Search This Blog

Historical Subgenres Part 2

Last week's post on Historical Subgenres created some discussion about other favorite categories of Historical fiction.

"I suppose genres in historical fiction would be things like historical romance (no more, please, the world is sinking under the weight of the existing books); historical crime (e.g. Ellis Peters), historical mystery etc. And, of course, literary historical fiction - Hilary Mantel etc. [...] historical revisionism is often popular, starting with Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time, although not strictly a historical novel." ~ Caroline Miley, The Competition

"Late Stuart period." ~ Carole Penfield

"[...] Tudors, the Stuarts, the English Civil War and Restoration, the colonisation of North America." ~ Alison Morton

"Where is the Renaissance? Tudor era England? Elizabethan England? English Civil War? What about the near and far East?" ~ Emily Cotton

"Roman Britain history between A.D. 43 and c.A.D. 400." ~ Nancy Jardine

"USA 19th century, Settlement, Native American, Civil War, etc." ~ Janet Oakley

"Australian colonial History! convict battles, Rum rebellion, vinegar Hill and later the Eureka Stockade! All Fascinating Historical accounts! Sheila Hunter wrote 3 novels around this era - minus the battles! #sheilahunter." ~ Sara Powter

"GEORGIAN: 1714 (with the accession of George 1) to the death of William IV and accession of Queen Victoria 1837 (also known as the LONG eighteenth century). REGENCY: 1811-1820, when George the Third's son, the Prince of Wales was regent. I would LOVE to see Amazon give the Georgian era its own category! :)" ~ Lucinda Brant

"How about Renaissance Italy or France? The Medici and Borgias in Italy? The Sun King (Louis XIV) in France? The French Revolution? :-) " ~ Cathie Dunn 

"Historical what if the princes in the tower were bitten by werewolves or vampires! What if Richard the Lionheart was vampire? :) What if Darnely were a dangerous werewolf and had to be killed and Elizabeth knew about it which is why she waited so long to have Mary killed?" ~ Helen R. Robare 

"That's what you would call The Golem and the Jinni, a recent bestseller." ~ Emily Cotton 

There are so many fascinating eras to write about. Each of the European monarchs could be explored, not only those from England, but Spain, The Hapsburgs, the Russian Tzars, etc. Asian, Indian, African, and Australian time periods languish in the mists as far as American publishing is concerned. Though History is not as lucrative as Romance or Mystery, there are fans waiting for stories that haven't been told.

For help with building the Historical novel, check out the Historical Build A Plot Workbook and the Build A World Workbook.

Next week, we will look at the building blocks for the Historical story skeleton.

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.

Historical Fiction Subgenres

 This week, let's take a look at the Historical fiction skeleton by examining a few subgenres.

Historical fiction is most often categorized by the era explored.

1. Early Human/Prehistoric History focuses on the time before written history. They can explore cavemen or proto European and African hunter-gatherer tribes.

2. Alternate History explores what would have happened if a historical event had turned out differently. What if the South had won instead of the North?

2. Ancient Greece History is set from 900 BC to 146 BC before the Romans invaded Greece. Ancient Greece brought us Plato and the birth of theater, philosophy, medicine, democracy, science, and reason. It brought us Mt. Olympus, Zeus, and the pantheon of Titans and Gods.

3. Ancient Rome History is set between 1,000 BC and the fall of the empire in 476. AD. Ancient Romans conquered a great deal of the known world including most of Europe, Russia, and parts of Africa, until it declined and crumbled into the sands of time. They created their versions of the Greek Gods. In the 300s AD, the emperor Constantine went from feeding Christians to the lions to adopting the religion, leading to the creation of the Pope and the Vatican.

3. Dark Ages/Early Middle Age History is set during 500 AD to 1000 AD. The decline of the Roman Empire was followed by a time of cultural and economic deterioration. Populations declined in urban centers, trade decreased, and barbarians invaded. The Byzantine  Empire thrived and in the 700s the Islamic caliphates conquered parts of the Roman Empire. In the 800s, Charlemagne declared himself Emperor and created the Carolingian Empire. The Vikings settled in the British Isles and France. Norse Christian kingdoms developed in Scandinavia. Except for the Mongol invasions, major barbarian incursions ceased.

