Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Setting the Scene

It seems that so many things go into one small book: characters, conflicts, climax, themes, motifs, &c. All of these have their part in the grand scheme of the story; all are important and should not be left out. Setting is not least of these.

Setting could be defined in short as ‘where and among what surroundings the story takes place.’ That is a simple definition which encompasses most of what we wish to discuss to-day. However, there is much more to setting than a bird singing in a tree and a brook bubbling merrily.

Types of Setting

First of all, we might explain the various types of setting, how they are different, and how they work together. They can easily be divided into two categories:


This would be the setting for the entire story—something that is intrinsic to the story, forms the backdrop, and influences the plot.


Cultural Setting would be basically among what sort of people and culture the story is set. For example, Kim, a book about a boy who pretends to be a native in India, would be an entirely different story if it were set among ancient Egyptians. Rudyard Kipling, the author of Kim, takes advantage of his vast knowledge of Indian culture, tradition, and practices to make the story vivid and colourful.


Historical Setting is a time—either approximate, such as the 16th century, or precise, such as 12 Nov. 1822—when the story is set. This type of setting ties in with Cultural quite a bit, due to the fact that cultures change throughout history. Like cultural setting, historical setting influences the plot and characters hugely. To give an example, the movie Treasure Planet couldn’t possibly compete with Robert L. Stevenson’s exciting adventure story Treasure Island, set in the mid-1700s.


Religious Setting especially comes into play in stories of missionaries, martyrs, Bible smugglers, and the like, although it is quite as common in other sorts of books, such as Tolstoy’s and Hugo’s. It ties in with History and Culture quite a lot, as one can understand.


Social class affects the story greatly. In Lassie Come-Home, by Eric Knight, Joe Carraclough’s father is a poor man out of a job in a mining area in the north of England. This sets the stage for much of the ensuing adventure. Class setting can be very divers because in the same geographical setting there may be several different classes of people leading very different sorts of lives. A very wealthy landowner, for instance, probably has many servants—two very different social classes. At different periods in history also, each social class had its own form of what was acceptable and decorous.


This is another of the author’s particular favourites. Political Setting affects much of the action, conflict and goals of the story. Generally the setting is a nation (theoretical or not) with a government which is, shall we say, far-from-perfect. Socialism, Communism, and Totalitarianism are favourites. But sometimes a political setting could be political intrigue, two countries fighting each other, or some other such smaller setting.


In a story, there are more specific settings for each scene. Think about a play—the backdrop doesn’t stay the same throughout the whole show—at least, not in an exciting show. The scene setting may stay the same for several chapters of a story or it may change multiple times in just one chapter.


This is the immediate physical surroundings in the story. This is what most people probably think of when they think of setting—trees rustling like fountains, roads stretching across dark purple heaths like a mark of chalk on a slate, &c. Does the hero live in a flat on Baker’s Street with his doctor friend? Or does he live in a hamlet up on a mountain with his granddaughter?


Similar to Historical, Event Setting generally includes a narrower range of time and place. The event might be the Barnum Circus or the Turkish Wars; the day the Queen was crowned or the day Johnny fell downstairs and hurt his head. This could go under either the scene or the over-all heading.


This is an even more specific time frame than event or historical setting. This would be the day a particular part of the story took place, or even the exact time. It may surprise you, but the time setting plays a huge part in the story, whether it be the time of year or the time of day. (For example, every proper murder story is set at night.)


This requires a bit more explanation, but, quite simply, it would be weather. Owing to the fact that most stories encompass a few days at least, (a few weeks or even twenty years are common), weather is generally inconsistent, unless your hero happens to be on a tropical island where the sun always shines. However, Meteorological Setting can be used in different ways. In Bleak House, by Charles Dickens (although we have mentioned it before, it serves as a prime example), the fog repeatedly recurs throughout the story. In some books, a certain type of weather—like a thunderstorm—may symbolise a dark time for the hero, or a scary something about to happen, or an internal conflict.


