Thursday, August 13, 2015

Caleb on the Try/Fail Cycle

Over at Caleb's Book, Music, Movie, Story Blog, the eponymous Caleb talks about the Try/Fail Cycle’s role in outlining stories. Excerpts:
Okay. Now that we’ve covered that, let’s talk about the Try-Fail Cycle and the process of escalation.

If you’ve done any creative writing/story plotting before, you may heard of the Try/Fail Cycle. In short, before your protagonist succeeds at anything they’re trying to achieve, they ought to try and fail at least twice before succeeding. This creates sympathy in the audience. We feel like that character’s really earned it.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, that’s not true, some of my favourite characters are completely awesome and hardly ever fail, let alone two-thirds of the time.

Ah, young grasshopper, how wise you are.

You see, the Fail in Try/Fail isn’t necessarily failure to achieve one’s goal, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some unfortunate reaction or consequence to their success that makes their eventual job harder. We summarise this as writers as the Yes, But.. No, And.. rule.

It’s pretty self-explanatory when you understand it. Does my protagonist succeed? Yes, But.. (some sort of horrible/unforeseen circumstance happens as a result/in addition and everything is harder now) Does my protagonist succeed against this new complication? No, And.. (everything is now even worse because.. they just gave away their position/used up their last mag/now she thinks you like men)
Read the whole thing. Though I find value in the seven-point structure Caleb lays out in the beginning of his post (as well as Orson Scott Card’s M.I.C.E. quotient, the traditional three-act structure, and Northrop Frye’s famous monomyth), I have something to admit: None of them help me much when it comes to actual composition. Now, analyzing? Most certainly. Revising? You betcha. But when facing a blank page—and the concomitant existential crisis it naturally entails—prefab structures only make my blood pressure rise. Sometimes I’ll start with an opening. Sometimes I’ll know the conclusion. I almost never have both and certainly couldn’t fill in five points between them even if I did. That’s why I find helpful the Try/Fail Cycle framework that Caleb lays out. I may not know if I’m at Pinch 1 or Plot Turn 2, but I can definitely throw a monkey wrench into my protagonist’s current plans.

(Picture: CC 2008 by Nima Badiey; Hat Tip: Eric James Stone)

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