Layers of Story

The fiction piece I’m working on started with the confluence of a scene with a concept.  The scene was of a young woman gathering herbs in the forest, showing herself very much at home within the confines of an environment that may seem more appropriate to historical fantasy.  The concept was of alternate realities colliding.  The scene I imagined ends abruptly when a man who looks like her brother, but is not her brother cuts through the sky with a “magical” sword and snatches her into a world that is very much like her own, but very, very different.

What if a set of societies that have forsaken technology to make a better world for themselves far from earth discover that they must manipulate alternate realities in order to save the world for themselves?  What if those societies build a culture around maintaining the new equilibrium they’ve created?  What if the forsaking of technology means the true meaning of this culture is lost over generations?  What if one of their descendants decides to betray the vows he made, because he doesn’t understand his vows or the consequences of that betrayal?

I got that far in creating the short story turned novella.  But…it never felt like quite enough.  I had a whole, elaborate backstory for the world, but many of the characters were shallow, driven by archetypes instead of personal backstories.  This was totally unacceptable.

As I delved further into the backstories of my characters, giving them fleshy feelings, histories, desires each their own, I realized that as poignant and important as that first scene was this wouldn’t be her story.  She was too good, too pure, too straightforward, and too unconflicted to make a proper heroine.

Her brother and her friend make a far more interesting hero/heroine duo.

  1. They don’t like each other and they don’t trust each other, but they cannot succeed without each other.
  2. Their flaws make for natural conflict.
  3. Their motivations conflict with each other’s, meaning they have different end-games in mind.
  4. If they can overcome them they can discover that “opposites attract.”
  5. They have different, but complementary obstacles to overcome.

Yes, it’s going to make my short story turned novella into a full-fledged novel, thus longer and more complicated than I’d originally envisioned.  But it’s also going to make it more satisfying, more real, and more sustainable as a narrative.

So, I guess my point is that it’s worth delving into your characters, even when they make your job harder.  Sometime—oftentimes—the story you really want to tell can’t be seen from the surface, no matter how broad the surface seems.  The heart of the story is in its depth.

(For those of you who’ve already fallen in love with Hele, don’t worry!  She still plays a vital role and will still be one of the dominant characters.  There will be plenty of Hele to love!!!)

About Stephanie Allen Crist

Stephanie created and produces in answer to a call from God to use her experiences and gifts to help others. Stephanie is also the author of and two books that can be found on that site. Stephanie strives to share her love, faith, and talents in an inclusive manner to help others who know spiritual pain and who know the bitter taste of the dregs of despair.
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9 Responses to Layers of Story

  1. acflory says:

    This short story/novella/novel sounds very, very interesting! And I agree completely about the characters. Without them the story of the world[s] becomes a lovely travelogue. 🙂

    • Yes, a story can become a lovely travelogue without sufficient characterization, but that was’t my problem. With Hele as the heroine, the conflict was resolved too quickly because she simply wanted to do the right thing and she was the right person for the job, because she could read the instructions. That’s just way too easy to do the concept justice.

      Making her brother, Tham, the hero complicates things, because he just wants to save his sister–to hell with doing the right thing. Making her friend, Molyn, the heroine complicates things, because she knows why doing the right thing is right, and she actually has a good reason to know how to do it (whereas Hele could just read), so she understands the instructions. The problem for Molyn, however, is that to do the right thing, she has to undo what her father did–natural conflict.

      Besides, I decided to set a limit on how the technology works that wasn’t in the original story, which makes it significantly more dangerous and time-consuming for them to actually do it.

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