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The Road Trip Story Skeleton

Last week, we examined the Mystery skeleton. This week, we take a look at the building blocks for the Road Trip skeleton.

The overall story problem is a lesson that needs to be learned or a secret that needs to be revealed.

The reader asks: How did this journey change them?

It can be mixed with any other genre with the caveat that two or more people are forced into traveling together. They can be trying to reach somewhere or running from something. It isn’t the end of the journey that matters as much as the friction between the characters and the obstacles they encounter along the way leading to the lesson learned or truth revealed.

The participants can be strangers, friends, lovers, relatives, coworkers, siblings ,or parent and child. The Road Trip often throws two opposites together who must then find common ground. The Road Trip story can be a light and frothy comedy, veer toward serious literary, or incorporate a crime spree as they go.

It can be two strangers who travel together because they have to reach the same destination. Their differing approaches to life teach the other person a valuable lesson about compromise and what is important. 

It can be an estranged mother and daughter who, over the course of the bumps and detours, come to terms with the source of the hurt that drove them apart. It can also be a romantic pair whose relationship is tested as they navigate the complications of their journey. 

Variations on this structure include the treasure hunt and road race where people work together and at crossed purposes to win a prize. 

In Road Trip stories, the protagonist is the person who needs to come to terms with something or learns something important about himself or others.

The antagonistic force usually acts more as foil or sounding board than foe. He will force the protagonist to deal with the story problem by refusing to let the topic go.

External Conflict scenes involve the stops along the way, the obstacles to the physical journey. The characters can be in a car, train, airplane, on bicycles, or on foot. They can be traveling to a specific event like a family reunion or a sick parent’s bedside. They can be trying to reach home for Christmas, but external events conspire against them reaching it: a blizzard hits, the car engine dies, or the road is blocked by an avalanche. These obstacles force them to find another way to complete the journey.

Antagonist Conflict scenes can follow a more benign teacher character rather than an actual “bad guy”. The antagonist supplies the friction that makes the protagonist review whatever opinion, prejudice or need that is causing their personal dilemma. In some versions there can be an actual antagonist who does not want them to reach their destination. The antagonist’s POV is rarely explored in these stories. These are scenes where the antagonist is directly applying pressure to the protagonist to change his way of thinking. If you follow the antagonist with your verbal camera, these scenes will show him plotting to make the journey harder for the protagonist or show him expressing his thoughts to a friend or foe.

Interpersonal Conflict scenes involve the people who help them and cause delays in their journey. They often serve to pose different sides of the thematic argument. If a man is re-evaluating his relationship with his girlfriend, he can meet different types of couples, some are happy and others are poster children for why people shouldn’t get married. The friends and foes may be unwitting participants in the play. They are going about their business, but their business causes a snag in the protagonist’s plans.

Internal Conflict scenes deal with the protagonist’s personal dilemma that the journey forces him to face. The personal dilemma is resolved just before or directly following the end of the physical journey. These scenes show the fluctuation in his thoughts toward and away from the right way of thinking.

For more information on building the Road Trip story, check out the newly released Road Trip Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book versions.

Next week, we examine Romance 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 explore the free tools and information about the series on my website.

The Mystery Skeleton

Last week, we looked at Mystery subgenres. This week, we examine the building blocks for the mystery skeleton.

The overall story problem is a crime or puzzle that needs to be solved.

The reader asks: What happened or who did it and will they find out in time?

Not all mysteries are murders, some involve thefts, treason, treasure hunts, puzzles or disappearances. Mysteries are often written as a series with a central protagonist solving separate crimes or puzzles in each book. The case is solved in almost all cases. If the nemesis escapes at the last moment to torment the detective another day, the case that drew them in is considered solved.

Twists where someone other than the detective solves the crime or there wasn’t a crime after all will typically anger the fans of the Mystery genre. That story should be rerouted to the Thriller section. Their expectations are high and they want to be mystified.

In Mystery stories, the protagonist is the amateur or professional sleuth who solves the mystery.

In a Mystery, the antagonist is the criminal the sleuth is chasing or the person most opposed to the secret coming out. He or she should be a cunning foe who goes to great lengths to hide his connection to the crime. Sometimes it is another character that gets 

in the way or makes solving the case harder. It can be a superior, a competitor, a guilty co-worker, or someone in the crime solving business with something to hide or dislike for the protagonist. This is especially true of formulaic or cozy mysteries where no one threatens the sleuth directly. It can be a repeated character such as Moriarity in Sherlock Holmes. 

External Conflict scenes focus directly on the Mystery itself. The protagonist investigates leads, locates the missing weapon, and arrests the bad guy. These are the meeting room scenes where the team discusses progress, the courtroom scenes, or the funeral scenes. These scenes lead up to and include the final climactic confrontation and resolution.

Antagonist Conflict scenes show the protagonist talking to, stalking, or matching wits with the character that serves as the antagonist. In most mysteries, the verbal camera follows the sleuth. Whether in first person or third, the reader knows only what the detective knows. Clues have been dropped and the reader may or may not have picked them up, but in most cases the reader isn’t privy to the POV of the antagonist. However, if you follow the antagonist with your verbal camera, these scenes would show him working his plan. The detective is hot on his trail, but the antagonist stays one step ahead. Or the antagonist works behind the scenes to stall, mislead, or interfere with the investigation.

Interpersonal Conflict scenes reveal how the friends and foes impact the story. The protagonist is misled by the murderer’s sidekicks or by other suspects who have something to hide. The chief tells the cop to find the murderer quickly or he will be demoted. The amateur sleuth is threatened by the victim’s son who is protecting his girlfriend who is the true murderer. Friends and foes tug him toward and pull him away from the trail in a game of hot or cold. Some characters help the sleuth, willingly or unwillingly, intentionally or unintentionally. Others hinder his progress, lie, misdirect, and apply pressure: suspects, witnesses, team members, relatives, love interest, etc.

