We'll send new episodes and editorial missions directly to your inbox so you'll never miss out. You'll also get the lowdown on our top 12 writing, editing, and self-publishing podcasts—perfect if you, like us, want to live a fulfilling life as a writer.


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Ep. 125: Putting Your Writing First

In this episode, I talk with award-winning poet and creative coach Mark McGuinness from the 21st Century Creative podcast about why it’s important to put your writing first—both for you personally and for your creative career. We also discuss how you can do this in a life full of demands and distractions. This week's editorial mission asks you to write something you might not expect. 

 Putting Your Writing First by the  Writership Podcast .

 

Listen to the Writership Podcast

This week's submission contains some adult language.

 

About Our Guest

Mark McGuinness is an award-winning poet who has been coaching professionals since 1996. You can find his poems in leading poetry journals and at MarkMcGuinness.com.

Mark is also the author of Productivity for Creative PeopleMotivation for Creative People, and Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success, and co-author of Manage Your Day-to-Day and Maximize Your Potential, published by 99U. He is the host of the 21st Century Creative, a podcast that "helps you succeed as a creative professional amid the demands, distractions, and opportunities of the 21st century, which you can find on iTunes and at 21stcenturycreative.fm

 

Wise Words on Prioritizing Your Writing

Since the age of fifteen poetry has been my ruling passion and I have never intentionally undertaken any task or formed any relationship that seemed inconsistent with poetic principles.
— Robert Graves

 

Mentioned on the Show

Find out more about Mark McGuinness

Mark is the host of the 21st Century Creative, a podcast with thougtful and in-depth discussions that helps you thrive as a creative professional.  

Please take a look at Mark's translation of Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde: Book I, 1–56." You can find more of Mark's poetry here.

We focused on Productivity for Creative People in this episode, but I highly recommend any of Mark's books, including Motivation for Creative People and Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Successas well as those he co-authored with the great folks at 99UManage Your Day-to-Day and Maximize Your Potential.

 

Writing Practice

In the context of the editorial mission, I mentioned writing practice. I've written about this before, but not in a while. I'll draft a post on it soon, but in the meantime, you can go to the source: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.

 

7 Day Scene Intensive

Scenes aren’t the whole story when it comes to writing fiction or narrative nonfiction, but mastering scenes is the most efficient way to become a better storyteller because you internalize macro story structure within the smallest complete unit of story. The 7 Day Scene Intensive is designed to help you master scenes with information, practice, and a quick feedback loop of supportive, specific feedback, similar to what we offer on the podcast.

The 7 Day Scene Intensive is online February 4–10, 2018, so there's no travel involved. Because we offer individualized feedback each day for seven days, we're limiting the intensive to eight participants. If your story isn't where you want it to be, this might be just what you need. You can find the details here.

 

The Writership Index

Listeners have asked for an index of the podcast episodes and the topics discussed, so we've put together a Google spreadsheet containing details of each episode, its airdate, author name, story title, genre, story type, published location, author website, and topics discussed. Get access to the spreadsheet here.

 

The Sell More Books Show Summit

Jim Kukral of the Author Marketing Club and the Sell More Books Show is doing another big conference. This time in Chicago in May of 2018. It's called the Sell More Books Show Summit and you can learn more and get a ticket here.

Join 175 other writers and publishing friends for this interactive, two-day conference and networking event in Chicago! Eat, drink and learn together, and be on your way to building a stronger and more profitable career as an author.

Only 175 seats are available and early bird pricing will run out soon. Click here to grab your ticket.

 

Editorial Mission—Do Some Useless Writing

Mark crafted a brilliant editorial mission for us this week.

Make time this week to do some useless writing: writing that you can’t justify, that nobody is paying you for, that nobody is asking for, that maybe feels like a bit of an indulgence, or a little bit risky or silly. And so, you’ve been putting it off, and you haven’t done it, or you thought, well maybe one day, I’ll do that.

Just give an hour to it this week and see what happens.

I will bet, at the very least, you’ll be glad you did it, you will enjoy it, it will give you a spring in the step the rest of the week.

And who knows, it could turn into something quite extraordinary that you would never really expect. Something so interesting could come from such inauspicious beginnings.

