These days I have been reading the book How to write science fiction and fantasy, by Orson Scott Card and I have come across a reflection from the author about where to start and end a story that I wanted to share with you.
By the way, if you haven’t read the book, I recommend it even if these are not the genres you want to write. There are chapters or fragments more focused on them, but a good part of the advice in the book is useful for writing in general, as is the case with what I will comment on next about the structure of a story:
The MIPA quotient
As the author explains, all stories contain four pillars or elements that directly influence their structure: the medium, the idea, the characters and the events. All are important to build the story, but there is always one that predominates over the others.
According to Card, depending on the element we choose to be the most important in our story, we will have a specific type of story:
1. Media history
The medium or stage is the place where the story takes place, where it is set. In the stories that have the medium as their primary element, the most important thing is where and we usually discover them through the eyes of someone outside the place – a visitor, a foreigner… – with whom we identify and who helps us discover that new world at your own pace.
They are, for example, the Oz cases for Dorothy’s adventures in “The Wizard of Oz”; Wonderland for Alice or Japan in the novel “Neither Eve nor Adam”, by Amélie Nothomb.
If we want to write a story in which the medium is the most important, we must begin to tell it when the character leaves for that new world and end with the return home. The interesting thing is what happens there because the story could not happen anywhere else.
2. Idea story
With “idea”, Card refers to a question, a dilemma, a mystery, a fact … Any type of information that the characters must discover. The most important thing in the story in these cases is to solve the enigma.
For these cases, the story begins with a question – for example, who is the murderer? – and ends with the answer – the murderer is the butler. Can there be short prologues or epilogues to this? Yes, but you have to bear in mind that the bulk of the story, what maintains the tension, is what happens between that question and its answer.
3. Character story
In all the stories there are characters and in many, they evolve. What differentiates character stories is that the most important thing in them is the evolution of the protagonist or protagonists, the transformation of the role within their world.
The character stories have in common that at least one of the characters feels dissatisfied, annoyed or angry with his initial situation and initiates a process of change that can be conscious or unconscious; even external to him.
The story begins when the character is about to start the journey that will lead him to his transformation and ends when he succeeds — happily or not — or when he abandons his struggle for the impossible and returns to his old role.
4. History of events
The last option is the history of events or events, where the most important thing is what happens, above “where” and “to whom”. This does not mean that there cannot be character evolution or that the settings are not important in this type of story, but the pillar with the greatest weight will be that of the events.
The account of events begins by telling us that something is wrong in the structure of the universe of the story. For example, the appearance of a monster in Beowulf or the resurgence of an ancient enemy believed to be dead in The Lord of the Rings. But it is also the case of Emma, by Jane Austen, where the protagonist refuses to marry, breaking the natural order in the world in which she lives.
Of course, the stories of events end when order is reestablished or a new one is established.
As you can see, although Orson Scott Card’s book has such a narrow title, its content is valid for writers of all genres. At least it seems like a highly recommended book to me.
And you? Have you read it? What do you think of the author’s theory on how to start and end a story?