How To Write A Story

There is an open secret among authors that writing is a process of creation. That if a story is written in a way that takes, the story itself will come true. As if by magic.

For centuries writers have attempted to distil this formula. What makes a story feel more real than reality itself? Why do some stories mean so much, and others so little? What is the secret formula that makes the story come to life?

To answer this question, I must lead you on a journey into the unknown. We must go to the point where a story is no longer a story. We must discover the secret alliance between fiction and reality, and we must go beyond that veil.

My intention is to blur the lines between fiction and reality, between truth and metaphor. For the greatest stories, and this one is no exception, take the reader on a journey that will have them question everything they think they know, and after being led around in the wilderness, arrive finally at the very place where they began and know it for the first time.

Fiction or Philosophy?

Why am I talking about a philosophy, and what does this have to do with writing great stories?

It’s because fact and fiction are not fundamentally separate. As Iain McGilchrist portrayed in ‘The Master and His Emissary’, the left-hemisphere of the brain is for processing labels, rules and logic, i.e. non-fiction (the objective world), and the right-hemisphere processes stories and narrative (the subjective experience.) Interestingly the right-hemisphere is unable to do anything with the stories on its own, whilst the left-hemisphere’s labels, rules and logic have no application without some narrative to dissect, label and manipulate.

There is a word that doesn’t exist which captures the essence of something that is both fiction and non-fiction simultaneously. It is neither truly a story, nor is it a fact. It teaches something deeper, something which cannot be explained in any other way: how to get from point A to point B.

To get from Kathmandu to Everest is not the simple process of following the directions of Google Maps blindly. A traveler will inevitably come across obstacles and challenges which are not avoided simply by taking a left turn here and right turn there. Neither does every road lead to Everest. One cannot just walk in any direction, overcome obstacles and expect to arrive at one’s destination. Somewhere in between is the real path, a path that combines both the objective journey and the subjective journey. This is what human beings are really looking for.

It’s no coincidence that the records that have best stood the test of time are myths and fables. The most popular of these are continuously reused as the plot-lines for popular novels and movies. Why do they stand the test of time? It’s because they are neither purely fiction nor non-fiction, but some marriage of the two.

Yet it is not good enough to simply combine some truths with some narrative. There is an art to doing it so it takes.

While the general public are so far still happy to buy different guises of the same myths over and over, there are in fact infinite different such stories that can be told. Yet we reuse the same dozen or so stories over and over again. These stories are still relevant today, but their focus is not on the same issues that are the major issues faced by human beings in the 21st century. New, more sophisticated fables can be created.

Core Philosophy Metaphysics

Telling a story is like designing an entire reality. How would one expect to be able to create a new reality without first understanding this one? Hence an introduction the fundamentals of mystical philosophy is prerequisite for one who is attempting to imagine new realms.

In this chapter I’m presenting a crash-course in mystical philosophy. To be clear I am not presenting truth. What most people consider truth is just a series of rules that result in reliable predictions (‘the Earth goes around the sun’) or are simply restating previously defined labels (‘a dog is a type of mammal’). Instead, it is something akin to a very fancy excuse that will always get you out of trouble, not because it is strictly true, but because no one can poke holes in it.

What do I mean by this? Let’s say you are late for work. Your boss says “Jimbo, why are you late for work!?” This is a challenge. You now have options. But what if you had a master-excuse… an excuse to rule all excuses? It would have to be something that is always valid under every circumstance.

The aim is to have a model, or framework, that is to say a way of looking at things, which is broad enough to include all other beliefs within it. To do this it must unite opposing belief systems under a new umbrella which explains both sides away as different parts of the same thing. Whatever it encounters, it defines as a smaller part of itself, and therefore cannot be defeated.

Any concept stated exists in contrast to that which it is not. Light is only known relative to darkness, and heat relative to cold. If I speak of a ‘table’ then I’m implying that there is also something that isn’t a table, else I wouldn’t know where the table begins and ends. Likewise if I speak of ‘truth’ I’m implying that I can see something that isn’t true in contrast to it, else I wouldn’t be able to define true — an odd belief because it means to speak of truth one must have seen untruth, yet surely if it can be experienced then it is in some way true?

