Narrative Structure In A Single Sentence

I've been working through Holly Lisle's awesome writing course How To Think Sideways, which is specifically geared toward solving left-brain / right-brain imbalance issues like I often struggle with. (Being too critical of my own writing is basically my left-brain hitting my right-brain with a hockey stick.)

One of her most powerful techniques is called The Sentence, which is a way of generating a highly relevant and inspiring "logline" for your story that you can work from. It keeps you going in the right direction throughout your writing project. She also applies a modified version of it to creating single-sentence Scene Summaries.

For the novel I'm currently working on, tentatively titled Starfighters: Infection, I followed Holly's guidelines to create a Sentence that I love and that truly represents the heart of my story. Then for fun I placed it on a pretty background to make it even more inspiring:
The pretty background wasn't part of the course assignment, but I like it!

The Sentence's Structural Accuracy

Keep in mind I created that Sentence months ago, well before starting the first draft. But now that I'm 44K words into the first draft and have a Dramatica storyform that I'm pretty confident in, I'm super impressed by how well the Sentence is represented in that storyform (see below). I mean, I've always felt that most of a story's narrative structure comes from the writer's subconscious or "Muse". You don't choose to make all the elements line up, like the Main Character's Concern of Progress matching up with the Overall Story's Concern and Goal of Doing (e.g. Star Wars). It just happens subconsciously.

What this shows to me is that Holly Lisle's methods work incredibly well, at least for me, to get to the heart of the story my Muse wants to tell.

Oodles Of Dramatica Structural Appreciations In A 28-Word Sentence

You can view the full storyform here, in a pretty table format. So far I've identified the following appreciations, or story points, from that storyform in my Sentence:
  • Recruited in secret = Overall Story Problem Help, Overall Story Domain Manipulation
  • by galactic freedom-fighters = (mostly storytelling)
  • a poor* college athlete = Main Character Issue Hope vs. Dream, Main Character Concern Subconscious (Innermost Desires)
  • becomes Earth's last hope = Overall Story Concern Becoming, Main Character Unique Ability Dream, Overall Story Problem (lack of) Help
  • when the stunning woman = Influence Character Domain Situation
  • who recruited him = Influence Character Unique Ability Choice**
  • betrays everyone = Overall Story Domain Manipulation, Overall Story Issue Obligation
  • to save her dying mother. = Influence Character Concern Future, Influence Character Problem Help, Overall Story Concern Becoming

* Funny thing: originally I saw the MC as having a lot of conflict about being financially poor, but this mostly fell by the wayside (that would've fit a Domain of Situation better, and my Muse probably tossed it when it realized he was a Fixed Attitude main character). Yet it turned out he's this romantic, lovelorn fellow so poor still works -- as in "poor boy" who's always pining after girls but never getting dates.
** I mean, come on, how perfect is this? She recruits the MC and it turns out that the thing that makes her uniquely qualified to influence him is Choice (selecting or recruiting him)! That was output from Dramatica based on other storyform selections I made! Spooky Dramatica magic strikes again.

Of course, you could keep the same Sentence and come up with many, very different storyforms for it. I'm not suggesting there's something magical in those twenty-eight words that makes it deterministic in terms of structure. My point is simply that, now that I know the structure (storyform) for my story and understand how my Sentence relates to it, it's pretty cool how many connections there are!


  1. Hi Mike. I was reading up on some of your other articles. I like this idea of a logline structured with Dramatica appreciations as the basis to write from. It reminds me a bit of Armando's Instant Dramatica and how it gives structure to each throughline and signpost, using Dramatica Problem, Issue, Concern, etc to carve it out a bit. But your methods seems even more potentized to a singular sentence.

    Just wondering, coming off the Conflict/Problem thread on the other site, how is Recruited in Secret a problem?

    1. Hey, thanks for the comment! Note that the technique for creating this Sentence actually has nothing to do with Dramatica, it only has the ingredients of Protagonist, Antagonist, Conflict, Setting, and Twist, and you're supposed to build it off of images/ideas that you Muse gives you. I'd highly recommend Holly's course if you're interested, and her online community is great -- SUPER supportive.

      I think it worked well for me because I'm the type of writer who's better off keeping Dramatica (or any structure) on the side to let the Muse have free reign for a while. I wasn't sure how well it would work, but I thought it was neat how, when I came up with the storyform months later, so much of that was reflected in the Sentence.

      Regarding "Recruited in secret", the characters experience all sorts of difficulties from the all the secrets being kept. The Firelion Club guards it secrets carefully -- and relentlessly. Suspecting of knowing things he shouldn't, Devin gets detained and interrogated, and Becca worries that if they discover the truth of what he knows, the memory-altering drug they use will kill him, because she secretly used it on him before (but mistakenly gave him too high a dose).

      Recruiting provides conflict in various ways, from the recruiters competing with each other, to promising to recruit someone who's not really worthy just to save his skin, then rejecting him later, to recruiting someone in order to manipulate them...

  2. Plenty of conflict there!

    Yes, I realize you were describing a hybrid technique. That's what impressed me about it. Blending two disparate things together. An evolutionary mutation. Highly creative. Your own technique. Very cool.


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