Story Building Mastery 9 – Micro Stories

Micro Stories

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What is a micro story? It’s a story within the story. This is more common with epics than it is with smaller, self-contained stories, but can still be used effectively when done right. The first and most important point in considering putting this into your story, is that micro stories must always work for the greater story. That is why this is so high up on the complexity list, because the foundational story must be firmly established. Each micro story should reflect or add to the foundational story, otherwise it just becomes a spin-off (self-contained unrelated stories grown out of the original). You don’t want spin-off stories, because they detract and distract from the point of the foundational story. Let micro stories work together to create a weaved tale with one common end goal.

There are two major types of micro stories. POV stories and story-arcs. Some writers may equivicate the two into one definition, preferring to call them all “story-arcs.” But I think there’s an important distinction to be made.

POV Stories

POV stories are micro stories from one specific point of view. Within the larger story, you may have several different characters that take turns having the POV spotlight. POV stories give each POV character their own story within the larger story. Each POV character may be doing something completely different, yet at the same time they are all working toward the larger goal of the foundational story. This is probably the most common form of micro story and the easiest to maintain from a planning perspective. Lord of the Rings is a great example of POV stories at work. When the Fellowship breaks up, each group continues with its own story line, separate but still working toward the same ultimate goal.

Story-arcs

A story-arc, as I define it, is an arc of the foundational story. Just as one bolt of electricity can arc in several different ways to achieve the same goal, so the main story arcs upon itself as it goes toward the goal. The result might be several layers of micro stories, all bending to the same end and working toward filling the foundational story, but it effects the ENTIRE story base not just a certain set of POVs. Ultimately, even this might digress and degenerate into POV stories depending on how the characters react to the arcs. But the intention of the arc is not POV centered, but foundation centered.

Confused? That’s because properly building this sort of story-arc is very complex and rarely done effectively on the large scale. What normally happens is that these story-arcs become side stories to the main story, but are not generated by a POV tangent. They often begin well after the beginning proper, or are completed long before the ending proper. A well done story-arc construction will have them merge together at the end as merely parts of the whole.

Consider Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. As the story progresses it builds with separate story-arc layers. There are the dementors, Professor Lupin, Sirius Black’s escape, the marauder’s map, the patronus studies, the missing Scabbers. All of these things affect Harry in separate ways, almost as if they are unrelated. They build their own story-arcs and are not POV centered. In the end they become parts of the whole and have been related the entire time.

Remember this to keep them separated. POV stories are specific, unique stories for specific POVs. Story-arcs are not limited to POVs, and become parts of the whole. POV stories are character centered. Story-arcs are story centered.

For any micro story, it is good practice to apply all the elements of story building if you can. Decide how you want the micro story to begin, progress, and end. Include as many layers of the previous layers of this series, substructure, five acts, genre, genotype, character development, five stage plotting, and the hero’s journey, as you possibly can. Make sure every element of the micro story reflects back to the foundational story, and beware creating spin-offs otherwise the reader will get bored. The more complex you make the micro stories, the more intricate the foundational story becomes.

I chose the image of matryoshka dolls because they represent micro stories so perfectly. Remember these dolls when you think of micro stories. They all look like the largest one, just as micro stories should reflect the main story. And they can all be contained within the largest, just as micro stories should be subservient and contained with the main story.

For more tips on becoming a master of story building, click HERE.

-k

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