This is, for myself, a very fun setting, and needs little explanation. Whether the hero is climbing over the Alps like the man in John Buchan’s Mr. Standfast, or wiggling his toes in the Mississippi, as might Twain’s Tom Sawyer, the geography has as much bearing on the other types of settings as it has on the story. Many stories, interestingly enough, are not set in specific countries at all. Some are set in fantasy worlds, some are set in theoretical countries, and some are simply set in ‘Ambiguity.’ That is, the author doesn’t care where his hero is, because it doesn’t matter to the story.

It appears, as we look at these types of settings, that they are closely intertwined: the historic era affects the culture, and is in turn affected by the geographical location. Even in the same general area there may be many little physical settings and time frames. That is the result of this wide, diverse world and all the strange, wonderful people who live in it. An author can have more than one type of setting in just one book—for example, an old man lives on a nice street in the capital city of a small nation under a Socialist government in 1950. That is physical, geographical, class, political, and historical setting all at once. If I were to say that the country is in the area of the Black Sea and the Ukraine, that the man was once a doorkeeper at a cathedral, and that he is hiding a wanted man, we see cultural, religious, and event setting. The only type I have failed to use here is meteorological, but one can always say ‘it rained.’

The Role of Setting

We may move on to uses of setting and what it does for the story. As mentioned before, setting greatly influences the plot, themes, characters, mood, and conflicts of a story. For instance, it can:

Decide what sort of people characters will be

This is of course only to a certain extent. Some modern philosophies will have you believe that a criminal is bad because he was made so by his environment and this is not true, for every man has freedom of choice and a responsibility for his own actions. However, what type of setting he is drawn from will still decide to a certain extent what sort of person he is—meaning, for example, that you wouldn’t generally find a Hindu Brahmin on a barge on the Rhine. In another sense, a person’s surroundings can also affect his personality and habits. Mr. Chips, from James Hilton’s fine book, is a kindly teacher from a boys’ school who likes boys and is a little shy of women.

Figure as a character itself

This is slightly more rare, but it does happen. In the Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Graham, the river is a friendly, safe place, almost like a real person. It has its own personality and its own language.

Decide what genre of story it will be

My previous allusion to Treasure Island serves well for this. A ship searching for treasure on the high seas and finding a mysterious island—what else could it be but an adventure story? (Especially when there are pirates aboard ship.)

Create mood

Setting is a key player in creating mood, especially with lots of good description. The types of settings that are generally used are physical, meteorological, class, and historical. I have always loved Alfred Noyes’s opening lines to his famous poem, “The Highwayman;” ‘The wind was a torrent of darkness, among the gusty trees, The moon was a ghostly galleon, tossed upon cloudy seas; The road was a ribbon of moonlight, over the purple moor, When the highway man came riding...’ (More on that later.)

Emphasize certain ideas

Having several different class settings in a story, for example, often serves to emphasize things the author considers problematic in his society. Or, he may use a certain historical or political setting to propound his own views of the world.

Instruct audience

In some stories, such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, or The Swiss Family Robinson, the setting serves as a classroom in which the author hopes to teach his audience something about geography, for instance, or how to sew clothes using porcupine quills.

Make it fun/ interesting

Everybody wants to enjoy a book. Of course we all have our preferences as to what we like to read about, whether it be cowboys in Montana or aliens on a different planet, but I think we can all enjoy variations. Who doesn’t like Dr. Seuss’s silly colourful worlds where any animal you can think up exists?

Create story

Sometimes setting plays a very important rôle in the plot, not only driving the hero to do something, but keeping him at it, and sometimes even causing trouble for him. I can think, for example, of the story about the hole in the dyke, where the boy must keep his finger in the hole or the town will be flooded by the sea that bounds it.

Set limits and boundaries

These limits could be physical, such as the walls of a prison or the sea around Crusoe’s island, or they could be class barriers or cultural demarcations: if you are a Hindu, you cannot marry or even eat with someone outside your caste.