4. High Middle Age History is set in 1000 AD to 1200 AD. Populations rapidly increased bringing social and political reform. Europe largely returned to a feudal agriculture system. The high middle ages featured the Crusades, new codes of chivalry, Arthurian courtly love, and advances in mathematics, poetry, and philosophy. The vast forests and marshes of Europe were cleared and cultivated. Northern Europe was greatly affected by the Viking expansion. The Christians took the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors and the Normans colonized southern Italy. Gothic cathedrals were built. 

5. The Late Middle Ages were ravaged by the Black Death, wars, and economic stagnation.

6. Early American History includes the colonization of America by the Europeans up to the War of Independence with Britain.

7. Regency/Georgian History is set in Europe from 1795 to 1837 during the reign of King George III and his son, King George IV. Their reigns spawned a new excessive culture of literature, fashion, architecture, manners and dress. It covered the Napoleonic wars and the French Revolution.

8. Victorian History is set in Europe from 1837 until 1901 during the reign of Queen Victoria and was marked by a long period of peace, except for the brief Crimean wars, advances in technology and industrialization. It also was a time of buttoned-up morality. The difficulties in Ireland occurred during the mid to late 1900s with the Easter Rising of 1916 that preceded the demise of British Empire.

9. Edwardian History is set in Europe during 1901 to 1912. Britain was ruled by King Edward and the Titanic was built and sank. Fashion and art underwent significant changes along with morality. The King loved to travel and brought back influences from all over the globe. Politics shifted, common laborers and women became political forces. It was also the
time of the Belle Époque era of continental Europe and the Gilded Age of the United States.

10. World War I History is set during 1914 to 1918, and a war which involved all of the world’s great powers in Europe and the US. By the war’s end, the Germans and Russians were defeated and the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires ceased to exist. The map of central Europe was redrawn and the League of Nations was formed.

11. Roaring Twenties History is set after the end of war until the stock market crash in 1930 and focus on the abrupt change in fashion and morals. Industrialization accelerated and hair and hems were cut short. People embraced the "live like you’re dying" philosophy. It was the time of prohibition and suffragettes in the US.

12. Depression Era History is set in 1930 to 1939 following the sobering stock market crash. There was a severe worldwide economic depression. The Great Depression had devastating effects in virtually every country, rich and poor.

13. World War II History is set during 1939 to 1945. The war involved most of the world's nations divided up into the Allies and the Axis. It included the Holocaust, the attack on Pearl Harbor and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. It spawned the development and use of nuclear weapons and technology. 

14. Contemporary History is a broad category that includes stories set after the second World War. They include distinct decades that had their own fads, mores, and fashions: The 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and now certain moments in the 2000s. The eras feature the baby boomers, the post baby boomers, and generations X and Y.

15. Christian History features Christian themes and explores historical events from a Christian perspective. They can explore the creations and battles for autonomy of the myriad offshoots and variations of the one god theologies. The protagonists often struggle to lead spiritual lives in a secular world.

16. Historical Adventure/Thriller is a fast-paced and action-oriented hybrid of historical explorations, adopting elements of Thriller.

17. Literary History uses slow, literary pacing to explore a moment in time or the events that changed history and can be epic-length and multigenerational.

18. Nautical History takes place at sea, featuring captains and crew, smugglers and pirates, galleons and submarines.

Amazon's Historical subcategories.

Next week, we will look at the building blocks for the Historical story skeleton.

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 Gothic Skeleton

I grew up reading Gothic novels by Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Daphne du Maurier, Henry James, Elizabeth Gaskill, Diane Setterfield, Anne Radcliff, Shirley Jackson, and many others. If you know of more contemporary authors writing Gothic novels, please recommend them in the comments. I am always looking for more.

I recently watched an excellent Gothic film: Voice from the Stone. A nurse is summoned to an Italian mansion to help a grieving child.

In the Gothic story, the overall story problem is a deep, dark secret threatening to break free.

The reader asks: Will they realize the danger in time and will they escape?

The protagonist unravels a mystery or reveals a hideous secret and often realizes the man of her dreams is not who she thought he was. The Gothic structure is set apart from the Mystery and Thriller by setting and specific structure, so I give it its own category. 

