On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Bubbles in Your Story

When describing story structure, I didn’t find the structural element of a Bubble explicitly described in the literature, just a few peripheral references. I coined the term “Bubble” because I found the element so useful in my own analyses, and I liked the imagery of the name. Furthermore with such an unusual name I could define it exactly as I wanted to without danger of its being confused for something else :-)

What is a Bubble? I define it as the transitional element bridging an overall idea of how the story will flow with the individual scenes that will demonstrate this story. The Bubbles explain the main plot developments, or story ideas, that occur within the story.

For example, say that your main character has, as a big goal, to analyze a set of plans in act two so that he can use them to conquer the antagonist’s scheme. Getting the plans, as a goal, can be broken down into several smaller tasks:

*create a plan to break into Mr. X’s office
*implement the first part of infiltration into the office
*once alone in the office, overcome the defense mechanisms to acquire the plans
*escape from the office
*realize the plans are not complete so that more information is necessary

And so forth.

Each of these sub-goals is what I call a Bubble. Each Bubble may be completed in as few as one scene or as many as about six, although they usually don’t exceed three scenes.

I found during my analyses that each story took at least seven, up to ten, Bubbles in each quarter for a total Bubble count of 28 to 40. This count is critical. For example, in my own first novel A LEVER LONG ENOUGH, which I wrote before I had studied structure, a few people mentioned to me that the ending seemed abrupt. I couldn’t figure out why; after all, the last quarter took an appropriate amount of the word count, and it did all that an ending should do structurally.

Once I recognized Bubbles, though, I had my answer. The number of Bubbles in the other three quarters of Lever was appropriate, but my last quarter of the book only had FIVE Bubbles. Folks, Bubble count makes a difference.

The easiest way to identify a Bubble, beyond summarizing the theme of the grouping, is to study the physical location. WHEN THE LOCATION CHANGES, THE BUBBLE CHANGES. For example, in the previous example (a Mission Impossible type of story), (1) in a safe house our team might create a plan to break into Mr. X’s office. (2) Infiltration might occur in the lobby of an office building. (3) Another Bubble occurs right outside the actual office so that they can enter. (4) Inside the office our intrepid team overcomes booby traps. (Three separate problems is a good number for this). (5) Our team then must escape by jumping out the window and safely making a getaway while being chased. And so forth.

These Bubbles in this example are melodramatic and exaggerated, but accurately convey that something must always be HAPPENING in the real world. Yes, even if you’re writing a literary-type story. The Bubble count makes sure that you have enough “stuff” going on in the external story so that it doesn’t degrade into a boring thing.

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