Painting the Backdrop
 I find that I can’t write an article about setting without adding a note on description. Description, a great author’s tool, is as easy to overuse as it is to underuse. Description is hard for most of us, and requires more than just a good imagination. It requires a wide vocabulary of adjectives, the ability to be clear and concise, and a good knowledge of one’s audience.

A description must be colourful and creative, but not too much of either. You want to paint a picture in the reader’s mind, and that is hard to do if you use ‘creative’ words such as, ‘the verdigris chromisms fragmentalised the terrestrial orb with their fulgent viridity.’ You would not be painting a picture in anyone’s mind (unless it was a picture of an alien attack) but would be sending him running for the dictionary. Remember always to keep your audience in mind, especially in your use of vocabulary.

Too much description, especially of a place, is only useful to someone who wants to dramatise your work. Your reader may want to know that the study is brightly lit and cosy, but he won’t want to know that there is a desk left, a door centre, a table centre left, etc. Description, especially of things the author is fond of, can become far too long and boring. And, truthfully, the reader often likes picturing things for himself. (If the reader chooses to picture the cliffs of Dover as black, your calling them white won’t matter much. It is too much trouble for him to change his mental image.) This does not mean you should not describe! It simply means prudence is necessary.

Some people are very good at description, but it is not just because they use good adjectives. It is because they know their audience and use allusions that the audience understands. To say that the world smelt fresh and new (a common cliché) is one thing; to say that it smelt ‘of the dirt you dig up in the garden after it has rained, of wet leaves dripping dew &c’ is another. This takes practise! It is a writer’s duty and privilege to use words to create a new world—it’s just very hard to make your readers see, hear, smell, and feel exactly what you do.

I mentioned before the opening lines of Alfred Noyes’s poem "The Highwayman." I mention it here again because I think it is a perfect example of what I have been talking about concerning description. His choice of words is especially excellent—expressions like ‘torrent of darkness’ (exactly what a strong wind sounds like), ‘ghostly galleon’ and ‘ribbon of moonlight’. The reader is immediately on that dusty road with the thunder of the highwayman’s hooves pounding in his ears and the shine of the jewelled pistols glinting in the moonlight. And it only took Noyes three lines to do it.

Creating a setting is an opportunity for the author to create his own world for his story to happen in. Communicating that setting to his readers requires a good choice of elements and originality of description. Setting takes part in the story in the same way that characters do. It creates conflicts, illustrates themes, sways plot, and becomes an inseparable part of the book itself. It can be the only difference between a boring story and an exciting one. It can open a new world to the reader.


Monday, April 16, 2012

The Cross of Conflict

The screech of tyres, the clatter of breaking glass, the grating of raucous voices, all draw our attention to one of the basic elements of life: Conflict.
Although in Utopian visions conflict is eradicated, no story is complete without conflict. It develops characters, creates suspense and tension, and is the basic problem at the centre of every plot.
When a character comes into contact with something in the story that prevents him from doing something, being something, or simply continuing to exist, there is a conflict. Conflicts change the characters in the story by forcing them to analyse and often change their views, behaviour, or personality. Conflicts, however, are not always intense or even antagonistic. Many times they arise simply because two people cannot agree, or because one cannot understand the other.
There are usually many conflicts in a story between all of the different characters, but there is always one major conflict which is at the centre of the plot and which drives it on to the climax. This was called the agon by the ancient Greeks and is used in the word protagonist, which means ‘first fighter’. This central conflict must be between the protagonist and the antagonist...and the antagonist must start out stronger.
This last idea is the key to dramatic literature because a desperate battle against a greater foe creates excitement and suspense. If it were easy for the hero to triumph there would be no doubt about the conclusion and no suspense. There is also a strange fact about human nature and that is that we tend to sympathise with the under-dog—no matter who is coming out on top, we want the other chap to win.
For every conflict there must be a resolution. At the end of the story the audience must know that the conflict is over and that everyone is happy—or at least that the main character is. In modern literature the resolution of conflict does not tend to take as high a place and sometimes is not included at all in a story. The author chooses to leave his audience ‘hanging’, omitting to tell how the conflict will be resolved or even implying that it never will be. However artistic this approach may be it tends to make the story frustrating and depressing because the hero cannot defeat what he is fighting against.

