Reblog: “On the Many Different Engines That Power a Short Story” — Lincoln Michel

We’ve talked in the past about engines that power story: types of conflict and creating and resolving tension. Today, I want to point you to Lincoln Michel’s great article about the false dichotomy between character-driven and plot-driven fiction. Lincoln argues that there are an almost infinite number of engines that can drive a story, and that any single one is rarely enough to power even a short story on its own.

The hard thing about writing—or one of the hard things in the endless series of hard things about writing—is that there’s no one way to do it. Instead, there are infinite paths in the dark woods of fiction leading to infinite types of stories. It’s hard, a little scary, yet ultimately thrilling.

Despite this, there are countless articles that insist there are in fact only two methods of storytelling: plot-driven and character-driven. It’s understandable that writing guides and craft classes are reductive. Who would pay for a writing guide that said “lol who knows ¯\_(ツ)_/¯” followed by 200 blank pages? Still, the plot-driven vs. character-driven binary has always made me wonder why those two aspects of fiction are the only ones allowed in the driver’s seat. Couldn’t a story be driven by voice? Couldn’t setting have a turn at the wheel?

Read the rest over at Lit Hub…

Don’t Write the Tedious Thing — Maud Newton

Simple, but extremely good advice from Maud Newton on Medium.

At times while working on my book over the years, I would become resentful of it, as if it had its own expectations, as if the draft itself were insisting I recount the entire history of genealogy in the United States or offer a dissertation on genetics. Ugh, now I have to write this boring part, I would think. I would spend a few days in active rebellion against this directive that I imagined the book was imposing.

Read the rest on Maud Newton’s Medium page.

Max Gladstone on Repetition

The always-delightful Max Gladstone discusses the good and bad of repetition in fiction.

We notice repetition as a negative. But some words do not just repeat as tics, or not merely as tics. What is a book, but a constellation of words? Each time a word is used, it accumulates new meaning from its context, and lends the meanings it has accumulated—in your particular text, and in others—to the sentence. In this way languages can be ennobled or (for a time, at least) poisoned—if you’re an American, do you feel the same way about the word ‘great’ that you did six years ago? If you’re a particular kind of nerd, when I began that sentence just now with ‘What is a book,” did you hear it followed by “a miserable little pile of secrets”?

Within a text, repeated words draw connections. What sorts of things in this book are ghosts? Is this car a ghost? This memory? Is the white of her hat a ghostlike white? “The ghost of a smile?” Fantasy and science fiction prose worldbuilding sings—or, to be honest, works at all—by loading vocabulary in this way: ’uplift’ in Brin, ‘Guardian’ in Jemisin (or the beautiful side-loading of ‘suss’ into the invented sensory verb ‘sess’), iris in Heinlein’s off-referenced ‘the door irised open.’ McKillip’s ‘riddles’ and ‘beasts’ are quite particular sorts of riddles and beasts, as are Jordan’s ‘channeling,’ and Tolkien’s ‘ring.’

Read more at Gladstone’s substack, The Third Place.

Do Characters Need to Change?

I’m always excited to see someone make a well-considered, articulate argument against the traditional “rules of writing.” Lincoln Michel does exactly that, when he suggests that maybe characters don’t need to change over the course of a story.

Can a good story contain static characters, and instead change their circumstances, change how the reader views them, or just make that static viewpoint incredibly compelling?