To begin, I would like a show of hands: How many people would like to join me on a teaching conference call to discuss story world further? I would set up a time, you call in online, you will be able to see only me, but we would all be able to talk. I would need at least 15 people or so to make it work. If you would be interested, leave me a short comment.
When it comes to story world you can’t escape the word organic. All the elements of our novels need to connect structurally in non-forced ways. Organic means the story is honest, and that the parts have grown naturally, one idea feeding the next until we have a cast of characters living in a believable world and acting truthfully. Whenever we try to push a concept through a cookie cutter template we end up with a generic formula story that lacks vitality and depth. It’s just like every other story. In Part two of this series, we discussed how to ensure connectivity by story world being a physical representation of the conflict between characters.
The second type of conflict that story world demonstrates is the internal conflict of your hero. When you create a character web, you examine in detail how the various characters oppose one another. The only way to do that is to fully grasp what it is the hero wants, and then how the other characters try to prevent the hero (and each other) from getting his or her desire fulfilled.
In the best stories, the hero has a strong desire at the beginning, which changes (is altered) over the course of the novel. The lessons learned through the course of the novel temper the desire in some way (strengthen it, weaken it only to reveal to the hero the stronger desire he/she was suppressing, etc.). For example, the hero of a murder mystery wants to find the killer, but by the end of the story he discovers his greatest desire was to prove to himself that he doesn’t possess the mind and instincts of a killer himself. The story world helps the reader to see the hero’s internal conflict—the war inside.
There are two things to hold in balance while you craft a story world that physically demonstrates your hero’s struggle for what he desires.
First, ensure your story world properly reflects the kind or type of journey your hero partakes of in the novel. This is a question of story structure. You can read more about this in part one of the series. Secondly, focus on building a story world that reflects the hero’s weakness, and need, as well as desire.
For the first part, we are concerned about the overall arch of the hero’s journey, the structure of the novel that takes the hero from the place he or she lives at the beginning of the novel, and moves him to a new moral, ethical, emotional, and sometimes geographic location by the end. In broadest terms, there are two states a hero can live in: freedom or slavery. Your novel is the story of how your hero moves between these two states of being.
There are pits stops along the way, places that appear to be freedom, but are actually deeper slavery, and places that appear to be defeat (or a visit to death), that lead the hero toward freedom. This journey is organically built into every aspect of your story including the story world. The places and things your character encounters are every bit the hero’s journey as are the dialogue, character interaction, backstory, and plot. John Truby says it this way, “The connection between hero and world extends from the hero’s slavery throughout his character arc. In most stories, because the hero and the world are expressions of each other, the world and the hero develop together.”
The second part requires us to consider our hero’s weakness, desire, and need. Story world demonstrates the hero’s weakness in physical ways. Need is personified inside of place. Desire for freedom is sketched out in the landscape of places, and the systems that are in place. It’s Luke Skywalkers home planet Tatoonine, a dessert place where a living must be coaxed from the sand. It’s Harry’s room under the stairs. In Gilead, it is the box on top of the bookcase that John Ames cannot manage to take down by himself. Often our stories begin with the hero living in slavery (to an idea, a system, an unloving family, a haunting mystery, an old hurt, etc.), and has specific weaknesses. The story world, then begins as a place that highlights and exploits that weakness. As the hero fights for the goal, the story world changes to reflect the small success and larger failures along the way, until, finally, the hero reaches the goal (or fails to reach it) and the story world is changed because it.
It’s a dance where the world and the hero are in step, mirroring one another. The reader understands the movement of the novel because it pulses all around.
The take home is that story world is a physical manifestation of the hero’s inner conflict, weakness, need, and desire that changes over the course of the novel.
It’s been a great week on Novel Matters. We’ve gone deep into story world, yet there is much more we could have talked about. My biggest difficulty in crafting this series was all the material I had to leave out of the discussion for the sake of articles that didn't run several thousand words long.
If you would be interested in a live conference call, leave a comment and let me know. If the numbers work out, I’ll schedule the call and we can meet up and talk more.
Meanwhile, what has been the take away for you this week? What have you come across in your reading that touches on story world? Do you have questions?
Debbie Fuller Thomas is on She Reads today talking characters and writing what you know. A great article! Check it out.