Image Credit: Images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos. Some images directly from Pixabay.
The definition of framework is an essential supporting structure of a building, vehicle, or object. Well, that can be extended out to include stories. They need a structure to make them work.
A framework is what I use to help me start a story and to know how it is likely to end. All stories have a basic beginning, middle, and ending, but beyond that, how will I write the story? What approach do I want to take to it?
Will a story have a linear structure (A to B) or a circular one (A to B and back to A again)? This ties in with my post about Endings in Fiction last week as to how a writer decides they’re going to end their tale as that has a direct effect on how they’re going to write the whole of it.
Delivering On Expectations
We expect certain things from stories but the writer has various ways of delivering on these things. I’ve mentioned for twist in the tale stories I often write the ending first and then work backwards. But frameworks are more than this and I use a variety of different ones.
A framework helps me keep to the point but there is no reason why I have to stick to the same one each time. Indeed I prefer not to – mixing things up encourages me to keep on being creative. A framework means what I come up with hasn’t gone off at unhelpful tangents which do not move the story along and which would only switch a reader off because they would rightly see they’re doing nothing for the story/character I’ve presented to them.
A framework is my road map for getting that first draft done. Setting limits fuels creativity rather than limits it because you are responding to the challenge set by those limits/framework and ensuring your story does work within it. Especially when combined with a limited word count, you have to think laterally. You haven’t the room for lots of description so you pick the one or two essential details that will give your readers a sense of setting, time etc. You pick out only what matters for the story to make sense to your reader.
By focusing on what a reader needs to “get” from your story, you are more likely to deliver on their expectations. After all I’m asking a reader to take time out of their busy schedule to read what I’ve written. The least I can do is deliver on said expectations so tools, such as having the right framework in place for drafting my story, are invaluable.
Using Different Frameworks
Some of the different frameworks I’ve used include the following.
I’ve written stories as diary extracts so the diary is the framework. I start at a certain invented date and finish on another one and during the course of those dates the story is played out.
I will often set a question that has to be answered by the end of a story so there is a framework right there. This is common in crime stories. The basic question here is will the murderer be caught? (And often who is it as well though this is not always the case. In that marvellous series, Columbo, the viewer knew who the murderer was and usually why they killed. The story was in finding out how Columbo found out. The framework there is to start with the dramatic event going to the conclusion where Columbo gets the villain. That structure didn’t change but it was fascinating following how he solved each crime each time).
I’ve used a letter as a framework for my story. In From Light to Dark and Back Again, my tale Punish the Innocent is from a mother wanting her daughter to take up her cause. Whether the daughter should take it up is of course another matter.
For two stories in the same book, Mishaps and Jumping Time, I use the same character and similar opening lines and then take the stories from there.
One story’s opening line is Going back in time had its drawbacks.
The other one reads Going forward in time had its drawbacks.
So my framework overall for both of these is to use time travel as a “device” and then the framework for one story is going back in time and the other is going forward using the similar line to link the tales. Great fun to do. But I have my framework mapped out here and I find that so helpful in getting that first draft down quickly. I’ve then got something to edit!
I have sometimes used all dialogue for some of my shorter flash tales (generally 200 words or under). All dialogue stories work best when kept short. But the reader comes in at the start of the conversation and then has to follow it through to what should be a logical conclusion. As with my twist endings, I tend to write the last line for this kind of tale first and then work out from there how the story could be all dialogue in a way that makes sense.
I use a theme as a framework often too, whether it is one I select myself often using a random generator, or whether it is a competition I fancy having a go at – you have to be in it to stand any chance of winning it.
The word count of a story can be a framework. There are different categories within flash fiction. I often write drabbles (100 words), sometimes I write dribbles (50 words) and I do write across the spectrum up to and including the maximum of 1000 words. I know the 500+ word stories can “support” two characters (though I can have them refer to others who are “off stage”). Below that I am better off with one main character (who can also use the “off stage” technique). Again I have a framework laid out here.
For competitions and certain websites I often submit stories to, I know the word count requirement in advance so I use that as my default framework. For more open competitions (these often state the word count has to be a minimum of XXX number of words – always check story competition rules carefully as there is a lot of variety in these things), I usually decide on the word count I want to aim towards and then the framework. Will it be a twist ending, a punchline ending (and that means the story has to be an amusing one so I have the mood of my story as a framework here), or will be it a straight narrative?
Can Frameworks Be Too Constricting?
I’ve not found this to be the case. After all if I choose a letter format, I can still invent whatever character I like to “write” that letter to another character I’ve invented. But knowing my framework means I have got my starting point immediately for a story and I find that aspect useful.
Especially with flash where I have to keep to a tight word count, I need to focus on what matters for my characters and the situations I’ve put them in. Having that structure in place means I know the story will follow the basic rules of storytelling from the start – I just fill in the details and that’s where creative freedom comes in. It is the details that change. I invent different characters and situations all the time but knowing how I’m going to start the stories is crucial.
Characters and Frameworks – A Good Fit?
Sometimes I decide on the character I want to write up and then work out which framework would suit them best. In my Punish the Innocent, I knew the lead character had to be a mother set on “justice” but she had to pass on the “cause” to her daughter. I decided a letter would be the best framework to make that work.
So yes the character and the framework have to suit one another. But it is fine to decide on your framework first and then work out the kind of character that would suit it. Equally you have a character in mind. What kind of situation do you want to put them in? What genre are you thinking about writing here (and one advantage of flash fiction and short story writing is you can get to write across a range of genres)? Genre rules can help you set out your framework too. Crime is the obvious one here – something criminal has to happen early on and there must be a resolution by the end.
The important thing about any story is it has to deliver on its promise. That promise can vary depending on what genre you’re writing in but, if overall, you are seeking to entertain your Ideal Reader, you’ll be off to a cracking start. And the Ideal Reader? Think about what you want the story to do. Think about how you would want a reader to respond to your story and then think about how you could achieve that. What have you liked in stories you’ve read?
Reading widely matters here. You are inspired by what you read. The more stories you read, the more you will get a feel for how they work, and you will develop your own preferences. Those preferences you take with you as you write your own tales.
For example, I’m not a huge fan of literary fiction. I don’t write it! I do love twist tales, funny tales etc and I do write them. I know what makes me laugh in a story. I also know good twists I’ve read that make me go back through the story to find out how that author did it. I can adapt that for my own use and often it is down to the planting of subtle clues in the right places in the story.
The more you read, the better you’ll get at spotting those. You can also work out where you’re going to put your clues for your twists. You know what works. You’ve read tales that work for you here. You’re seeking to replicate the technique here and your creativity comes out in the unique characters and settings you come up with).
If you have a market or competition in mind, research those markets and previous entries to those competitions. Get a feel for what they like to see. Does it match your style of writing? If so, get drafting and good luck! (If not, then work out why not. There’s no point entering a romance competition if you feel that genre isn’t for you. You do have to write what you love. I’ve mentioned before the writing life is full of twists and turns and ups and downs so writing what you love is crucial. It is what keeps you going.
And to keep going you have to get started in the first place. Having your framework in place can save you a lot of grief later on. You know where you’re starting. You know where you’re heading towards. Have fun filling in the middle!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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