Writing Fiction: The Five S’s of a Sensible Storyline

Here, are five concepts which most writers already apply, but a better understanding keeps the author in control, whether choosing to go by the ‘rules’ or not. Once defined, these concepts better writing with their practical application, choosing to wield them powerfully or skip them, employing them as decisively as plot and point-of-view. Learning these five writing concepts helps explain choices made because an author will probably use them anyway, and then can acknowledges decisions made just as a painter explains his or her artwork.

The First S is Simile

Simile means similarity or likeness, and simile is used in active description. Authors get readers to ‘picture’ or think creatively during description with comparisons that include simile. Sometimes simile actually contains the word ‘like’ within the comparative phrase:

The mist hung about the foothills like wisps of a low-hanging cloud from the sky.

Simile can also be implied, however, without the word ‘like’:

The dude was dumb. He couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel.

Most often, simile is part of writing figuratively. Compared objects in a simile might have little to do with each other, but there is a concept that can be connected with the word like or implied relativity. Simile helps a writer make a point while implying a significant ‘something else’ to the reader, such as a feel for the location of the writing, or the character’s outlook on life – something that causes the reader to take note, not just of the description revealed through the comparison, but of the voice in which the description is revealed. Simile asks the reader to ‘associate’, grasp onto a feeling, feel sentiment, or clue in to the particular ‘something else’ which the writer is trying to convey.

Her hair from the back, when silhouetted in just the right light, appeared like an umbrella in a rain storm. Aquanet-ed, teased, and aquanet-ed again, it was practically water-proof, so little Nina stepped in as close as she could beside her mother, beneath its girth. Feeling the rain against her face let up, she took hold of her mother’s hand and looked straight up into the nest of big, protective hair. Backlit by the brightness of the clouds at that particular moment, Nina felt safe and warm. Later in life, Nina never went onto the set without a serious spraying of Aquanet – no matter the brands of hairspray her many stylists suggested. The inexpensive brand suited Nina, and the Houston humidity often faced in her news-caster’s line of duty, just fine.

Nina: Houston, newscaster, generations of big hair, and Aquanet. The simile – the comparison in little Nina’s mind: her mom’s hairspray and protection from the storm; the drift: superficial things matter to adult Nina for intrinsic reasons.

Sleep

‘Do Not Disturb’ the sleep of characters when they are not in the story. If and when ‘out’ characters reenter the story, think of it as though they have been sleeping and haven’t heard, experienced, manipulated, or plotted anything. This will keep ‘mind reading’ to a minimum. Characters who’ve been out can’t read the minds of those who were involved in the story at the time, and so they shouldn’t be expected to ‘know’ what has taken place.

Such as in the story of Sleeping Beauty, if the Prince were to awaken Sleeping Beauty and she was to say, “Alas! We are together and the witch is dead.” She is reading the Prince’s mind. She doesn’t know, yet, that the witch is dead. She has been sleeping. Murder investigating cop stories require strict code adherence to Do Not Disturb sleeping characters – out of the story – ruling, because it would blow the whole case.

Structure

The quality of the story’s structure is as foundational as the plot. In fact, a weakly plotted story can survive if the story has good bones and are significantly structured. The foundation is then still firm and on solid ground even if the plot is shaky. Structure is like an outline or a dot-to-dot picture. Readers are enabled to imagine evidence in the storyline moving characters from point A to point B pleasantly, without chaos because there is structure. The plot being what happens in the story can meander, if necessary, while the structure stands firm, carries, and holds the reader within the story. Some writers do this intentionally, and are very good at it. Authors who love to include lots of prose in their stories or minimalists who nearly starve a plotline often rely on structure like a foundation to a house or a pattern to a dress. Even a skeleton can look normal when missing a few ribs, as long as the major bones, and connections between the bones, exist.

Style

Style is the fun part, the whipped cream, nuts, and a cherry of the sundae for a writer, but it isn’t as easy to come to as one might think. Style manifests itself in the author’s career, rather than the author putting the style in his/her writing. This is also true of an artist’s style – it comes about over time, practice, small achievements, and successes. This doesn’t mean that style should be disregarded. The opposite is true. So, style, then, is one of the most high-maintenance S’s in the list.

It must be attended to, tried for, courted, only to be rejected by it, until finally, a style comes through. Each piece of writing has a tone. The tone can be pretentious, methodical, less-is-more, whimsical, optimistic, or absurd. The Series of Unfortunate Events is absurd. The town of Tedia’s Lousy Lane with its stream of unnerving fish as an intro, leads to a warning by the narrator that events in the book only get worse. The tone is absurdly downtrodden, and absurdly funny when compounded. Matter-of-fact is also a tone. A straight-forward story that ‘whams’ at the end, however, is often a style, especially after it manifests itself in several, or even many, stories or novels of the same author.

Writing Fiction

Style can be part of an author’s ‘press’, or likeability by readers; but, the style of each piece of work is a product of tone, simile, structure, and the complete storyline. Plot is not an element of the style of a written work, per se, but the type of plot is. The characters play out the plot each according to their ‘role’, but the author also has a role or style in depicting adherence to plot vs. relying on structure, weak plot, twists, turns, etc.

The writing style of a piece, or a series, and the author’s writing style over a career are separate pieces that when they come together as a whole make for a rewarding career and notable writing. This S is a constant, on-going, thought-provoking element and one which author’s often think they are ‘out-doing’. When told, “Well that’s your style,” it can sometimes be annoying if that style seems limiting to the creativity of the author. So going outside of one’s usual style is a worthy pursuit, partly because it won’t be accomplished, and partly because it will, causing the author to create works that are personal bests – or sometimes learned from mistakes – which still manage to fall within the confines of the author’s style. Remember, however, notability is good and can be a career maker.

Suspense

The created anticipation, level of excitement, foreboding, the amount of ‘the willies’ a story gives the reader are all parts of a story’s suspense an author creates by keeping some facts hidden. Revealing these facts at strategic moments and in imaginative ways sometimes depends on the genre of the writing, like a detective mystery, or a horror story with a certain formula of revealing the killer or demon at the end of the story. Sometimes these revelations are all up to the writer to capture the readers’ attentions, thrill readers, and create ‘Aha!’ moments in the storyline.

Historical fiction, historical romance, and even creative nonfiction writing has both the suspense of historical fact and the suspense the author creates by choosing when and how to reveal facts to the reader. Well defined characters improve a story’s element of suspense as reader’s can guess at hidden facts until they are revealed such as reading into a character’s darkside – withholding or punishing, for example. All good stories have suspense in them, how much or how little is part of the writing style and partly due to the story’s plotline.

These five S’s help a fiction writer sculpt with words the anything goes world of fiction into a sensible, believable, worthwhile novel, short story, or piece of prose. Harnessing the imagination as well as encouraging imaginative details, plot twists, and complicated conflict resolution are reaped when employing the five S’s as outlined above.