But don’t even think about that now because you can’t go in with any expectation. Just go in with the intention of pleasing yourself and writing something that will have no practical application whatsoever.
— Mark McGuinness
 

Join the Writership Book Club!

Join the Writership Quarter Masters Book Club! Each month I'll choose a book from your suggestions. We'll read it and, together in a (virtual) book club meeting, analyze it the way I would for a Story Grid Diagnostic.

In December we read The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe. Join now so you'll be in the group for this month's book announcement. For more information, visit our Patreon page.


Do you want editorial missions sent directly to your inbox?

Sign up to join us aboard the Writership Podcast! We'll send new episodes and editorial missions directly to your inbox so you'll never miss out. You'll also get the lowdown on our top 12 writing, editing, and self-publishing podcasts—perfect if you, like us, want to live a fulfilling life as a writer.


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Ep. 124: Your Character’s Internal Journey

In this episode, Certified Story Grid editors Leslie Watts and Rebecca Monterusso critique “The Flight,” a science fiction short story by Scott Adam Gordon. They discuss the internal journey or change that characters experience as a result of external events in a story and then uncover which internal genres could be present in “The Flight.” This week’s editorial mission offers questions to help you identify and craft the internal change at work in your stories.

 Your Character's Internal Journey by the  Writership Podcast .

 

Listen to the Writership Podcast

This week's submission contains some adult language.

 

About Our Guest Host

Clark is taking a well-earned rest so this week we're joined by Rebecca Monterusso.

Rebecca is a certified Story Grid editor, analytical creative, and renaissance soul. She has been to seven different countries and has held jobs in multiple industries, all of which has helped her become an effective communicator and passionate learner.

Her overall goal is to help writers learn to tell their stories better because she believes stories are the only way to really change the world. You can find her online at RebeccaMonterusso.com.

 

Wise Words on Story

Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.
— Terry Pratchett

 

Mentioned on the Show

 

Our guest narrator

This week’s submission is narrated by C. Steven Manley, the author of the Paragons Trilogy, the Brace Cordova Space Opera series, and host of the Story Shots Podcast. You can find out more about him at cstevenmanley.net.

 

The Writership Index

Listeners have asked for an index of the podcast episodes and the topics discussed, so we've put together a Google spreadsheet containing details of each episode, its airdate, author name, story title, genre, story type, published location, author website, and topics discussed. Get access to the spreadsheet here.

 

Join the Writership Book Club!

Join the Writership Quarter Masters Book Club! Each month I'll choose a book from your suggestions. We'll read it and, together in a (virtual) book club meeting, analyze it the way I would for a Story Grid Diagnostic.

In December we read The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe. Join now so you'll be in the group for this month's book announcement. For more information, visit our Patreon page.

 

The Sell More Books Show Summit

Jim Kukral of the Author Marketing Club and the Sell More Books Show is doing another big conference. This time in Chicago in May of 2018. It's called the Sell More Books Show Summit and you can learn more and get a ticket here.

Join 175 other writers and publishing friends for this interactive, two-day conference and networking event in Chicago! Eat, drink and learn together, and be on your way to building a stronger and more profitable career as an author.

Only 175 seats are available and early bird pricing will run out soon. Click here to grab your ticket.

 

Editorial Mission—Check Your Protagonist’s Inner Journey

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who is the protagonist? 
     
  2. Assess three factors:

    A. What is his/her character, and how do we respond to it? (Morality/character)

    B. What is his/her fortune, and do we fear it will get worse or hope it gets better? (Status/fortune)

    C. What is his/her thought, and do we feel s/he is sufficiently aware of the facts of the situation and consequences of his/her behavior to be held responsible? (Worldview/thought)
     
  3. Which of the three factors (character, fortune, or thought) undergoes a change from beginning to end? If more than one, which is the main one, and how do the others relate?
     
  4. How does it end?
     
  5. Can the [internal] plot be stated in a cause and effect relationship?

Do you want editorial missions sent directly to your inbox?

Sign up to join us aboard the Writership Podcast! We'll send new episodes and editorial missions directly to your inbox so you'll never miss out. You'll also get the lowdown on our top 12 writing, editing, and self-publishing podcasts—perfect if you, like us, want to live a fulfilling life as a writer.