Atmosphere is critical in setting the creepy tone of the story. It is usually features a castle, manor house, or plantation where the remoteness of the location adds to the claustrophobia. The era can be Victorian or Elizabethan England, turn of the century American south, or any time and place when secrets could easily remain buried if not for the unwitting protagonist. 

It doesn’t work well if the protagonist can easily walk outside and be among civilization. Large, populated cities don’t fit the bill as well. Remote islands and the middle of deserts do. These stories tended to examine the role of women and the restrictions placed on their behavior and freedoms.

In Gothic stories, the protagonist is the woman or man who uncovers the secret or unravels the mystery of the creepy mansion. Sometimes the love interest frees the woman from her psychological or physical restraints.

In a Gothic story, t
he antagonist is usually a powerful, alpha-male character. Sometimes there are antagonistic forces rather than an actual “bad guy.” It can be the situation, the insane wife, the servants, or the dark brooding castle owner. However, the dark brooding castle owner often ends up being the love interest, poor misunderstood thing that he/she is. It is whoever or whatever element presents the greatest threat to the hapless protagonist’s success.

External Conflict scenes slowly reveal the secret and the danger. The unwitting protagonist realizes what she has gotten herself into and works to get out.  The governess walks down the dark hallway with a candle to investigate a noise. The hero guides her away from a window where his crazy wife is peering out. She has a near miss with a runaway carriage. These are the house parties, the afternoon teas, the double-entendre conversations. A doctor is summoned. A footman is strangled.

Antagonist Conflict scenes follow the antagonist or reveal more subtle antagonistic forces. The antagonist is not necessarily the lord of the manor; he often turns out to be the love interest. It could be the crazy wife locked upstairs. It could be the Countess who is determined to marry the man herself. These are the scenes where the opposing characters face off, whoever they might be. It could be the overprotective nurse or housekeeper. The antagonist could be the governess bent on destroying the peace of the household because the lord of the manor fired her mother.

These scenes can follow the protagonist or the antagonist depending on the POV. But the Gothic story typically follows the protagonist, keeping the reader equally in the dark. The antagonist’s POV is rarely explored in these stories. We never learn what the crazy woman in the attic thinks, unless she tells the protagonist. Instead, these are scenes where the governess is in the room with the bad guy or girl, matching wits, or defending against an attack from the crazy woman in the attic. 

These scenes are often subtle where the protagonist feels something is wrong but can’t quite confirm it. The antagonism is subtle but present. We get a sense of the threat rather than a blatant view.

Interpersonal Conflict scenes show the protagonist interacting with the staff and noble neighbors. These scenes can involve either protagonist or antagonist or even follow the nurse into the room with the crazy wife, but the story normally follows the protagonist to keep the reader in step with the protagonist. People hint that something is very, very wrong, but does she want to see it? Others attempt to convince her things are perfectly normal. Some give her important clues. Some point her in the wrong direction. Others lead her deeper into the heart of the mystery. Some weave webs and traps that keep her imprisoned and threaten her sanity or her life.

Internal Conflict scenes involve the main character wrestling with her desire to stay or run, confront or hide. She struggles with her past wound or the dilemma that drove her to the creepy manor house in the first place. She confronts her fears, her desire for freedom or her desire for connection. She remembers the loved one who died and whom she is avenging.

Next week, we explore Historical subgenres.

If you are plotting a Gothic novel, check out the newly released addition to the Story Building Blocks series: Gothic Build A World Workbook available in print and e-book.

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 explore the free tools and information about the series on my website.

The Fantasy Skeleton

Last week, we explored Fantasy subgenres. This week, we take a look at the building blocks that make up the story skeleton.

In Fantasy, the overall story problem pits good against paranormal evil.

The reader asks: Will the hero obtain or learn to use the power to defeat the evil that has disrupted his world?

This is often the realm of sword and sorcery based in the middle ages or an earth-like place where magic exists. The protagonist must obtain or discover the special power or talisman to solve the problem in time. Mythical creatures roam freely: fairies, gnomes, imps, dragons, elves, witches, wizards, vampires, werewolves, and unicorns. 

Like Science Fiction, these story worlds have specific rules which must be well-defined and consistent. 

These stories can be comic, dark, light, or verging on horror. They can be altered versions of our world or entirely new worlds. 

The protagonist is the hero of the tale, the chosen one, the one who vanquishes the paranormal threat.

