Search This Blog

Fantasy Subgenres

Last week, we examined the Con, Heist, & Prison Break skeleton. This week, we begin our examination of the Fantasy skeleton by taking a look at some of the subgenres.

High Fantasy encompasses fantasy stories set in worlds different from earth. In high fantasy, location trumps anything else no matter what genre you mix in with it.

Epic Fantasy encompasses the hero’s quest structure. There are sword fights, medieval castles and clothing, and damsels in distress. There be dragons and wizards and fairies and elves.

Dark Fantasy features vampires, werewolves, dragons etc. as protagonist. Rather than being the horror, they face obstacles that threaten their world.

Urban Fantasy combines the fantasy structure with a gritty, urban, contemporary setting in a well-known city.

Dystopian Fantasy combines a future setting where the people or beings are repressed and controlled by society.

Steampunk Fantasy combines a Victorian London-like setting wherein cities are powered by steam. It mixes the fantasy structure with science and futuristic inventions.

Paranormal Romance Fantasy mixes the fantasy structure with a subplot of romance. It usually features contemporary settings and mixes humans with vampires, werewolves, faeries, angels, magic, or psychic ability.


Next week, we will look at the building blocks for the Fantasy skeleton. The Fantasy Build A Plot Workbook is now available in Kindle and print along with the Build A World Workbook to help make your story world 3-D, also available in Kindle and print.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Con, Heist, and Prison Break Skeleton

Last month, we explored the Comedy skeleton. This week, we will explore the Con, Heist, and Prison Break skeleton in which the overall story problem focuses on a person or group that wishes to escape from somewhere, steal something, or set someone up to fail. A vendetta is enacted or an injustice needs to be righted.

 The new Con, Heist & Prison Break Workbook is now available in print and e-book versions.

The reader asks: What is really going on and will they succeed?


 It plays on our tendency to construct elaborate payback fantasies, only the characters in these stories don't hold back. These are action and plot centered tales of revenge and redemption. Character development is sometimes minimal. They can fall under the umbrella of Thriller, but since they have a specialized structure, I give them their own category.

There is typically an assembling of a team. The leader of the team is considered the protagonist. In modern tales, the protagonist can be a criminal but the audience is rooting for him to succeed in his scheme because his cause is just. They often involve multiple plot twists and keep the audience rooting for a successful outcome.

In a Con, Heist & Prison Break, the antagonist is the proposed victim of the con or heist or the vicious prison warden. It can be a group such as the mafia, but there must be a mob boss to focus on. It could also be the leader of a rival group equally intent on carrying out the con or heist. Usually the antagonist (thief, mafia, etc) is taught a lesson.


External Conflict scenes follow the protagonist with his assembled team as they draft the plan and try to implement it. The gang tries and fails and tries again. Jail breaks are attempted. Banks are inspected for vulnerabilities. The team scales the building or opens the safe. These scenes reveal whether they are successful or not. They are actively taking part in the scheme, whatever it is.

Antagonist Conflict scenes pit the “good” guys or “good" bad guys against the “bad" bad guys or the "bad" good guys. You can also follow the antagonist and his cronies as they go through their preparations. You decide whether they are aware of or completely oblivious to the plot that is hatching against them. The con man faces off against his ex boss. The lead character sneaks into the antagonist’s house and is caught by him. The two face off at a party or crowded restaurant. The mob boss realizes he is being double crossed. 


The antagonist’s POV is sometimes explored in these stories. If so, you see him taking steps to capture or hold onto the criminal. The other team hatches their plan. The antagonist deals with setbacks or a complicating side story of his own.

Interpersonal Conflict scenes can explore subplots about each team member, especially if they have a personal issue that needs to be resolved. These scenes involve the cops who try to prevent the protagonist or antagonist from succeeding, unless a cop is the antagonist. 
The lead character meets up with the girl he loved and lost. The henchmen are taken out one by one. The bumbling cops nearly catch them. These scenes can show conflict between secondary members of both teams.

The love interest in this type of story is often a secondary character if she isn’t part of the team or involved in the con, heist, etc.  She is sometimes part of the protagonist's stakes.

Internal Conflict scenes usually focus on the wound that is driving the protagonist. He wrestles with his need for revenge. How far is he willing to go? Has he gone too far or hurt someone he didn’t intend? We find out about the friend, child, lover, or family he lost and why he is bent on vengeance. We see into the dark spaces of his soul. These are also moments of nobility where he decides to sacrifice himself for the good of the team.

Next week, we will examine Fantasy subgenres.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Injecting Humor into Dialogue

Humor ranges from innocent jokes to darkest satire. What people find funny is highly personal. Something that tickles one person will offend another. What one considers ribald another might find vulgar. Dark gallows humor makes light of deadly serious topics. 

Comedies allow you to stealthily challenge people’s prejudices and belief systems in the name of good fun. Humor is a great way to lower resistance to make salient points.

You can’t please everyone, nor should you try. Use what works for the story you want to tell.