To defeat this concept the umbrella model must be the same as not-itself. It is then stable, and cannot be logically disproven. It then allows any singular concept to be split into two opposing forces, and any opposing forces to be reunited into one, at the will of the story-teller.

The model is actually unsayable, but it is functional. That sounds elusive, but don’t let it put you off: most functional things aren’t sayable (how to ride a bike), and most sayable things aren’t functional (‘you just jump on and pedal!’) So while I cannot give an explanation of it, I can demonstrate how it is applied, and with a bit of practice, you will get it. Here it is applied to some core-belief-level questions:

Is the universe absolute or relative? An absolute universe is one in which there is a single point of reference to which all else in compared: a judge (i.e. God). Only by comparison to this judge can something be said to be any particular way. The judge on being compared to itself would then be invisible because the judge is the same as the judge. Since truth itself is known by contrast to the judge, it cancels itself out. A universe with a judge is then a universe without a judge, which is a relative universe. An absolute universe and a relative universe are the same thing. An alternative interpretation is that there can be a judge, but only if the judge has a higher judge. So then there is either no God, or there are infinite Gods, which turn out to be identical realities in practice.

Everything and nothing are the same thing. Consider a universe with only 3 objects, all moving parallel to one another. If you ask any of the objects whether they are moving they will answer ‘no’ because all see the others static relative to themselves. Likewise, if everything were blue, there would be no color blue. If you put on blue-tinted glasses, once your eyes adjust, blue appears as grey. If everything is some way, then nothing is that way. In a relative universe: existence is contrast. This is a concept that can be run with to make great stories. For example, to win is to lose, and to lose is to win. If you give up something, you get it, and if you get it, you give it up. It’s true practically too: if you obtained all of the money in the world, everyone would start using a different currency, and so you’d find yourself with no money at all.

Free will or determinism? Free will is the free will to do what you want. But do you control what you want? And if you say you do, do you control why you want it? Or why you wanted to want it? And do you not always choose to do what you want to do? Is it even possible to choose to do what you don’t want? If you chose to do not what you want, are you not doing it for another reason that is contextually more what you want, such as proving a point? Free will and determinism are the same thing in disguise; you can argue either way but the observable reality is identical… in which case, what are you actually arguing about?

Where did the universe come from? The question itself implies that a universe must come from somewhere else, whilst simultaneous defining the universe as all that is. That’s language-created paradox, not a real problem. If you accepted that there were something outside the universe then the universe obviously came from there, and if you didn’t then your question is illogical. It’s analogous to saying ‘open the door without opening the door’ or ‘find me a husband without a wife’, you can say the words but it’s a self-defeating argument.

Solipsism or not Solipsism. Solipsism is the belief that only you exist and everyone else is a character in your dream. Yet in a dream you can have a conversation with a dream character, and you don’t know what they will do or say… in this case you would say your consciousness is playing both you and them simultaneously without the awareness of you, the main character. Your consciousness splits into both characters; you are lending your consciousness to them. The consciousness of the dream character is acting independently to your own. Following this logic, even if you were the only being alive, everyone else would be alive too, via you… the observable realities being identical, and so the two concepts are the same thing in disguise.

The important parts of this to take away are:

Everything is nothing. Losing is winning (e.g. to give something up is to get it.) War is peace (e.g. it keeps the balance.) Good is evil (e.g. being good is just the winning strategy.) Heaven is hell (e.g. without struggle there’s no meaning.) Life is death (e.g. aging, or this is purgatory.)

Everything is the same thing. Everything is belief. Everything is magic. Everything is a lie. Everything is true. Everything is backwards. Everything is evil. Everything is about power. Everything is about love. Everything is a war between two opposing forces. Everything is an illusion. Everything is happening right now.

Any concept only exists relative to its opposing force. Every time two opposing forces merge, there is new opposition, which is the opposite of the newly combined force. If the forces of light and darkness merge together, they now fight the extremes of light and darkness. This allows for mind-fuck reframing, such as the transition from light as good and darkness as evil, to balance is good and extremes are evil.

