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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
I am offering a free narrative structure class to students participating in You are powerful. You have a story to tell. May I help you tell it?
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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
Replying to @MaryRobinette
Teachers who are supporting your students during , if you want me to virtually pop into your classroom and do a mini-session on narrative structure, let me know.
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Mary Robinette Kowal
Meanwhile, here are some tools you can use. It turns out that you can explain pretty much every story, fiction and non-fiction, through a fairly simple organizational theory. I’m going to talk about this through a lens of fiction, but it’s everywhere.
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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
Replying to @MaryRobinette
Stories are made of four elements, mixed in different proportions: Milieu, Inquiries, Characters, Events. These elements can help determine where a story starts and stops, and the kinds of conflicts your characters face.
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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
Replying to @MaryRobinette
Milieu stories are driven by place. These stories begin when a character enters a place and end when they exit. So things like Gulliver’s Travels, Around the World in 80 Days are classic examples.
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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
Replying to @MaryRobinette
So knowing where milieu stories end, this also tells you what sort of conflicts go in the middle, because your job is to figure out what your character needs to do. And then systematically deny them the solution.
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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
Replying to @MaryRobinette
So milieu conflicts end when your character exit the place. The conflicts keep the character from leaving. These are things struggling to exit. Trying to survive in. Attempting to navigate.
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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
Replying to @MaryRobinette
Inquiry stories are driven by questions. They begin when a character has a question and end when they answer it. Super-complicated. These are mystery stories like Sherlock Holmes and Poirot.
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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
Replying to @MaryRobinette
For an inquiry conflict, your goal is to keep your character from finding the answer. They’re lied to. They can’t understand the answer. The answers lead to dead ends. (red herrings)
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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
Replying to @MaryRobinette
Character stories are driven by angst. They begin when a character is unhappy with an aspect of *themselves* and end when they solidify their self-definition. Coming of age stories. Romances.
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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
Replying to @MaryRobinette
Your character is trying to change. Stop them. Don’t let them break out of their role. Fill them with self-loathing. Have the change backfire.
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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
Replying to @MaryRobinette
Event stories are driven by action. These begin when the status quo is disrupted and end when it is restored or there’s new status quo. And yes, everyone dies counts as a new status quo. Disaster stories. Inferno. Deep Impact.
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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
Replying to @MaryRobinette
For event driven conflicts, don’t let your character restore the status quo. Fight scenes. Chase scenes. Explosions. They try to set things right? It has unintended consequences.
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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
Replying to @MaryRobinette
Now it’s easy to confuse character stories and event stories. Character stories are about internal conflict. “I’ll never be popular.” Event stories are about external conflict. “Oh no! An asteroid is coming at the Earth!”
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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
Replying to @MaryRobinette
So that’s what individual MICE elements look like. But you almost never see single thread stories. Most stories are made up of multiple threads, honestly, because single thread stories are really dull. So how do you do multiple threads?
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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
Replying to @MaryRobinette
For a lot of people on the internet, the phrase "nesting code" explains everything.
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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
Replying to @MaryRobinette
To use a concrete example. Wizard of Oz is a beautifully nested story. It begins with a character story. Dorothy is dissatisfied with her role as a Kansas farm girl. Then open Event. Tornado! Open milieu. Welcome to Oz. And…Inquiry. What do the ruby slippers do?
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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
Replying to @MaryRobinette
Then Glinda says, “The ruby slippers will carry you home” Closing Inquiry. Depart Oz, closing milieu. Return to Kansas where everything is fine, closing event. Dorothy says, “I didn’t need to go looking for adventure any farther than my own backyard.” Closing character.
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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
Replying to @MaryRobinette
When you have stories that feel like the ending fizzles or the ones that end and then end again. And then end again. And again. This is often because the nesting code is broken.
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Mary Robinette Kowal Mar 14
Replying to @MaryRobinette
The same structure works for non-fiction and, in many ways, for structuring a protest, or talking about it afterwards. So here's that giant slide deck, condensed into a single image.
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