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:~: Tuesday, May 15, 2007 :~:

Story Funnel

A story is like a funnel--a backwards funnel, where the narrow end is the beginning and the ever-widening cone gives way to more and more information until the end where you can see the whole picture.

The beginning of the story starts with the seed--the core idea, the inciting incident, which, often, will appear again with substantial meaning in the full story circle. In this seed, we involve core characters with clear GMC. As the story funnel widens we bring in sub-plots and secondary characters; we develop setting and structure and theme. In the end, we bring the reader to the widest portion of the cone where they can see the entire structure and even look back and see how it was built.


I'm revising Safe In Enemy Arms...again...and many of my agent's comments revolved around this idea (at least, my perception of this idea). She spotted problems like:

  • Too many characters introduced too quickly -- the reader needs to identify with the core characters before they get confused by secondary or less important people.

  • Too many point of view changes -- the reader identifies with a particular character by remaining in their point of view long enough to get a grasp of their GMC, their challenges, their fears, their desires, their flaws. Too many povs and the reader ends up not fully connecting with any.

    (An aside to this comment -- a judge recently commented on one of my manuscripts that too many pov shifts slows the story down because shifting from one head to another always puts the breaks on the story while the reader adjusts. An interesting perspective, considering I often use pov shifts to speed up the pace, and a potentially powerful technique, which could be used many ways depending on how the writer employs it.)

  • Too much information too quickly. Let the plot points unfold naturally, don't force it.

  • Slow down, elaborate on the important elements of character -- what makes them unique, what makes them likeable, what makes us want to root for them.

I find myself struggling between two writing techniques -- fast pace and deep characters. The two are often polar opposites in technique. To keep the pace up, something's got to be going on -- movement, plans, secrets, something. To build deep character, time has to be spent on emotions, goals, struggles, qualities. And there in-lies the trick -- building character via plot OR allowing plot to divulge character.

So much easier said than done.

As a result, what I've found in my work, or rather what my agent has found and astutely pointed out, is that I have conditioned myself so thoroughly to keeping things moving quick, quick, quick that I often don't spend enough time on the key character traits the make my hero/heroine/villain "sticky" at the beginning. (Sticky meaning the reader wants to stick around because they have to know what happens to the h/h/v.) At the same time, I'm trying to keep the reader interested in my plot and the characters by leaking little bits of plot or personal information too soon, which causes the story to become confusing rather than intriguing.

Ah, the balance game. How do you play it?



Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Interesting visual, J. I'd never thought of it as a funnel before.

The pace/characterization issue is one I've been struggling with too. After my agent read my last proposal she said, "Up the tension and pace and cut out some of the head time." I won't know for sure if I accomplished that or not until she reads the revisions.

6:24 PM  
Blogger Laurie said...

I liked your visual too, Joan! Having read the first couple of chapters of SIEA's I didn't get far enough to see what your agent's suggesting. I did think your characters were strong and evocative. Good luck on the revisions and getting it out there!

It's nice that you have an agent who provides some input, too. Very valuable.

7:49 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

E, me either. It just occured to me when I started going through the revisions and taking out some of the erroneous info.

I don't think we can know -- we're too close.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...


Thanks! I'm not sure how I feel about my characters at the moment, I'm rather sick of them. :-)

That is a nice benefit of having an agent who is involved. But it's always tricky deciphering the deeper meaning and then deciding if you want to take the advice or if it changes your story or your voice too much.

In general, I figure she knows more about the industry than I do and take her advice. Especially if it's a minor point.

8:03 PM  
Blogger Edie said...

That's a bad question to ask me, because I have too many pov characters in my wip. And now I added another. LOL

I'm halfway through and I've started back at the beginning with my new main character. I hope to eliminate a couple pov characters as I revise--I'm just not sure which ones. :(

Good luck on your revisions!

7:12 AM  

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