The different types of conflicts can be divided into three basic groups: man vs. man, or an equal force; man vs. a greater and generally impersonal force; and man vs. himself.

Group 1:

Man vs. Man
This is the sort of conflict used most often in fiction. It is one person fighting against or crossing another. It is a highly personal conflict because although the two people may represent concepts or ideologies, they are embodied—that means that they are real people with personalities and goals. For instance, in Charles Dickens's novel, Nicholas Nickleby, the hero, Nicholas, fights against a hard and unfeeling world in general, which is embodied personally in his wicked uncle Ralph who is the villain of the story. By creating Ralph Nickleby and giving him the same vices and short-comings that Nicholas sees in the surrounding world, Dickens turns the ideas that Nicholas is struggling with into a man with human passions and human weaknesses. Nicholas and his uncle represent the two conflicting sides in the novel—themes such as youth, innocence, high ideals, and kindness to weaker parties on the one hand; and vice, greed, and opportunism on the other. That is the advantage of the man vs. man conflict—it is the clash of two, generally fairly equal, embodied and personal forces.
The most common man vs. man conflict is that between the protagonist and the antagonist, but another common one is man vs. woman. This last type of conflict does not necessarily involve antipathy: it simply portrays the traditional tension between the two sexes, which unfortunately will never really understand each other.
The man vs. man conflict is often used multiple times in a story as it is a versatile type. It is often used without malice between the characters—they simply have different goals or, in some instances, the same goal and cross each other. Sometimes their malice is of a passive sort. Man vs. man is really the most-used conflict of all and, if you doubt, try counting the number of times it is used in its many variants in any generic novel.

Group 2: Man vs. A Greater Force

Man vs. Physical Force
Sometimes an author does not want the conflict in his story to be personal. He pits his character against a force, but one that does not have feelings and emotions. The following list contains several examples of these types of forces.
· Man vs. Nature
· Man vs. State
· Man vs. Machine
· Man vs. Crime
· Man vs. Supernatural
These forces are impersonal but are still usually embodied in some form. For instance, Nature is often embodied in a physical feature such as a mountain, the sea, or the elements; a state can be embodied in its laws and police force; crime is usually embodied in burglars and murderers. With most of these conflicts the protagonist may change but the opposing force usually stays impassively the same. Likewise, the outcome—who comes out on top—probably is very important to the protagonist but is a matter of little concern to the second party.
In Ernest Hemingway’s story The Old Man and the Sea, for instance, Nature is embodied in the ocean, a giant marlin, and ravenous sharks. It is for the most part an impersonal conflict—the old man has much to either gain or lose by the outcome, but the sea, although it plays a predominate role, has nothing to gain or lose and even if it did would not really care.
With many man vs. physical force conflicts, barring the state, crime, and the supernatural, the antagonist is an amoral force, or a force that is neither good nor evil. The protagonist is usually forced into conflict with the force in order to gain something, to prove himself, or simply to survive, but there is no right or wrong involved. With forces such as the state or crime, there can be a moral battle involved, but not necessarily so—the protagonist may be battling crime simply because that is his job and not inevitably because he thinks crime is wrong.

Man vs. Idea
In some conflicts the antagonist is not embodied in any way but is simply a metaphysical entity. In every one of these types the relationship between protagonist and antagonist is impersonal.
· Man vs. ‘The World’
· Man vs. Society
· Man vs. Technology
· Man vs. a world view
These are definite forces that impel men but they are unseen and difficult to define. In Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel Cervantes, the protagonist, Don Quixote, fights a host of adversaries (most notably windmills) but what he is really fighting is the world in general because it functions according to a different system than his own—a system which he is unable to understand.
Man vs. idea conflicts usually involve either a good or an evil force, and it is usually on a moral ground that the protagonist comes to blows with it. Because of this moral element, the resolution of this type of conflict makes the story either optimistic or pessimistic. The protagonist, whether in the right or the wrong, claims the audience’s sympathy and his eventual triumph or defeat has the potential to either cheer or depress them.

