Mastering the Fabulous “F-Word” in Fiction

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by Larry Brooks on October 28, 2012

Not to worry… it’s NOT what you think is. 

If that F-word offends and you’re just about to click off… don’t.  There are serious writing principles at work here.  Career-making stuff, in fact.

Not that I wasn’t tempted to go all snarky and positively puntastique.  But when I realized how these words not only reflect the highest principles of storytelling – how they can unlock, unblock or otherwise clarify – I was suddenly possessed of a higher intention.

These are the killer F-words that can throw the curtain back on your understanding of what makes a story work.

This is going to be FUN.

My one and only pun (at least on purpose, a couple did simply announce themselves, toward the end), I promise.

Great stories have great structure. 

Not in terms of your plot, but in terms of the context of your story on several levels, and at specific places within the narrative.  I’ve described in it my book, and I’ve written about it here in at least 400 of the 500 posts on this website.

It’s also what I believe is the most helpful and powerful of all storytelling truths: you should be writing it from a “mission-driven” perspective.  In other words, every part and parcel of the story has a narrative mission

A specific mission, unique unto itself. 

Of course, you need to know what those missions are in order to shoot for them when you plan or draft your story.  Many writers do this instinctually, without assigning labels for the elements within a story.  Indeed, your really can feel your way toward finding and implementing these things. 

You can also feel your way from Los Angeles to Hawaii in a row boat, but that’s another story.  A GPS trumps the stars and your Spidey-sense every time.

That’s what this is: a GPS for your story.  With defining labels for the specific contextual mission of your story at specific and crititcal locations.

And a lot of them start with the letter F.

If you’re new here, this can change your writing life.  If you’re not new here, this is yet another way –  not even an analogy this time – to consider and understand story architecture. 

A story unfolds in FOUR contextual parts: the Setup… the Response… the Attack… and the Resolution.  This is an ancient and global concept.  It’s story physics, and physics don’t lie.

Even writers who reject this notion find that their stories – the ones that work – align with this.

The First F-Word

In the opening quartile (roughly) of your story, the context – the mission – of those narrative scenes is to lay the FOREGROUND of your story.   To hook us… introduce the hero (in a pre-Plot Point) incarnation… to create stakes… to enlist our empathy… and to…

FORESHADOW the approaching First Plot Point and the story that it launches. 

Yes, the FPP is the true “launch” of your story.  Everything that comes before that moment (the exposition in Part 1) is very accurately viewed as the Foreground of the story (even when massively dramatic things happen there, which is always a good idea).

Then the FIRST Plot Point Forces change into everything.

And Part 2 is thus underway.

I’ve described the context – the mission – of Part 2 as showing your hero responding to the new (or newly shifted) path before them, FRAUGHT with new (or newly revealed) obstacles and villains and stakes and danger and need.  Things in need of FINDING (safety, answers, hope) and then FIXING.  You can’t have them solving the problem this early, the job here is to create reader empathy and deliver the vicarious experience of…

FLEEING from something.  Trying to FIND something.  This is almost always the contextual case in Part 2: the hero needs to get out of harm’s way, find shelter, discover safety, avoid further danger, gain information… to step back and regroup.

All of this happens in context to the story now having an antagonistic force presenting obstacles (because of opposing goals and/or just plain hatred and evil) to the hero.  This is the bad guy, the villain… the FOE in your story.  He may have been Foreshadowed back in Part 1, or even lurking about, but the Foe’s goals collide with the Hero’s at the First Plot Point that initiated Part 2.

But that Part 2 context of hero-wanderer-victim can’t sustain the rest of the story.  No, a story is about a shifting landscape for the hero, escalating tension and near-misses with hope, and sooner or later the hero needs to begin earning that nametag.

They need to begin becoming FANTASTIC.

New information sparks that mission-driven change at the Mid-Point.

And now the F-words are suddenly different.

In Part 3 your hero is a FIGHTER.  Some of that may have happened back in Part 2 (where our FIGHT or FLEE instincts are fully in play) but she or he shouldn’t have been winning much back then (Part 2 is the hole, the need, the quest, becoming darker and/or more urgent, because Part 2 is when the antagonistic Force gets some Face-time).

