Sunday, October 15, 2017

Narrative Structure in a Single Sentence

Mr. Lucas wrote a blog post about finding his Story Form in The Sentence created with the method by Holly Lisle.

A few things I noticed when reading this:

  1. He separated his Sentence into eight grammatical constituents (each 2-5 words long, average 3.5), seven of which introduced at least one Story Point that had not been mentioned before.
  2. The Relationship Story is not mentioned once.
  3. He mentions both the Overall Story Problem and the Influence Character Problem, which happen to be the same. If you know Dramatica, you know this means that IC is the Change character. The Main Character's problem is not mentioned at all.
  4. The Overall Story gets the most mentions, then the Influence Character, and finally the Main Character.
  5. He mentions the Concerns of three Throughlines, Domains of two (OS&IC), Issues of two (OS&MC), and Problems of two (OS&IC), Unique Ability of two (MC&IC).
  6. Even with the Betrayal part, the sentence gives the impression of a typical action story (OS Physics "freedom-fighters", MC Universe "poor college athlete").
 Now, if this helps/helped him write his novel, more power to him. Any given tool in the toolbox is only as good as it is useful to you. Additionally, he wrote The Sentence way before he semi-finalized his Story Form.

What I'm trying to say is, if you were trying to combine Dramatica with The Sentence, there are certain things I would do differently.

Imagine that you're collaborating with someone and The Sentence is your common ground.
  1. The lack of a Relationship story should probably be different if it were a Romance (or something to that effect) instead of a Science-Fiction Novel.
  2. The emphasis on the Influence Character over the Main Character gives the impression, that she is the one to focus on*. Whether that would result in her being treated as the Main Character or making both of them Main Characters, it would not help your intentions. I would suggest emphasizing MC over IC or going equally deep.
  3. The Sentence gives the impression of a different kind of story. While obscuring the Story Form might be a good thing overall, I don't think it's incredibly helpful at this stage. Focus on the actual source of conflict.
Aside from that, if you were using The Sentence as a pitch for an audience instead of for yourself (and collaborators), similar and different things would probably need to change or to keep in mind.
  1. Romance -> Relationship story
  2. Don't spell out whose problem is the same as the Overall Story's. Don't "spoil" who will likely change.
  3. We don't know the motivation/problem of MC, but the IC we do. We would expect the story focuses on IC rather than MC. It sounds like the MC would be a passive observer in the story.
  4. The Sentence promises capital-A Action. It's fine if the source of conflict is actual dysfunctional psychologies (or something like that), but that should not work against that promise.**


* Even though she is mostly described in terms of how she relates to MC... She seems more active and interesting than MC.
** This might seem to work against the idea of trying to obscure the Story Form, but it doesn't. The overlayed form is the story the characters subjectively think they're in; the real form is the story they're actually in, but they don't realize it right away (or ever). They don't know the source of conflict, but they do know the conflict itself.


  1. Thanks so much for looking at my post, Bob. Sorry I didn't see this for so long.

    Believe it or not, I'd say I completely agree with all your points! The reason The Sentence works so well, I think, is that it's only intended for me.

    For example, when I wrote it I actually didn't see the MC's personal issues very clearly; I've discovered what his throughline actually is through writing the first draft. So, being a bit vague on him was probably ok to start out with.

    Also, I feel that by mentioning the MC immediately and not spending too much time on him, it kind of grounds you in his viewpoint. So then the rest of it -- including all the stuff about the IC -- you see from his point of view.

    I agree though, the IC is way more interesting than the MC in this story. It's kind of the premise -- he's a regular college boy who, because of his crush on a pretty girl, gets embroiled with a secret galactic defense force.

    But yeah, the IC is not just a pretty girl but also a starfighter pilot with a whole bunch of other cool stuff going on, and it has been a bit difficult in my first draft to keep her from taking over the story!

    (gotta go now, might comment more later)

    1. Interesting points! And yeah, I specifically prefaced my suggestions with the point that, if it helps you, that's fine.

      None of my posts should tell anyone what is right or wrong, good or bad story telling/forming. I just like to look at other people's advice and experiences and try to find patterns or view it from a different angle.

      "I feel that by mentioning the MC immediately and not spending too much time on him, it kind of grounds you in his viewpoint. So then the rest of it -- including all the stuff about the IC -- you see from his point of view." This is interesting an interesting point. I want to think about this.

      (Thank you for your comments in general!)