Man vs. God/Fate
There is yet a third type of conflict that falls under this heading and although it could be included in either of the two subheadings already discussed, we chose to list it separately. There are two sides to this type.
· Man vs. Inevitable
· Man vs. his Creator
The first could be defined as free will vs. fate, an enigma that has puzzled minds from Shakespeare to Calvin. Can a man defy ‘what is meant to be’? Or is his future unalterably demarcated by fate from the beginning of time?
The second is a personal, usually conscious, struggle between a man and God. Here is yet another enigma—can a man frustrate the purposes of an omnipotent Being? Perhaps as a result, this is a rare conflict to find in literature, although a notable example of it is found in Francis Thompson’s poem, 'The Hound of Heaven.' Because this type of conflict takes place inside a man’s soul rather than in his surroundings, it is intensely personal—second only to the man vs. himself conflict in that respect.

Man caught in the middle
In the complicated web of conflicts, where the protagonist is at cross-purposes with multiple other characters and those characters in turn at odds with each other, the protagonist is sometimes caught between two opposing forces. This three-sided ‘man in the middle’ conflict often comes about through no fault of the protagonist’s and he is usually powerless to resolve it, although he must suffer under the consequences of the conflict. The conflict could be between forces far greater than the protagonist, such as two opposing sides in a war; or between two relatively small forces, such as two other characters in the story who each wants the protagonist to join him in berating the other.

Group 3:
Man vs. Himself
The expression, ‘I have to live with myself’ is almost pedantic in its overuse, but it is a legitimate truth and it comes directly from the man vs. himself conflict. Each one of us does have to live with himself and that is why we are so afraid of disappointing ourselves. We cling desperately to a sort of identity, fearing to discover that we are really somebody else. Perhaps it is the integral quality of this conflict that makes it so often-used in literature.
In almost every story the hero is different at the end from what he was at the beginning. He has learned something. This change usually happens in consequence of an inner conflict. The other conflicts in the story serve to show the protagonist what is lacking in his own character.
In a man vs. himself conflict the character must conquer something within himself that is controlling his actions—such as fear, bitterness, guilt, or an inferiority complex. It is basically the stronger side vs. the weaker side or, alternatively, the good side vs. the bad side of a man’s character.
Because in every man vs. himself conflict the struggle is an inner one, it is fought by the character himself and by him alone. No one else can fight it for him. It is also a conflict that he cannot escape or run away from.
In stories where the protagonist is in conflict with an amoral force he is usually in a battle—whether of survival or simply to prove himself—against some sort of weakness or defect in his character that results in an inability to accomplish something. This could be anything from fear of water to a physical handicap. The protagonist is forced to go beyond himself somehow and discover what kind of moral fibre he is really made of—how much ‘grit’ he possesses.
The character Andy Stevens from Alistair MacLean’s novel, The Guns of Navarone, battles with Fear—fear of heights, fear of the unknown, and most strongly the fear of failure. He tries various means of freeing himself from these fears but inevitably the conflict cannot be resolved until he has passed from his former self into a new person. This type of conflict essentially focuses inward on the protagonist and at the end of the story he usually knows more about himself and his limitations than he did at the beginning.
When the story involves a moral force, however, the battle within the protagonist goes far deeper. The man vs. himself conflict centred around a moral dilemma is illustrated powerfully in Fyodor Dostoevski’s novel, Crime and Punishment, in which a young student struggles to determine the answer to whether or not a thousand rights can absolve a single wrong. Throughout the story he is tortured by his uncertainty as to whether he is a high-principled sophist, or a ruthless murderer.
Instead of discovering the limits of his endurance, in this type of man vs. himself conflict the protagonist must discover what it is he really believes and how far he believes it. It is an introspective study but it also turns the protagonist’s focus outward on the world around him as he balances his ideas and beliefs with truth and reality. It is a battle that each one of us faces as we choose between what is true and what is false. It is essentially the protagonist’s discovery of who he really is.

