The Spectrum of Fiction


From How Stories Really Work:

Any work of fiction lies somewhere on this scale, which we can call the Spectrum of Fiction:

WRITER-ORIENTATED (Reader struggles to have empathy with text; reader feels excluded and alienated by text; reader rejects and dismisses text)

BETWEEN THE TWO (Reader only occasionally experiences text internally, but inconsistently; reader only occasionally feels direct, subjective ideas and emotions from text; reader experiences partial, perhaps temporary shift in viewpoint)

READER-ORIENTATED (Reader experiences text as though in his/her own head; reader gains direct, subjective ideas and emotions from text; reader is endowed with gains or a shift of viewpoint from the text)

The name of the game of this book is to move your fiction towards the reader-orientated part along this spectrum, so that each and every piece of fiction you construct is achieving powerful effects upon readers.

How can this be done? Partly by encouraging you to ‘unlearn what you have learned’, as Master Yoda says in The Empire Strikes Back.

Fiction is a fantastic, wonderful and magical machine which can take you just about anywhere and have you experience just about anything -but it’s a machine, nonetheless.

Like a machine, it has component parts, and like a machine, it only works if those components are all present and are assembled in the right sequence. Like a machine, fiction only works if it has the right fuel. Like a machine, fiction can break down unless all of these things are kept smoothly running by the writer.

Are we talking about things like words and grammar? They are a small part of this, less than 1%. We are talking about the principles that lie behind the ‘hero’s journey’ or the three act structure or climaxes and so forth. We are talking about concepts which, once you properly appreciate them, will change the way you look at stories forever. These things are not mystical; we’re talking about understanding the things that lie behind great works of fiction all over the world.

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