Ways to inject humor into dialogue:

1.       Clever banter between characters.

2.       Verbal digs can be barbless jibes between close friends or skewering points to drive home a serious point.

3.       Short anecdotes based on proven set-up, delivery, and punchline formulas can be inserted. They are best presented in dialogue between characters rather than narrator intrusions.

4.       Invented words or phrases can be repeated a few times throughout for effect.

5.       Giving things, people, or places titles, nicknames, or intentionally botching names can be hilarious, especially when the other party is oblivious or annoyed by it.

6.       Pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable or in good taste can make a point. It may even insult or anger, but the underlying message is memorable.

7.       Puns, riddles, Freudian slips, parables, and actual jokes can be added with a light hand. Unexpected answers and surprise can trigger laughter.

8.       Parroting and name-calling can infuse a light or dark note.

9.       Intentional mangling of language and grammar can be fun, but watch out for phonetic spelling abuse.

10.     Accents, voice styles, and vocabulary choices can be exaggerated for effect.

Pick up a copy of the latest entry in the Story Building Blocks series: Comedy, Build A Plot Workbook available through Amazon in print and at local bookstores on request. Also available for Kindle.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Injecting Humor Plot

For the past two weeks, we have explored Comedy subgenres and conflict layers.

This week we take a look at ways to inject humor into the plot.

1.       Have characters make silly mistakes or intentional mistakes being passed off as funny, shaking off embarrassment.

2.       You can twist and exaggerate stereotypical characters for effect.

3.       Mistaken identity, disguises, and costumes can add laughs.

4.       Physical comedy, such as practical jokes and prat falls, is harder to portray with a verbal camera than an actual one. That doesn’t mean you can’t use it.

5.       Missteps in manners and etiquette work when the audience is in on the deliberate use of them.

6.       Deliberately behaving the opposite of what is expected can be funny.

7.       Fast paced farcical action can be funny.

8.       The situation, overall story problem, or story world can be so exaggerated or off that they become the source of the humor.

9.       Using the character’s behavior and bad habits against him can inject humor.

10.     Sexual content and innuendo can be injected where appropriate.

Do your research. There are many books and classes on humor and comedy.

Watch your favorite comedians and comedies. Take notes about what made you laugh.

When you read a book and find yourself belly laughing, mark that section and go back to it. Examine it closely. What caught you off guard? Study the setup and delivery, the construction of the gag, the descriptions of characters, and the details of the humorous world closely. Identify the triggers.

Consider your targeted audience. How far can you push the boundaries without triggering disgust or anger? Humor that might be appropriate for a novel targeted to adults would not be appropriate for middle school. Middle school humor might bore a young adult audience.

Using profanity can be funny, but too much is not a good thing. One carefully placed expletive can be far more effective that the same word used in every other sentence. The mind skips over abusive repetition.

Next week, we look at ways to inject humor into your dialogue.

Pick up a copy of the latest entry in the Story Building Blocks series: Comedy, Build A Plot Workbook available through Amazon and at local bookstores on request. Also available for Kindle.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

The Comedy Story Skeleton

Last week, we explored the subgenres of Comedy. Let's take a look at the building blocks for the story skeleton.

The Comedy makes your reader laugh while subtly focusing on ideas, ethnicity, relationships, prejudices, social practices, politics, religion, or manners. It uses humor to explore topics without having to be “politically correct.” A Comedy can range from mindless farce to dark satire. It can follow the pattern of other genres, with the rule being that it has to be funny.


The reader asks: What do I think and how has this changed it?

The protagonist is the character responsible for solving the overall story problem. If you stack two separate story frames, you may have two protagonists. If you write a multigenerational or historical epic, you may have a story arc for four separate "protagonists” with different friends, foes, and antagonist or antagonistic forces that are consecutive or interwoven.

In a Comedy, the protagonist it is the person who shines a light on other’s foibles or speaks a controversial truth. The protagonist doesn’t have to be “good” necessarily, but he has to be sympathetic.

The antagonist is a character or entity who has a goal that is the opposite of the protagonist’s goal. The antagonist should also have something deep within that is driving him toward his goal. The emotion  or underlying belief system must be as strong as the protagonist’s for the stakes to be high. The antagonist can be a group or organization but there must be someone who leads the group for the reader to focus on.  


In a Comedy, the antagonist takes the opposite side of the thematic argument or is the one who poses the greatest hurdle to the protagonist’s goal. 
There can be a “friendly” antagonist that has good intentions and acts as the catalyst that prompts the protagonist to make a necessary change. They can be concerned friends, parents, coworkers, or people who think they are acting in the protagonist’s best interest but who are misguided in their beliefs.

External scenes involve all the key players actively trying to achieve or avoid something. External obstacles follow the genre that it resembles, only exaggerated for comic effect.

Antagonist scenes follow an actual antagonist or antagonistic forces keeping the protagonist from reaching his goal. If there isn’t someone specific standing in the protagonist’s way, the antagonistic forces keeping him from solving the story problem have to be compelling and funny.