In all these different ways conflicts serve as catalysts to set the events of the story moving and to keep them moving. Conflicts are an indispensable part of literature just as they are an integral part of life.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Plot and Plotting

Being by nature the sort of person who tends to bite off more than he can chew (and being spurred on by my irrepressible colleague), I have undertaken to write a very long series of articles treating every area of the plot of a story. The different subjects, such as theme, moral tone, conflict, etc., that I have thus classed as belonging to a plot could in theory stand on their own as separate subjects relating to many different parts of a story. I instead chose to show their effect on the course of a plot.
It is true that a story, whether in the form of a novel, short story, ballad, or play, is a complex organism, in which every part connects to and affects every other part. Therefore, the characters are greatly influenced by the setting; the conflicts have a great bearing on the mood; and so on. However, I believe that the most central part of a story and the one thing that affects all else is the plot of the piece. It is through the story, apart from its characters, themes, conflicts, etc. that an author conveys to his audience the message he wishes to communicate.
Therefore, somewhat tardily, I come to treat the greatest part of a story. I have said before that the characters are the most important element of any story, and in making the above statement I do not deviate from that conviction in the slightest. However, the things that happen to the characters are the story and they are an intrinsic part of the characters themselves. Each character’s story belongs to him in a way that nothing else can because he not only has the opportunity to make the most out of his own story--it has the opportunity of making the most out of him.
I want to say before I begin that it would take a book (and I mean to write it one of these days) to discuss everything there is to say on the subject of plot, or any other part of fictional narrative, for that matter. Though I may attempt, I do not expect to achieve an exhaustive study on the theme. I hope instead to analyse and categorise some of the elements of plot and relate my own experiences of it. If I offer some useful information to the reader, I shall be satisfied in my endeavour.

Plot Architecture
I begin at the basic level, which is the structure of the plot. Every plot has five basic components: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement, which will all be discussed in their turn. The main thing to consider when constructing the plot of a story is that it must build up to the climax—the emotional high point of the story. Each event must impel the story towards a successful resolution.
A story is a complete thought, not a collection of similar thoughts. Every single part of it builds on the preceding parts and is in turn built upon. If one part of your story is weak therefore, the whole structure of the story will be shaky.

In the exposition, the author introduces three main things to the audience: the Setting, the Characters, and the main Problem of the story.
The Setting is where the story takes place, in what era, and in what social background. There is much to be said about setting and I will save it for another article.
The Characters introduced in the beginning will include the main character and other important characters. You may continue to introduce characters as the story progresses, but the main character—the protagonist—should appear early enough in the story so that you have time to develop him properly.
The main Problem is the thing in the story that bothers the protagonist—what he is ‘up against’. Every story must have a main problem to drive the plot forward. It might be that the protagonist’s evil uncle doesn’t want him to get the inheritance, such as in Kidnapped. Or, perhaps the protagonist must foil the Confederates’ dastardly plan, as in Rifles for Watie. Or, perhaps he must find a way to support an expensive hobby, such as in Mr. Popper’s Penguins.
The exposition may take up quite a few chapters—sometimes the whole first half of a book—especially if the main character or problem is not introduced at the outset. Sometimes the author includes a back story, which is a narrative of events that have occurred before the story started, and this is often included in the exposition as well.
It is very important as an author to capture the attention of your audience in the very beginning of your story—certainly in the first chapter and if possible in the opening lines. You want your audience to be drawn into the story and begin to care about what happens to the characters in it.