Forwards is backwards. Or: effect is cause. This is an important concept for mythology-style stories. When anything changes you should keep in mind that it could be seen as an inevitable evolution, or it could be presented as cause and effect, either way around. Do you get the treasure because you kill the dragon, or do you face a dragon if you look for treasure? For example, there is the common theme that a mutual enemy unites two warring tribes… usually the third party is seen as the cause of the merger, but in considering the timeline and sequence of events within the plot, remember that this is just one way of looking at it — it’s equally valid to say the inevitable merger caused the appearance of the third-party, and knowing that helps to ensure the journey to that point makes sense for the right-hemisphere’s subconscious acceptance of the story’s validity.

All stories are the same story. The observable reality is reality, but there are an infinite number of ways to describe it. For example, do I have two red squares next to each other or one red rectangle? Don’t be fooled — the words are different but the observable reality is the same! The job of a story-teller is to provide another perspective on the thing that is existence. If I am far from home and long to return, the narrative could be the journey over foreign lands and through treacherous woods back to from whence I came, or I could fall in love and win the heart of a local maiden, making a new home right where I am… these are the same story — only the words are different.

All stories are: I am lacking something, which is to want it (the word ‘want’ means to be ‘in want’, i.e. not have), I try and fail to get it, and in not getting it, I get it (lose to win.) The objective reality, i.e. the world (which includes other people), is the thing that I am struggling against, and hence is both the thing that took the original resource from me, and from where it will come in the end. On receiving the prize, the objective reality changes, I’m then lacking something else and can do it again for a twist or sequel. There is then an infinite number of ways to spin this, but it is of course best to pick a desire/prize that is relevant to the audience.

The Objective World

All stories are set within an objective world, this is the background to the narrative.

The trick is to take any concept and run with it relentlessly: everything is one way. As long as you relentlessly apply that concept to everything, then the logic will be sound. The reader or viewer will be unable to disprove it except by straight rejection, and if they get caught up in the story they will see it applying to the real world around them. Very importantly it also allows the world to be metaphorical for any level of reality. Whether it’s a battle being fought on Earth, in heaven, between a couple, between species, or internally in our subconscious, it will always be analogous.

The concept that the story is analogous on every level of reality is fundamentally the thing that makes a myth a myth. In Kabbalist philosophy this is called ‘the language of branches’. It means the lessons learned in the story apply to everyone, no matter what level they are operating on. This only works if the objective world is fully consistent with itself; it is all one way.

Everything is one way can also be applied as everything is different, or everything is a battle between two opposing forces. Why two opposing forces? It doesn’t have to be two, but the concept of there always being two comes from the subjective perspective that if there were three sides then I either have an ally or all enemies. If I have an ally then it’s us vs. them (two opposing forces) and if I have two enemies then it’s me vs. everyone (two opposing forces.)

Because the world is fully consistent, any change in the world changes the entire world dramatically. A world change is always in response to something that happens in the plot, which means it’s usually going to be the merger of the two opposing forces into one, or one split into two. A merger simultaneously introduces a new them to the new us. A thing is only known in contrast to that which is not it, so any expansion of the in-group automatically manifests a new out-group.

For example, you can start with everything being great in a naïve sense, then introduce the realization that everything is a war between heaven (everyone shares) and hell (every man for themselves in a massive competition), and then mid-way merge these into ‘heaven is playing the hell game, the angels are just the winners’, so everything is hell, and then flip this to ‘hell is a game within heaven in which anything goes, but you can step out of it at any time and all is forgiven’, so everything is heaven.

Another example: start with science vs. religion, and then merge these into: everything is a belief system fighting for dominance and the truth is dictated by whichever belief system is currently winning.