The antagonist’s POV is rarely explored in these stories, rather he acts as a foil for the protagonist. If the protagonist is the straight man, the antagonist is the fool. If the protagonist is the bumbler, the antagonist can be the straight man.

Interpersonal Conflict scenes
show the friends and foes intensifying the complications. They are either the overly serious people or the complete dunces that cause hysterical complications for the protagonist to overcome. They can wittingly or unwittingly help or hurt him. If you veer off into their point of view, you can show them solving their own problems or working behind the scenes to assist or complicate the protagonist's goals.

Internal Conflict scenes
can be funny or the serious thread that runs throughout the piece. The protagonist can have a serious personal goal but go about achieving it in ways that cause funny situational difficulties. Or he can have a laughable goal that ends up with serious consequences.

Next week, we take a look at ways to inject Comedy into your plot.


Pick up a copy of the latest entry in the Story Building Blocks series: Comedy, Build A Plot Workbook available through Amazon and at local bookstores on request. Also available for Kindle.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Comedy Subgenres

Let's start our exploration of genres with Comedy. From parody to dark satire, the intent can be to poke gentle fun or outright skewer the tropes of a genre, emphasize the points made through comedy, or refute an existing "truth."

Don't underestimate the power of comedy. Using humor can lower resistance enough for a pertinent point to sink in when people would otherwise refuse to hear it.

Most of the examples I could think of were movies, but the same definitions apply to fiction.

1. Black or Dark Comedy: Sarcastic or
 mocking and cynical stories that examine serious subjects such as war, death, relationships, or illness.

Example: Men Who Stare At Goats.

2. Parody or Spoof: Mock serious topics with unconventional riffs on psychology, religion, government, technology, etc. The point is to illuminate flaws in our thinking, behavior, or systems using humor as a glaring spotlight. 


Example: Blazing Saddles.

3. Romantic Comedy: Has a little fun with the Romance genre, either making fun of it, or making the romantic complications comedic. 

Example: The Proposal.

4. Mystery Comedy: Pokes fun at the mystery genre. 

Example: The Pink Panther.

5. Con/Heist Comedy: Fills the Con/Heist with humorous complications and/or goals. 

Example: The Tower Heist.

6. Light Horror Comedy: Imbues the Horror genre with comedic complications. 

Example: Snakes On A Plane.

7. Science Fiction Comedy: Makes light of the Science Fiction genre. 

Example: Spaceballs.

8. Fantasy Comedy: Adds humorous twists to the Fantasy genre. 

Example: Princess Bride.

9. Western Comedy: Exaggerates the tropes of the Western genre for comedic effect.

Example: True Grit.

10. Historical Comedy: Highlights the mores and manners of yore with comedic effect.

Example: Men in Tights.

11: Road trip Comedy: Takes the serious lesson-infused journey on a fun-filled ride. 

 Example: Planes, Trains & Automobiles.

Next week, we will examine Comedy building blocks.

Check out the newly released Comedy Build-A-Plot Workbook available on Amazon. Also available for Kindle.


For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Story Frame

Last week, I recirculated an older post about A versus B story. While working on the new genre workbooks, I have expanded on that idea. There is a difference between a layered story and a multi-structured story. I have broken them into frames.

In addition to the four layers of conflict, you must decide how many story frames you need to tell the story you have in mind. There are several options to choose from.

The majority of stories have one frame. They are easy to follow and keep your reader submerged from page one to the end.

1. Single Frame: A single story block has four layers of conflict and follows one cast and one overall story problem. The verbal camera can pan stage right and left to follow the antagonist, love interest, friends, and foes who have their own goals and stakes. These can constitute subplots, but there is one main stage. The story can have labyrinthine twists and turns and a killer surprise ending within a single block. Single stories are quite satisfying. A reader is easily immersed until the final page. You don’t have to have a second story frame. Unless both frames are intriguing and relate in a coherent way, you lose your audience. If they have to flip past boring bits to get back to the good bits, you will earn a bad review whether they finish reading the book or not. The same is true of boring subplots.

2.  Multiple Frames: Sometimes a story requires multiple frames. A multiple frame structure contains two or more story blocks that have access to each other. This is different from a subplot. Your verbal camera cuts between separate casts and stages. It successfully focuses on past versus present, two lives intersecting, or two worlds colliding. You develop four layers for each frame. The second frame should intersect the first frame. Otherwise, it is a distraction. Each story block could be taken apart and stacked in inventive ways as long as you don’t make it too confusing.




 In the hands of a master story weaver, you could have a three, four, or five frame structure. For anyone less than a master, you have a mess. If readers have to stop reading to take notes, they give up.


3. Sequential Frames: You may choose a series of sequential frames, each with their own cast, setting, and conflict layers. They follow multiple generations of a family or multiple protagonists in different times or places. Each segment has its own cast and conflicts. You develop four layers for each story block. These should transition in a satisfying way. Each segment must carry its own weight to avoid losing the reader’s interest.


For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website. In the coming months, I will be releasing workbooks for each of the fourteen genres covered in the series.