Rising Action:
After the audience discovers what the main problem is, they are interested in finding out how it is going to be solved. You as the author will not tell them right away—you will instead begin to develop the story. There are several ways to do this.
You will need to develop your characters, telling what sort of people they are, what challenges they face, and what sort of roles they will play in the story. Some of the characters will begin to change as the story goes on and they learn from their experiences. You may want to introduce new characters as the story progresses.
You may wish to present other minor problems besides the main one. These are called subplots and they make the story more interesting, but they also mean you will need more solutions at the end.
As you go, the tension must build. It will keep on building until the climax when it is finally resolved. To create tension you can use several different elements, such as suspense or emotion (I will discuss these elements next). Conflicts are good catalysts for plot and character development; they create problems for the characters to solve and cause the characters to grow. As the subject is very broad, conflicts will be discussed in a separate article.
To build tension you must continue to make the events of the story more and more exciting, suspenseful, or emotional, as the case may be. The audience may start the story in a state of relaxed indifference but they must end it with a definite anxiety about how things are going to turn out. You must draw them bodily into the stream of events.

This is the moment of greatest tension—the ‘point of no return’. After the climax the conclusion is decided; the audience may not know what the conclusion will be, but they know that no further events can change it. The outcome is set. The hero can no longer repeal his choice. It is final.
Throughout the story, if there are several minor problems, there will be several smaller climaxes, but as the author you should make sure that your audience can tell what the major climax of the story is.
Your main problem will be solved at this point. Again, the audience may not know how it is solved but they should sense that its outcome is decided. In my opinion, one of the most fatal defects of a story is a disappointing climax—usually because the author did not make it live up to his main problem. He may have simply not made it exciting enough, or he may have made the problem too easily solved, or made the wrong character solve it. As you develop the plot of the story, especially if you have a particularly interesting and difficult main problem, your audience will begin to expect a lot from the climax. This is the high point of the story—quite often it is the whole ‘point’ of the story—so you must take great care with it.
In some stories the resolution is purposefully anti-climactic (such as in The War of the Worlds or The Cop and the Anthem) in order to surprise the audience, but even an anticlimax can be exciting and satisfactory.
The climax is the most exciting part of the story, so it must have lots of tension. This is it: this is the high point: this is where you can unleash unstinted enthusiasm.

Falling Action:
The effects of the hero’s choice are played out. Events follow to a conclusion. The story tumbles down to its close without anyone being able to greatly influence it. There is still plenty of interest as the audience begins to see how the story will end and as minor mysteries are cleared up.
Minor problems should be resolved before the end of the story. There will probably be a falling of tension after the climax, so that the audience is not required to stay on the edge of their seats until the end—unless it is a detective story or murder mystery where the audience sometimes does not find out until the last sentence ‘who done it’.

The readers find out the end of the story. All mysteries are cleared up at last. This is the author’s last chance to get across to his audience what he has been trying to get across all the time through his story and to give them one final dose of it at the end (colloquially, ‘pack the punch’).
Some authors enjoy creating surprise endings and will wait until the very last chapter to reveal to the audience the truth of the story. Sometimes they reserve the surprise until the very last sentence, which takes ingenuity and creativity.
Ending a story is usually as difficult, if not more difficult, than beginning it. The end does not have to sound profound, but it should sound like the end. It is important to make sure you have solved all the problems and revealed all the mysteries in the story so that you don’t leave the audience with unanswered questions—unless you intend to write a sequel...
. . .

These are the five components of plot structure. Some like to visualise these components as making up a triangle or mountain peak, with the exposition at the base on one side, the rising action climbing up from there, the climax at the apex, the falling action coming down the further side, ending at the denouement at the bottom corner. Though helpful, this diagram does not accurately portray an average plot because the climax is almost always nearer the end than the beginning, sometimes not arriving until the final chapters.
This diagram is accurate, however, in the sense that it shows a rising of tension towards the climax and a falling of tension from there.
Building a plot is much like constructing a building. Each event is another block in the structure, adding new dimensions, problems, and possibilities to the story. As a story progresses, it grows larger like a living thing, spreading and branching out into new directions. The important thing for you as the author is to bring these loose ends neatly together at the close of the story.