Flipping the world-view like this allows you to put multiple lose-to-win plot-lines into one story, which makes it that much more epic. In a typical story the hero loses something, strives to gain it back in a to-and-fro fashion, finally loses completely, and then on accepting their loss makes a final leap of faith and wins. At the winning point the objective world evolves to the next level, and you can then have them go through it all over again. The reader will not be expecting it as they’ve accepted the current world view and are anticipating the characters eventual success within this world, so when the character breaks through into the next level this adds a whole new dimension. They’ve changed the world.

Generally the end of the story is a merger between two opposing forces, i.e. the realization of another frame of reference in which the two are one. This simultaneously introduces a new opposition, although this is not something that requires definition if the story should be seen as having come to completion.

The Subjective Plot

The subjective part of the story is the plot, following the main character.

Most (potentially all depending on how far you stretch the metaphor) plot structures are variants on the concept of lose to win. This is because lose to win is the ultimate game. In a universe in which everything and nothing are the same thing, losing is the same as winning.

I like to use the analogy of games that trump games to explain this concept in a more practical (less philosophical) manner. Let’s start with the premise that everything is a game and everyone is trying to win. You can challenge anyone to any game. Let’s say I challenge you to a game of chess. If you accept then the winner of chess wins as we both accepted that game. But if you punch me instead then you win because fighting is a higher level of game than chess. We all understand this innately; if you tried to punch me and I responded by bringing out a chess board nobody would say that I won. The purpose of the games is that we agree on some form of competition and the loser accepts their loss, but you can always play a higher level game if you dare. If I try to fistfight and you pull out a gun: again you win. The final game that is the game to rule all games is… chicken, or: the one who loses wins. And this is why you get things by losing them, and it is why we all love the Hero’s Journey, because that is precisely what the hero is doing. This is also a leap of faith, its saying: ‘OK, pull the trigger.’

What the character loses must be the same thing that they eventually gain. Plotlines like Hero’s Journey make sense when considered backwards, as many things do. At the end of the story, the hero receives something; this is the theme of the story, the prize resource. In the same way that electricity always travels the most efficient route to its destination, the plotline is the most efficient route to the prize. So the first thing to consider is the ending and then the plot is the most efficient path to get there, which is to fully lose that resource.

Remember that to want something is to be in want, i.e. to lack. The character feels that something is lacking, because it is lacking. Yet, to know that one is lacking something means that one must have had it previously, and remember it. A want is a desire, so the motivation of the character is always to get back that which they have lost. In the end they get back more than they had originally.

For example: if the prize of the story is freedom, then the main character loses specifically ‘freedom’ throughout the story, and of course they must start with freedom in order to lose it in the first place. From this you can see where the Hero’s Journey comes from, it’s just the process of gaining something by losing it. This could then be flipped to ‘freedom is power’ because the freedom to do what you want is the power to do what you want, and hence the little farmboy, after defeating the dragon, is naturally crowned king (David and Goliath).

Relationship Between Objective World & Subjective Plot

The subjective plot and the objective world have a relationship like the inside and outside of a box. If the inside has eight corners, then the outside also has eight corners, but all the angles are opposite.

The character is not just in the world, casually. The world is the other side of the plot, and the plot the other side of the world. They fit together. The objective world is the belief system of the character. And you can also say that the other way around: the character believes the world they are in. If the world changes, the character changes; and if the character changes, the world changes.

You can frame this relationship in many different ways. You could consider that the external world is the subconscious and feelings of the character, manifest. If the character feels lost, then they are lost in the external world too. And if they are lost in the external world, then they must feel lost. Whatever the character is feeling is portrayed by what is happening in the world. If you don’t have the world reflect this then the reader is not with the character, the reader is still themselves watching someone else.

I’m going to give four analogies for how this can be seen. All are describing the same concept using different words. As long as everything that happens in the story makes sense against all four of these models, then it is valid.

1. Clearly, if the world is just a reflection of how the character feels, then the world is the character. Hence whatever they do is done to them. If they take, they’re taking from themselves. If they give, they get. The more they try to get the prize, the more they lose it. If they give it up, they get it.

