Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Idea Story

**The ideas here come from Orson Scott Card in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. This is my take on them.**

More than any other, the Idea Story raises a single question. Here, however, it is not the reader that asks this question, it's the character.

Most mystery novels follow this structure. The main character, the detective, seeks to discover who killed the victim. The story begins with a murder and ends when the culprit is found.

Mysteries aren't the only one with this structure, however. A story in which a character is trying to uncover the downfall of a powerful civilisation is an idea story. 2001: A Space Odyssey is an idea story. The question raised is "Who buried this monolith and why is it emitting a radio signal?"

If White Echoes focused on discovering the conspiracy, it'd be an idea story. Rather than giving my main character the information and watch him act upon it, I would bring him to make these crucial discoveries. It would begin with the first hint of a second layer to the events and the climax would be the full understanding of what happened.

With an idea story, you want to introduce the mystery early on. An interesting character and an intriguing world will enhance your novel, but your main concern is this question raised and your structure will revolve around finding an answer. You cannot end the story without that answer.

Again, if any of you follow this structure, raise your hands! I rather enjoy learning more about your respective WIP. 


  1. This is interesting. The other day I thought my story was a milieu story, but now I'm thinking it's an idea story. Hmm, can it be both? I want it all.

  2. The main plot is supposed to be only one, though it's common enough to have strong elements of all of these. I mean... we all have something of a Character Story in our novels -- it's called character growth. More on that Monday, though!

    The trick is to look at where you begin. If you have a Milieu story, your novel shouldn't begin too far from a change of milieu. A character arriving home after years, or getting stranded in an unknown culture.

    The point is that if you promise your reader an idea story (who killed the victim?), then you can't have a climax that is about the detective's character change. Yes, the detective *can* change, but the climax should be the answer to that question.

    Hope that helps!

  3. Gotcha! I think mine is definitely an idea story then. A question gets raised in the first pages and the climax occurs when the main character discovers the answers and reacts. Love Ender's Game, but I haven't read any of OSC's writing advice books. I might have to check him out.

    Appreciate the series of posts.

  4. Definitely an idea story here! At least for Horses of Kings. The tigers story is more of a character story. About the MICE, I believe Characters and Point of View will interest you. I know you like exploring your characters' temperaments so you'll most likely like the focus on characters in this book.

    I'm not forgetting 'Sailing to Sarantium! You'll have it on Monday!