In Part 3 your hero is trying to FORGE a game plan, just as the bad guy is evolving one.  Our hero needs to FORGET the demons and ghosts that have hindered them in succeeding thus far, and to FIX what needs fixing.

Let me return to that opening groundwork for a moment to remind you of something important: it’s tempting to use all of the F-Words anywhere in the story.  Rather, these four contexts are the descriptors of the context of each of the four parts, and they are very different.  These F-words are context-rich weapons designed to help you place and optimize the story Physics (which at least sounds like an F-word) that will make your story Forceful.

Context, properly handled, is the most Functional of all writing tools.

The “Power of F” in Part Four of Your Story

Being the last of the four parts, this is where the story FINISHES, of course.  It is where the problem is FIXED, the goal FOUND, the solution having taken FORM.

It delivers the FINAL twist, some delicious irony, justice for the villain, hope going forward.

Four Parts, Four Missions, Four Narrative Contexts… Summarized

Part 1: ForegroundForeshadow… even Foster one world view that will be challenged or put on hold to Follow a new path.

Part 2: FleeFind safety or strategy or Friends to help elude the Foe and discover a path to Follow

Part 3: the hero begins to Fix things, Forge a plan, Force and Facilitate things, Find solutions, Figure things out, and Form strategies.

Part 4: this is where the strategy or path to redemption has been Found, the problem finally Fixed, the past Forgotten and Forgiven… where Freedom (from the problem) attained.

It’s where resolution is attained, and the word “Fantastic!” emerges from the lips of your reader.

These F-Words are a contextual story roadmap.

Follow them, and your story will already be sticking in close to the optimal path leading to formidable dramatic tension, reader empathy for the hero, and the delivery of a rewarding vicarious experience for your readers.

They just might be the thing that stops you from saying F-it when the going gets tough.

*****

Click HERE to see how these Fantastic and Fundamental F-words are aligned and contributing (or not) within your story.

{ 4 comments }

Rosie October 29, 2012 at 1:26 pm

I just want to tell you that I am reading story engineering and its is a FABULOUS book. It well written and easy to follow and I am very taken with it. I got it from the library but am buying my own copy. I am a newbie pantser. Well not for much longer!! But I am happy to report I have intuitively got my plot points and mid point in pretty much the right place. My rewrite is going to be a whole new ball game thanks to your book. XXX Rosie

Andrea October 29, 2012 at 2:30 pm

And when you absorbed all of this, you can still use that offending F-word at any time.

F* ,now I finally know where to begin!

F* ,he’s right, the physics are in every published book!

F* ,now I know why my stories never worked!

F* ,now I know why no one wanted to publish me!

F* ,I can’t stop thinking about those rules while reading or watching a movie!

F* ,the others still wonder why it doesn’t work!

F* ,I feel so enlightened!!

Most of this is me.

Sarah Brabazon October 29, 2012 at 3:31 pm

I raced through this post waiting for you to use the word ‘physics’ as an f-word, and you didn’t disappoint. You never disappoint! Like Rosie, I first borrowed Story Engineering from the library, then bought my own copy. Then I loaned my copy to a writer friend, and haven’t seen her since (I guess that puts a value on the book, eh) *sigh.* Guess I’ll be getting another copy when I order Story Physics.

Your ideas clicked with me from the title, to the last chapter. They give me a framework to attach all other craft ideas to.

Andrea October 30, 2012 at 1:55 am

I like the word ‘framework’ Sarah used. As a lot of writers still fear that those given Plot Points would shrink their ability to give creativity full leash. I’ll take the word ‘frame’ here to remember Picasso, Kahlo, van Gogh & Co. All of them used a frame to put their masterpieces into. No one of them smeared it on the street or into their living room. Well, perhaps they did in early years, but as soon as they intended a larger audience to see and buy their work, they had to put it into a reasonable, buyable (for the rich, but you get what I mean … ) frame.

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