2. The entire plotline can be considered a single battle between the character and a Cartesian Demon, who has stolen from them the prize resource. A Cartesian Demon is an evil spirit that can manipulate the environment of the victim, to endlessly trip them up whilst hiding its own existence as a conscious entity. So you have the character vs. the world, and the world acts as if it’s controlled by another conscious entity. Why consider it like this? Because all sub-battles or challenges then all fit together. The character does not defeat an ogre, and then later a dragon, as if these are two separate events. The dragon is the counter-attack of Cartesian Demon, in response to the defeat of the ogre.

3. The character has entered into a labyrinth, and the story is that of their experience within the labyrinth. A labyrinth is an adaptive defensive structure, a series of illusions that have been built to surround and protect a prize. Everything in a labyrinth is an illusion. A player enters a labyrinth to get a prize and in truth they could just take it. To stop this from happening the labyrinth will do anything to distract the player, and so it throws up illusions around the player in hope that the player will eventually go away. Any illusion that distracts the player continues until the player stops buying it. For example, an ogre attacks the player, the player defeats the ogre… this is what the labyrinth wanted. Now the labyrinth knows that the player is distracted by fighting monsters, so it just throws up a larger monster every time. The labyrinth will always do whatever is the minimum effort to keep the player distracted, which results in a series of greater and greater challenges as the player moves through them. The labyrinth is not trying to make the character lose, it’s trying to keep the character occupied. If the character couldn’t win, they would lose interest, so they have to keep winning. Eventually though, because each monster has to be more powerful than the last to keep the player interested, one of them inevitably defeats the player. At this point the player will no longer fight monsters, so another illusion must be manifest. Perhaps a damsel in distress who needs saving, for example. She never can be saved though as the aim is to occupy the player. Eventually the player gives up on saving her, which of course then results in her being won (to lose is to win.) Finally, when the player has been forced to give up on everything that they ever wanted, they refuse to play anymore, refuse to be distracted. At that moment they see through the illusions of the labyrinth (it was their energy in playing that gives the labyrinth its power), and realize that the prize was right there in front of them the whole time.

The labyrinth model makes it clear that trials and challenges can be anything as long as the player buys it, as long as it stops the player from moving forwards. They don’t have to be threats, they can also be bribes to seduce the player with power, money, status etc. away from following their dream. The bribes are also overcome in the same way, by no longer allowing oneself to be distracted, or by the realization that the player does not want that after all, which frees them from the trap.

Either the labyrinth or the Cartesian Demon can also be seen as: The Devil. You can also view The Devil, in this context, as the ‘gamemaster’, i.e. the person in a role-playing game who creates the story and plays on the non-player characters.

4. Alternatively you could say that the labyrinth is trying to give the character what they want, it just doesn’t know what they want. Then labyrinth can then be considered good, forever freely giving whatever the character wants, but the character wants the wrong thing. The illusions manifest by the labyrinth are gifts in an attempt to keep the character happy. If the character accepts that gift, then the labyrinth assumes that this must be what the character wants, and so gives more of the same until the character stops accepting it. Only when the character stops choosing to fight monsters, and stops choosing to follow fame and fortune and the rescuing of damsels, do they finally get around to asking for what they actually wanted in the first place. Alternatively, you could say that the character wanted the challenges more than it wanted the prize, until that’s no longer true. So they did always get what they wanted.

Character & World Building

Everything learned about the character should be learned through the events of the story. It’s no good saying “Johnny was a good boy”. The reader should learn about the character through their actions and reactions, and through the actions of the world, including: other characters and natural events.

Events also make bonds. At the beginning of the story you want to main character to narrowly escape through some ordeal. The reader will feel that they have gone through the ordeal with the character and will from this bond with the character. This is important because you need the reader to bond with the character in order to empathize with them, which then brings the reader into the story. Once bonded, the reader now cares what happens to the character, and with empathy the reader will feel the feelings of the character.

The world the character is walking around within is their own subconscious. The entire story is the main character, so the idea of specific character building is moot. The whole story is a description of the main character and their personal development. If the character is evil, then the world as evil; if the character is good, the world as good. If the character feels lost then they are lost. If the character is fighting against a tyrannical dictator then naturally this symbolizes that the character has gotten themselves trapped within overly zealous rules for how they believe they should act in the world, and their fight against the dictator symbolizes their fight to free themselves from the tyranny of their own inflexible belief system. None of this should be outright stated, the story is the statement.