The antagonist is the figure representing paranormal evil: the menacing dark Lord, the head vampire or werewolf, the wicked witch, the evil fairy queen, or the enraged dragon.

External Conflict scenes are where the protagonist wizard learns the evil witch’s plan, searches for the child of the prophecy, performs protection spells, and leads the charge to the witch’s castle to turn her into sand. The forces of good and evil attack and evade until the final collision decides the fate of the world. In these scenes, the hero confronts the wicked witch with knowledge of the prophecy. The wicked witch tries to turn him into a toad.

Antagonist Conflict scenes focus on the entity or person representing the evil power. If following the antagonist POV, these scenes serve to reveal his plans and his personal dilemma. 
Depending on the POV, these scenes involve the witch searching for the magic child. These scenes can follow the witch and her minions as they wreak havoc. We explore the reasons the antagonist is who he is and why he does what he does. 

Interpersonal Conflict scenes show how the hero and antagonist are helped and hindered by those around them. The hero is put in a trance by the fairies to keep him from finding the magic chalice. He meets someone willing to show him where the prophecy child is hidden. He is driven toward and away from his goal by the friends and foes. These scenes can also follow the friends as foes as they meddle with the antagonist and each other, depending on the POV.

Internal Conflict scenes show the wizard fearing his power is waning or his gifts are not enough. He might wrestle with his guilt over not saving another wizard from the wicked witch. The faerie queen wrestles with what is best for her versus what is best for her people. The time traveler wants to return home. This is the thing that is driving the hero on his quest.

Check out the new addition to the Story Building Blocks series: The Fantasy Build A Plot Workbook. Since world-building is a critical part of the Fantasy consider using the Build A World Workbook to bring your story world to life.

Next week, we will take a look at the Gothic story skeleton.

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.

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.

Do You Need A B Story?

When I first studied the craft of fiction writing, I was bemused by the term subplot, aka B-story, which is defined as: A plot subordinate to the main plot of a literary work or film.

I examined the story I wanted to write and could not come up with a subordinate plot. I was not plotting a past versus present story. I was not following a secondary character's trajectory. I was not braiding two or more story threads together.

I went back and dissected some of my favorite stories and realized the majority were linear, focusing on one main set of characters going about one specific story goal. I set aside the term subplot and spent more time dissecting stories.

Hunger Games is a linear story. 

Agatha Christie mysteries are linear stories.

The Harry Potter books are linear stories.

A linear story starts at point A and winds its way to the end. There can be twists and turns, but you essentially follow the protagonist, perhaps with a few detours to follow secondary characters or the antagonist. There is a central problem with layers of conflict along the way: internal, external, interpersonal, and antagonist. Linear stories are quite satisfying. Your camera stays focused on the main stage. The camera can travel to view secondary characters interacting with each other and the antagonist to create obstacles.

A B-story is a side plot that runs along and intersects the A-story. Your camera moves between two casts and two stages. It should inform and complicate the A-story, otherwise it is a distraction. A satisfying B-story braids two separate threads together: past versus present mystery, two lives intersecting, or two worlds colliding. It should not be confused with consecutive timeline stories that follow generations of a family, etc. Those are a string of A-story pearls.

In the hands of a story master, you could have an A-, B-, and C-story.

You don’t have to have a B story. In fact, it can sometimes interfere with your readers’ enjoyment.

I recently watched a television series called The Bridge. The A-story was a riveting, multiple murder mystery concerning the border between Texas and Mexico. It shined a light on the dark world of border crossing criminal activity. The B-story involved a rancher who owned a tunnel running under the border. The rancher was murdered, which is the tie in to the A story. They kept up with the rancher's wife in the B-story throughout. The problem was, the B-story wasn’t interesting. The characters were unlikable and the subplot did not add tension to the A story. I fast-forwarded past those segments.

Readers hate distractions. Every distraction you offer gives them a reason to stop reading. If you choose to have a B-story, make sure it complicates the main story in some way instead of running alongside it as a distraction. If it is organic to your story, include it. But don't come up with one to shore up a weak middle.

It is far better to have a strong, well-developed linear story than attempting to stuff in a B-story to pad your plot.

A weak middle can be remedied by layering conflict. Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict explains how.