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Editing Advice for Our Author

Dear Scott,

Thank you so much for your submission. Despite the tragic circumstances, we enjoyed it a lot, and appreciate what you were able to accomplish in such a short piece. That’s something I want to highlight because doing those things well with lots of words is challenging, but to do so in barely more than 1,500 shows great skill.

The character’s voice in particularly strong. (I appreciate his need for precision!) We do feel as if we know him. Your choices of first person point of view and present tense really pay off in this way. This is really well done.

In terms of the Five Commandments of Storytelling, I think you’ve hit everything. His point of decision could have been made a little clearer, but keeping it vague may have been a deliberate choice. It tripped me up for a moment, but didn’t interfere with my overall enjoyment of the story.

Since we get the whole story in a small package, it presented the perfect opportunity to explore your character’s internal journey. And there’s a lot happening under the surface here.

The internal journey or internal genre or character arc are different terms to describe the change a character experiences inside as the result of external plot events. Internal genres deal with the human need for self-respect and –esteem, self-actualization, or self-transcendence as described by Maslow’s Hierarchy.

To determine the internal genre for “The Flight,” we used the questions of literary critic Norman Friedman (excerpted below) from his article “Forms of the Plot.” Literary criticism isn’t always useful for the writing craft, but Friedman is aces in my book. His work is the main source of McKee’s and Shawn’s internal genre classifications.

There are three main factors that come into play when assessing internal genres, and that’s where we get the labels. They are plots of fortune, thought, or character. They can be a bit squishy, as you may have heard me say, because all three factors are present to a greater or lesser extent in every story. The internal genre and sub-genre are determined by which factor is the strongest, how the external plot ends (positive or negative), and how the factors relate to each other.

Further complicating this “squishiness” is that we human readers have our own internal genres operating. What I mean is that everyone has their own internal reaction to what’s happening in the world, our work, and within our relationships. We tend to relate to stories from that internal genre. As an editor, I have to be mindful that I don’t project my personal internal questions and worldview on my clients’ stories.

Don't be concerned if you believe one or more of the examples below fit in a different sub-genre. Simply be clear on your reasons based on the questions below if you want to use one of them as a model for a story.

As writers, it’s important to know that once we share a story, it doesn’t belong to us anymore. Readers will experience it through their own perceptive filters, and may get something very different from it than you intend. That’s okay—it doesn’t mean you weren’t clear. (A reader will have a different reaction when the internal genre isn’t clear.) This is the beauty of specificity leading to universality. When you meet reader expectations for your genre, you’re communicating in the language of human need, and people receive what they need from it. Isn’t that wonderful?

Plots of Fortune

Plots of fortune sound as if they relate to external story events, but this is an exploration of our personal definitions of success, how they change or not, and how we metabolize outward success or failure. With respect to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we’re within the realm of self-respect and self-esteem, how you see yourself and how you believe others see you. The concern in these stories is the protagonist’s honor, status, and reputation. Within the Story Grid universe, we call this internal genre Status. The core value shift, that is the change that happens within the character over the course of the story, is on the spectrum of success and failure. Sub-genres include the following:

  • Pathetic: A naïve character who is not strong in character, tries to rise, but fails (negative ending). Examples: Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Little Miss Sunshine.
     
  • Tragic: A character strives to improve his circumstances, but makes a mistake that dooms him to failure (negative ending). Examples: An American Tragedy and Oedipus Rex.
     
  • Sentimental: A weak protagonist succeeds against the odds (positive ending, similar to Tragic, but makes a better choice). Examples: Rocky and Anna Christie.
  • Admiration: A principled protagonist rises without compromise (positive/ironic ending). Examples: Gladiator and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
     

Plots of Thought

Plots of thought consider how we see, think, and feel about the world and people. It is concerned with states of mind, attitudes, beliefs, conceptions, and knowledge. The human need implicated within Maslow’s hierarchy is self-actualization, in other words how we assess meaning. In Story Grid parlance, we talk about the Worldview internal genre. The core value shift is on the spectrum from naïveté to worldliness, ignorance to wisdom, or disillusionment to belief. Sub-genres include the following:

  • Disillusionment: A protagonist deprived of their ideals ends up feeling dejected or nihilistic (negative ending). Examples: The Great Gatsby and the internal genre within The Silence of the Lambs (external/global genre is thriller).
     