The main character never really knows themselves, and they don’t need to. Hence the reader doesn’t need to either; you don’t need to explain the character. Why? Because everything that happens is them, and everything that they are happens. They can never not know themselves because they are living in their own self, although they might not know that they know. Same goes for the reader; if the story follows this structure the reader understands the character even if they don’t know that they understand them. The reader does not need to know that they understand, they only need to understand. Additionally, if the main character were to be confused about their own nature then this would result in a story in which the prize resource is clarity, opposed by the feeling of confusion, and the world would be presented as a confused world to symbolize the character’s confused mind. So unless the world is confused, the character cannot be confused, and if the character isn’t confused then there is nothing for the reader to be confused about.

Unless directly relevant to the plot, the character should not question their feelings, but just act on them. Why? Because if the outer-world is the inner-world then questioning a feeling is the same thing as questioning something in the world. Further, to question something is to challenge it, so an internal question is identical to an external challenge or trial. If the character has a question, then they immediately have a challenge. If the character has a desire, then they immediately have a challenge.

Likewise the depth of the mind of the character is symbolized by the size of the world. If the character is very intelligent and open minded then no doubt they exist within a large world of many countries. If the character is a simpleton then there should be no mention of anything outside of what the character bumps into. If the world is very detailed, the character notices this detail, and if the character is not one to care for detail then don’t bother trying to build a detailed world.

A quick note about quirks. Any presented quirk must fit into the belief system of the character. If the character is always on time then clearly they consider being on time as high priority, which is a moral judgement. People who are not on time are then bad people. If the main character is always on time, then everything good in the world is on time, and everything bad in the world is late.

Morality, skill, talent, etc. are all relative to the main character. All dualities are relative to the observer: ‘hot’ is anything hotter than the ambient temperature, and ‘cold’ anything colder. Hence all characters in the story are relative to the main character. A wise character is a character that the main character believes to be wiser than themselves. A good character is a character the main character perceives as more good than themselves. As the main character changes, then their perception of the other characters changes simultaneously.

All attributes of dualities are balanced, i.e. if the world is not either fully good or fully evil, then the total good and evil within the world has to be equal. However, any belief that the main character has about themselves creates a distortion in the way in which that attribute is distributed between other characters. If the character is neutral about something, for example, unconcerned with their intelligence, then some characters they meet will be smarter and some dumber, roughly 50/50, although you don’t need to write anything about that since the character isn’t focusing on it. However, if the character believes themselves to be highly intelligent then this skews the statistics. Now most of the characters met will be dumb, but eventually the character will meet one who is much more intelligent than themselves, balancing out all the dumb people. Further, since a highly intelligent character is paying attention to intelligence, they notice the intelligence of everyone they meet, which means you now write about the intelligence of everyone, which is symbolized by their appearance (smart people look smart, dumb people look dumb.)

And what if there is one way that the world is? It’s only possible to see this as before-and-after contrast after a world-view shift. For example, if the character is wholly good at the beginning of the story then the world will also be wholly good, which means that the character won’t notice any concept of good or evil, which means that you can’t comment on it. This is why one of the first things that happens is that the character loses something, as that then creates the contrast which allows for the world to be seen as lacking that resource.

To summarize: at any point in time, the world is symbolic for the character, and vice-versa. If the character needs to learn something new, then they need to go somewhere new. If the character is in prison, then their mind is restricted.

This might all seem daunting to keep up with, but only if you haphazardly assign attributes, skills, quirks, talents, beliefs, etc. to the main character! If you start a story with ‘Johnny was a good boy’ then you’ve already defined the majority of ‘boys’ as ‘bad’ — that better be relevant to the plot, and you better stick to it. If you tell the reader that and then don’t follow through then you’ve just created a contradiction in your story and the reader is not going to accept the narrative. Better to let the character develop their own personality.