Internal Conflict scenes reveal the protagonist sitting in the opera house with his wife wondering if they can keep their marriage together while observing the murder suspect across the way. He may be an alcoholic sitting in a bar nursing a soda instead of the beer he longs for. This is the sleuth dealing with his deep wound or dark secret or the cop questioning the morality of his job. Other characters can be present and act as foils, but the topic is his personal dilemma that leads to a point of change.

Check out the newly released Mystery Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book format.

There are free crime, suspect, and victim profile worksheets available on my website.

Next week, we look at the Road Trip 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 explore the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Mystery Subgenres

Last week, we explored the Literary skeleton, this week we explore Mystery subgenres.

1. Amateur Investigator stories feature a protagonist who is not currently a cop or a PI. They are drawn into the mystery because of personal stakes, incurable curiosity, or a brilliant mind. 

2. Bumbling Detectives mix the Mystery structure with the Comedy structure.

3. Cozy mysteries feature either an amateur or professional sleuth and are usually set in small towns. There is little focus on violence and it avoids gory details.

4. Medical mysteries feature physicians or other medical professionals who encounter and solve murders or mysterious illnesses.

5. Hard Boiled/Noir mysteries feature a gritty, cynical, usually male private investigator, in a violent urban setting. This is the “dame walked into my office” subgenre.

6. Historical mysteries feature clever detectives in many historical settings. They can use historical figures as detective or have a detective investigate stories involving or surrounding historical figures.

7. Howdunit
mysteries begin with the reader "witnessing" the murder, crime, etc. and the story unravels how the perpetrator is caught.

8. Legal Mysteries feature a sleuth who is a lawyer or court official who solves the case on their own when the clueless or corrupt cops fail to do so.

9. Police Procedurals  feature a sleuth who is police detective, officer, forensic technician, medical examiner, etc. who solves the murder or crime. The crimes range from mild to gruesome. The level of gory detail varies.

10. Private Investigator mysteries feature a sleuth (sometimes an ex-cop, soldier, spy or lawyer) who delves into the cases that the cops often can’t, or don’t want, to solve.

11. Supernatural mysteries combine the mystery structure with a Fantasy element.

Next week, we take a look at the building blocks for the Mystery skeleton.

Check out the newly released Mystery Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book format.

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 Literary Skeleton

Last week, we looked at broad categories of literary stories. This week, we look at the individual building blocks.

The overall story problem is usually a wrenching, life-altering, personal decision or life event.

The reader asks: What are they feeling and how will it change?

Theme is key. Literary can have a specific plot or be a slice of life vignette. Literary fiction does not always follow the traditional story arc, but the protagonist should undergo a point of change no matter how minimal.

The Literary story can be mixed with elements of any genre, but the focus is largely on the psychological dissection of the event. You can have a Literary ghost story or a Literary war story, but the reader is waiting for the protagonist’s resolution of their personal dilemma rather than the outcome of the war. Coming of age stories are often Literary. A child undergoes a transformation to adult because of some crisis or situation. Literary stories often explore heavy hitting issues such as abuse, illness, sexuality, parenthood, aging parents, etc. 

The focus in a Literary story is the language used to convey it, the writer’s unique prose or voice. Genre pieces can be written with the lyricism of Literary and a Literary novel can follow a genre story arc. The difference is the pace and the lyricism of the tale. Literary stories take the time to express philosophies and explore the human condition in ways the other genres cannot. Conflicts are often subtle.

In Literary stories, the options for protagonist are endless. It can be a child coming of age or an elderly person facing end  of life. It can be a person dealing with an illness, a complicated friendship, a divorce, or a legal or ethical dilemma.

There doesn’t have to be an antagonist per se, rather an antagonistic situation. The characters are the focus rather than the events. The subtle tension must make the reader so invested in the characters, they are willing to wade through the slower pace and lyrical wording to find out what happens. The luxury of the literary novel is the language and situation used to convey the thematic premise are the focus. It does not always end happily and theme is crucial.

External Conflict scenes don’t have to involve dramatic fight or chase scenes. They don’t require action-oriented thriller moments. They may not have the swoon-inducing desire of a Romance, though it may include those elements. Whatever the story line, it requires tension. These scenes bring the camera in close to dissect the protagonist’s psyche. Even so, elements in the external world the character navigates affect their personal metamorphosis or cause a drastic change in their way of thinking.

Antagonist Conflict scenes in the literary novel are often less overt than in any other genre. There may not be a “bad guy.” It may not be good versus evil. It may be making the right choice versus the wrong one. It may be a split in the protagonist’s psyche, the devil sitting on his shoulder. However, there is some antagonistic force working against what the character knows is the right decision. It can be society, medical realities, the legal system, or a friend or relative with an opposing agenda. The antagonist’s POV is rarely explored in these stories though there are antagonistic forces.

Interpersonal Conflict scenes follow friends and foes that confuse the issue: a love interest, a bullying boss, or dysfunctional relatives. There will be those who debate various sides of the thematic argument. Some characters push them toward the wrong decision and some toward the right one.

Internal Conflict scenes are at the heart of the story problem in the literary fiction novel, but there can still be a smaller personal issue that makes his decision that much harder to make. These scenes reflect the subtle shifts in his thinking or behavior.

Next week, we take a look at Mystery subgenres.

Check out the newly released addition to the Story Building Blocks series: Literary Build A Plot 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.