Search This Blog

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.