Tying Together The Overall Structure

The main plot points of the story are the shifts of perspective, each shift changing the world of the story as seen by the character. Since there must be at least one shift of perspective to make a story, then there must be at least two perspectives (before and after.) The first perspective is the world that the character believes when the story begins, and the last is where we leave the character at the end of the story. In between there may be any number of additional shifts, these are the twists and turns. In most stories there is one shift at the beginning (the loss) and another at the end (the return), giving 3 world-views.

Each shift needs a catalyst. The character cannot just decide that they have had enough, and take a different path; there must be a reason why, and this reason must be an event of some form. Remember that the world of the story is the subconscious of the character, so any decision made by the character must be proceeded by an event that symbolizes it.

The catalyst is going to be a challenge which the character is unable to overcome, for example they are physically or mentally unable to overcome the challenge. This outcome is inevitable because trials and challenges faced by the character continue linearly, increasing in difficulty, as long as the character keeps playing the game, i.e. keeps attempting to overcome them. As long as the character successfully overcomes a challenge or trial, the next one will be of the same ilk, but bigger, and this continues, with each challenge being more and more difficult, until the character loses.

Challenges and trials have themes, the same theme will continue until the character loses. You can have only one theme in your story or you can have multiple themes. If you are having multiple themes then the theme of the challenges flips when the character finally loses to win. Usually the new theme is going to be the opposite of the previous one. Why? Because that’s how people act: if they veer too far to the left, the next mistake is going to be to veer too far to the right, only after veering to and fro for a while does one learn how to balance themselves in the middle and ride that bike forwards towards the destination.

The main two themes are: bribes & threats (carrot or stick.) So if the character has given up on defeating monsters (a threat) then typically, if you are not ending the story there, you’d give them a bribe to seduce them away from their goal. Bribes tend to be things like: money, fame, sex, love, power, or any alternative ‘prize resource’ that isn’t the one that the character actually needs. With a bribe the character can either get it or just be led on, but if they do get the bribe then they’ll next be offered even more of the same thing, several times more (‘congrats on becoming king of the hill, how about king of the world?’). If the character tries to ignore the bribe and go back to their original goal, then the Cartesian Demon will become desperate and they’ll be presented with more and more fantastical degrees of the same (‘king of kings!’) with progressively less effort required (‘just say the word!’).

The feeling is then one of building up and up and up, introducing more and more tension, until the character can no longer hold on, is overcome, and gives in, which results in a climax — in this case a world-shift. This is the same structure as musical composition, sexual intercourse, economics… you can see it pretty much everywhere. Music and sex particularly, are excellent models to compare the structure of your story with to ensure it has a natural feeling to it.

Finally, missing from our structure are a couple of important elements: the intro and the ending. The intro is the bait, or the seduction. You have to make the reader want to continue reading. You have to get them in the mood, seduce them with your story. The opening paragraph is a taste of what is to come, leaving them hungry and lustful for more. How to do this? Think of it as bait and hook, you’re going to offer them something but not actually give it to them; the promise is that they will get it if they keep reading. You’re going to flirt with them and then walk away, with the intention that they will follow.

Why should the reader read your story? Why should they pay attention, give their valuable time, to you? You are competing for the attention of the reader with, not only with thousands of other stories, but with all potential activities. They could be reading any other story, playing a game, chatting with friends, going to the gym, taking a nap, checking on social media. The reader honors you with their presence, they have chosen to read your story above all of the infinite activities this world has to offer, and you have seconds to prove to them that they made the right decision and should continue reading. Hence the opening paragraph is bait. It’s a tease. Your aim is to seduce the player, to lure them in. To make them hot and leave them wanting more.

Like a fractal pattern, each challenge is itself a microcosm of the whole story, and the story is itself one big challenge. The exact same structure applies to every aspect of the story.

Bait, intro, initial loss, sequence of challenges {win, win, win, win}, lose to win, climax, outro.

This whole structure applies to the whole story AND it applies to each sequence of challenges AND it applies to each individual challenge AND each individual battle.

The End.