One of the most important things to do is to keep the interest of your audience. There are many different elements that an author may use to catch and hold the audience’s attention.

Technically, this is all of the events that happen in the story, but I am going to use the word to refer to only the exciting and cataclysmic events. These could be anything from aeroplane crashes to flash floods to swordfights to atomic explosions to high-speed automobile chases. In adventure stories, spy thrillers, detective stories, war stories, and any stories written primarily with young boys in mind, action is the main tension-creator.

I list these together because although they are different they usually are used in conjunction. You can’t have much suspense, after all, without some mystery. Mystery is, of course, something curious and unexplained in the story that has strong significance and influences the course of the story. For instance, what is the hero’s father’s deep dark secret? Or, where did the pirates hide the map that tells where they buried the treasure? Why are there spooky sounds emanating from the castle dungeon at midnight? Who killed Mr. Body? There are plenty of possibilities for mystery and the only thing to be careful of is that you make the mystery truly mysterious and not easy for the audience to guess the solution to.
Suspense requires a little mystery, but the mystery does not always have to be deep and dark—it could simply be how will the hero save enough money to buy the piano he has wanted all his life? Or how is the heroine going to get to the ball so she can meet the prince? Even just a little suspense, such as in these examples, can keep your audience interested in what is going to happen.
Not every story needs intense mystery and suspense, but every story uses at least a little of both because the author is not going to reveal to his audience what he plans to do until the end of the story. That’s what makes the story interesting. In stories that don’t have a great deal of action mystery and suspense help create tension and excitement.

Here is an example of using emotion to make a story interesting:
An elderly woman in shabby garments stands outside of a hotel. A well-dressed gentleman comes out of the hotel, gives her a passing nod, and hurries on.
This brief incident would be very dull—unless the audience is told that the gentleman is the woman’s son whom she has not seen for many years. Suddenly the audience feels how excited the woman must be at seeing her son again and her inevitable disappointment when he does not recognise her. Suddenly the story becomes interesting.
In order to use emotion effectively, the author must first make the audience sympathise with his characters. Once this is accomplished, the audience will feel the same emotions that the protagonists in the story do. They will be happy when things turn out well for the hero, upset when the heroine jilts him, excited when the hero’s long-lost cousin shows up, and frightened when the villain appears on the scene with a pistol.
In stories that tend to be more on the boring side, such as love stories, emotion is very useful for keeping the audience interested. To create it, the author must get inside his characters, find out what they are feeling, and describe it to the audience in a way that makes them feel the same way.

Elements that provoke thought in a story would be philosophising, or talking about the author’s personal views of the world; moralising, or telling the audience how they ought to behave; and didacticism, or giving the audience a lesson in some subject, such as geography, science, etc. Nearly everyone has read books in which the authors do these things and most find the books boring, either because they do not agree with the author, they already know what he is telling them, or they simply do not want to take the trouble of thinking. For some people (the more mature), thought elements make the story more interesting. When deciding whether or not to put them in your story, determine whether they improve the story, and whether your intended audience will appreciate them.

It is easy to use humour in a story and a great deal of fun as well, however a necessary prerequisite is a good sense of humour. If your friends do not tend to enjoy your jokes, you may not want to try your hand at this sort of thing.
There are many ways of using humour. Satire is using humour to make fun of something or someone, usually in order to influence the audience against that thing or person. Humour is also useful to lighten up a story, particularly a sad or depressing one. It almost always relieves tension, so although it adds interest, don’t use too much of it when the tension is supposed to be building.

I put this one last because it isn’t used as often as the other types and because I personally do not care much for this method. It may certainly add interest to a story to make Boris Karloff chase the hero around a meat factory with a cleaver, but it does not necessarily make a better story. Still, horror can be used to good effect and it is excellent for creating tension. A good villain too, is sometimes all the better for being rather horrible.

Here I conclude a theme which I shall revisit in future articles. I have only covered the very basics of plot development and structure under the constrictions of time and space. This must, for the moment, suffice.