  • Revelation: The protagonist comes to understand their circumstances and make a wiser choice (generally) (ironic ending). Example: “Beware of the Dog” by Roald Dahl.
     
  • Education: A protagonist comes to find meaning in the world or their life (positive or ironic ending). Example: Tender Mercies and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
     
  • Worldview Maturation: A protagonist moves from naïveté to worldliness in their understanding of life (positive ending). To Kill a Mockingbird and Saturday Night Fever.
     

Plots of Character

Deal with a character’s will, and within the Story Grid universe, we call this genre Morality. It deals with the very top of Maslow’s hierarchy, self-transcendence, a level that was added on toward the end of his work and life. Self-Transcendence deals with reaching one’s potential for the good of others (whereas self-actualization is about meeting one’s full potential). These stories are concerned with our motives, purposes, goals, habits, behavior, and will. The core value shift, of the story is said to be selfishness to altruism. Sub-genres include the following:

  • Punitive: A good protagonist turns bad and is punished (negative ending). Examples: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Wall Street.
     
  • Testing: A protagonist falls several times and then gives up on their ideals (negative or ironic ending). Example: Cool Hand Luke.
     
  • Redemption: A protagonist is responsible for their disaster, but later improves—bad guy reforms (positive ending). Examples: The Verdict and A Christmas Carol.

With many stories, the internal genre is clear, but not always. And when you have an idea for a story, you may not know what you want the character’s inner journey to be. Friedman offered some excellent questions to help us navigate these deep inner waters.
 

Application of Friedman's Questions

I’ll answer Friedman’s questions from my reading of “The Flight.”

  1. Who is the protagonist? 
    He’s a husband and father, the breadwinner for his family and a corporate employee (interesting that we don’t have a name for him).
     
  2. Assess the three factors:

    A. What is his character, and how do we respond to it? 
    The protagonist considers his family as he makes his decision not to fly, and his family is the last thing he thinks of as the glass breaks. We certainly don’t have a sense that he is a person of bad character—merely that his is human. The closest is a testing plot, but there is no sense of someone getting their just deserts.

    B. What is his fortune, and do we fear it will get worse or hope it gets better? 
    The protagonist experiences bad fortune: Our short-term anxiety and long-term fears for him are realized, though not in the way we would have imagined. Ironically, he might have done better on the train to the airport. We don't know that for sure, but his choice affected his situation and how he viewed it.

    C. What is his thought, and do we feel he is sufficiently aware of the facts of the situation and consequences of his behavior to be held responsible? 
    It’s not clear that it’s the wing that causes gravity to fail (I’m not sure it needs to be because this doesn't feel like the primary change). It appears that the protagonist makes his decision based on fear when he skips the train, rather than rational thought (even though it seems he thinks about this more than most people). Either way, we need to look at how the three factors interact.
     
  3. Which of the three factors (character, fortune, or thought) undergoes a change from beginning to end? If more than one, which is the main one, and how do the others relate. 
    The protagonist’s circumstances change so drastically, and this is what alters his worldview to the extent that it changes. His worldview is, in essence, flipped upside down, but again, I see his fortune driving this potential worldview shift, rather than the other way around. If morality is involved, it’s very minor. This would be a very different story, and we would be left with a sense that justice had been done.
     
  4. How does the external story end? 
    Negative: The protagonist isn’t safe.
     
  5. Can the [internal] plot be stated in a cause and effect relationship? 
    I think this is a Status Pathetic, rather than Tragic, story. The difference is whether you think the protagonist’s misfortune is related in part to a mistake. He made a choice to avoid flying, but his choice didn't set up the circumstances. The tragic protagonist is more active, and we feel a sense of relief, like justice has been done, rather than pity. 

    So we might say, the protagonist did his best to avoid what he believed to be dangerous circumstances, but fate intervened, and he was placed in life-threatening circumstances anyway. 

Thanks again for sharing your story with us! 

All the best,

Leslie 


 

Our Short Story

(There are no line edits this week because we focused on the internal genre. The author's prose is clean, clear, and enjoyable with UK spellings and conventions.