A Story Within A Story

I’ve got a story going again. Actually, it’s two stories, but one will be a part of the other.

Picture unrelated.

It feels good to be on track with something new, and something that I believe in, that I want to do and that I think will be good.

The story I’m writing is the one that will finally introduce Roy and Toini to the world. I’ve written shorts about both of these characters before, but I don’t really feel like those count. They were short stories, pulled out of thin air when I just started out. I was proud of those stories back then, and perhaps I learned a bit from writing them – I definitely enjoyed it.

Now though, I feel like I’m ready. I’m a better writer, and I’m a better story teller, and I feel like I have a clue what I’m doing. Admittedly, I felt the same back then, and in a few years from now I’ll probably look back on this and laugh at my own naivety.

Still, it’s good to get going and these characters are people I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time. One is a werewolf, one is a paladin. They both have their issues, and they have a past together.

Also unrelated.

Four Acts, Not Three

I’ve been reading about kishotenketsu again. Japanese (Asian), four act structure. I wrote about it a while back, in this post (a year ago even), and I’m going to give it a go again.

The standard three act structure is something along the lines of:

  1. Introduction
  2. Escalation
  3. Resolution

We see that in most modern western stories in one way or another. In kishotenketsu, the acts are as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Development
  3. Complication
  4. Reconciliation

Technically, I think the above terms aren’t correct as far as translation goes, but I like them better than the actual correct translations – which would be twist instead of complication, and resolution instead of reconciliation. I feel my versions better reflect my understanding of what the acts are about.

My understanding could of course be wrong, but at least I have some kind of understanding of something, and even if it’s not correct it’s at least comforting.

So how am I going to fit my two stories into this kind of story structure?

At first I only really planned on doing one of the stories – Story A – and then it struck me that I could have Story B be the third act of Story A. I’ve never tried that before. I don’t know if it will work, but I’m really excited to give it a go and see how it turns out.

The way I see it, the worst thing that could happen is that it doesn’t work, in which case I only have to write a proper third act for Story A. I’ll also already have Story B written, so it shouldn’t take all that much by way of modification to get it to work as a standalone project.

Basically, there will be the Introduction and Development acts of Story A. Then there will be the entire Story B, and then there will be the Reconciliation act of Story A. Makes sense?

Yep, this one too.


I’ve also been musing a bit on how to set this up, but I think I’ve got that covered. When I wrote Emma’s Story, the entire thing fell kind of neatly into the four act structure on its own, but this time around I’m having to think a little more about it.

The stories as such aren’t read. They need to be planned, detailed, and discovered. I’m not able to just go in swinging wildly and hope it works out – because then it probably won’t.

I need to plan.

When planning, I’ve tried to keep the structure of the acts in mind, as I believe learning to stick with the structure will be beneficial in the long term.

You’ve got to know the rules before you can break them.

One thing I’m trying is to boil down the purpose of each act into just one word, and then use the word to describe what the act needs to achieve. I then make a list for each act based on what the act needs to achieve.

As an example, here are the Act-Achievement lists for Story B (aka: Toini Comes Home):

Act 1 – Introduce

Here is where I introduce things to the reader. Things like characters and locations that are important to the story.

  • Introduce Toini as a paladin
  • Introduce Raoul as a paladin’s chronicler
  • Introduce Kul Viller as Toini’s hometown
  • Introduce Paivi’s Pub
  • Introduce Ali’ast as waiter at Paivi’s Pub
  • Introduce Paivi as owner of the pub and as Toini’s sister

Act 2

In this act I establish facts relating to the things introduced in act one. The purpose is for the reader to get a better understanding of the situation, to get them more involved, and to make them care.

  • Establish that Toini has been assumed dead for a decade
  • Establish that as a paladin Toini has a good reason for staying out of touch
  • Establish that for the time being Toini’s presence is no threat to anyone’s safety and that safety is guaranteed by Toini’s god Ek
  • Establish that Toini is only here for a short time in order to pick up a new member for her crew
  • Establish that the other members of Toini’s crew are on the way in her airship the Orange Cream and that they will be there in a few days
  • Establish the nature of divine quests, such as this one, and how Toini isn’t here on a mere hunch, but on a holy mission
  • Establish that person Toini needs for he crew is Roy (Roy is the main character of the other story)
Same here.

Act 3

In the third act I reveal previously unknown information to the reader (and to the characters). These are things that complicate the situation in some way. If I’ve set things up right in Act 2, the reader will themselves understand the implications of the information revealed in this act. Hopefully this will make the situation all the more interesting to them.

  • Reveal that Roy isn’t around
  • Reveal that Roy hasn’t been around for over a decade
  • Reveal that Roy is in Tin Jian (other side of the world)
  • Reveal that there may be other people in Kul Viller who may be interested in joining Toini’s crew
  • Reveal that Paivi has a way of getting a message to Roy

Act 4

In the fourth and final act I conclude a few different things based on the information I established in the second act and the information I revealed in the third act. This should tie up the loose ends of the story.

  • Conclude that Toini will have to go to Tin Jian
  • Conclude that Toini’s going to have to help out at the pub, because Paivi is short on staff AND would like to spend some time with her long lost sister.

Is That It?

This is pretty much the story as I see it for the time being. I mentioned it earlier on, but it’s really just an introductory story. Toini is a character that’s spent a whole lot of time in my head, waiting to take her place in her own stories. The same goes for Roy.

I also like to leave the story hanging with an open end like that. I don’t feel it’s really a cliffhanger, it’s just not a definite end. There’s plenty of room for a reader to wonder about what will happen next, and I like that. For me, it kind of gives me the feeling that the world goes on after the story ends.

I hope I’ll be able to reproduce that feeling to others.

Yeah, I’m really just putting in pictures to break up the wall of text.


A Story Within A Story

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