Chapter Transitions

A while back, we discussed transitions from a paragraph to paragraph basis, but it’s different when you move from scene to scene, chapter to chapter. In the case of While Beauty Slept, chapters were like different scenes from the main character’s life as the reader followed her life story. And it made for very different transitions as Elizabeth Blackwell tried to capture only the most important parts of Elise’s story.

I did not meet the woman who was to transform my life until my second week at the castle. It was an encounter that remains vivid in my memory to this day, for it was the first time I glimpsed the darkness that lurked beneath the pageantry of court. The first tiny step in my loss of innocence. (Blackwell 57)

Every chapter started out like almost a thesis, laying out what was going to be the topic of focus for the following chapter. For the one mentioned above, it was a specific woman, and although she was our focus, the chapter remained oriented from Elise’s perspective and showed us a detailed scene of when the woman first appears.

I liked this organization because it showed us Elise’s whole life, but it only showed the most important parts, like a selective biography rather than a diary that showed every little aspect, which can drag and get boring at times.

This book showed that the organization of your novel/story is just as important as the story itself and can lend a great deal to the narrative of your book.

Blackwell, Elizabeth. While Beauty Slept. New York, NY: Berkley Books, 2014. Print.

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Story Arc

I really liked my kitty story but while working on it, I had to ask myself, was this the best story? If the characters and conflict were the same, was this way the best way to tell it?

I had to back track. Write down the motif of the story, and then rephrase the theme in a question: which would you choose…? I then looked to Freytag’s pyramid, which outlined the specific pieces of a story arc in the form of a “heartbeat” – seems fitting for a story that’s supposed to have a life of its own. I checked to see if I had all my pieces in order.

freytag pyramid

Image courtesy of Ohio University. 

This is a good way to either check your work or help construct a story. Mainly because all stories should have a beginning, middle, and end no matter how much you protest. If you cut off a movie before the ending, you’re going to have a crowd of angry people wanting their money back. So even if you want to break the “pattern,” you’re still going to have to include the most basic parts of a story.

Exposition: setting up the story with the main character, background, setting

Incident: the initial conflict

Rising actions: the complexities of the conflict evolve

Climax: the high point of the story, the tipping point when the character makes a difficult decision. This is when the reader should be feeling most anxious.

Falling actions: all the consequences of the climax play out

Resolution: events are wrapping up, everything’s about fixed

Denouement: the end

Now, not all stories will resemble this strict single “heartbeat.” Others will take the form of an actual life with multiple “beats” as the story moves up then down and repeats itself through multiple conflicts, straining to reach the overall resolution of the character’s goal. But this is a good place to start!

Components of a Story

When we think of a story, we think of books read at bedtime, of damsels in distress being rescued by princes. Stories are a chain of events that ends with either our satisfaction or discontent, and to accurately define a story, we must recognize each of its elements, in order to correctly identify when we are in the presence of a true story.

A story’s 5 pieces:

1. Characters – who is leading/direction our perspective

2. Villain – who/what is working against the character, with the intent to make them fail

3. Plot – what is going on in the story, what is the character’s goal/aim

4. Setting – when or where is the story set

5. Background – why does the character believe or feel this way.

Notice my wording: who, when, where, what, why. A story must answer all these questions in order to properly identify itself as a story. If you’re having trouble comprehending the concept, think of it like a video game. I’ll lead with one of my favorite story-focused games: Alan Wake. (Warning: There will be spoilers.)

1. Who does the story follow?

The player controls Alan Wake, a thriller novelist.

4. Where/when is he?

He is in Bright Falls, Washington. Since this story incorporates cell phones, computers, flashlights, we can assume that is around the same time period as players.

5. Why is he here?

Alan is in the midst of writer’s block and is following the advice of his wife and agent in hopes to break it.

3. What is going on?

His wife disappears almost as soon as they arrive, and he is determined to find her.

2. Who/what is working against him?

There is a dark entity at the bottom of a lake that can bring fiction to life, which is using Alan’s story and fictional characters to help it escape.

By answering these five questions, we have successfully identified Alan’s story. We know his past, his future, and the current conflict that is preventing him from reaching it. This doesn’t make a story amazing but will satisfy the criteria that makes a story, a story. Use these elements as criteria to check your writing. If something is missing, it can make a story less realistic and harder for the reader to identify with. After all, stories are only our imaginations of life, and these same pieces is what makes up each of our individual stories.

“Homefront” by Scott Magner

This was an interesting read. I definitely enjoyed the plot, although I was not as big a fan of the characters. They were interesting and showed a lot of depth, but there were times when I felt like their ages didn’t match their actions or actions to their personalities. I was more a fan of the story’s conflict because it showed a lot of complexity, where a lot of the resounding effects wouldn’t have happened without some initial planning.

SPOILER ALERT: This post discusses plot, which gives away a major portion of the book.

Magner has created two sides in this story: the humans and the gennies (transgenic virus victims/mutants). And for the first chapter, we start out in the perspective of the gennies, particularly Jantine:

“I state now for the record that my actions are mine and mine alone. I hereby declare myself free of the tyranny of the Outer Colonies…I commandeered the frighter Argo and killed its crew, appropriating its cargo of workers and colonists for my own use and freeing them from lives of genetic servitude.” (Magner 17)

Her purpose is to establish her team as a separate entity that no one can blame as they try “to establish a secure base, and cycle the sleepers as fast as possible” (28). They are currently sitting in space on a trajectory toward Earth, where, at the same time, Aloysius Martin’s human crew was hiding from the rest of the humanity. On page 62, we learn he is carrying a “still cooking” Alpha and would like to keep it to develop a vaccine for the virus for humans. But, since other people would prefer to kill the Alpha, he stole it and is now in hiding in space.

It is by pure coincidence that these two teams meet, which is an example of good planning. This story could have taken a completely different route. Magner could’ve followed their two separate plot lines as gennies try to establish a base and as Martin hides from the rest of the humans, but by developing separate goals and planning for an incidental meet up, the two stories merge for a single story line and give effect to the resulting conflicts that follow.

I found this entertaining because it’s true that accidents like this do happen. The gennies’ ship ended up hitting the hidden humans, and the humans, thinking they’re still being chased, fight back. The two fight each other for their individual imagined conflicts, never once stopping to identify what’s going on. This is a good example of an accidental, yet realistic, battle. They didn’t want to kill each other, but through the conflicts they each have imagined, they’re stuck defending themselves, not realizing the other is not out to kill them. It’s accidental warfare.

This is definitely a nice break from books where all war is on purpose and the story follows the two sides as they fight. I definitely appreciated the ‘accident’ factor here, which isn’t hard to replicate. It definitely takes a lot of planning in this case, such as each sides’ individual goals, why they’re on the run, why they can’t trust anyone, etc.

If you want to bring a little lift into your story, breaking from the usual routes, try to incorporate some accidents. Think about each situation’s realistic potential, and think about what would yield the most interesting results. (Warning: this will take some brainstorming and organization.)

Magner, Scott. Homefront. Puyallup, WA: Arche Press, 2014. Print.