Damn Fine Story

Lesson 72 Chapter 3 Module 7

The problem with learning about literary terms and structures is often that they can mean so many different things.

Is the setting something that applies to a whole book?

Can I use different settings if my characters ever, for kick’s sake, might leave the room and go somewhere else?

If I’m writing nonfiction, do I even have a setting?

Why would I ever care about settings in an article that is 700 words long?

These are all reasonable and valid questions, that have an unfortunate variance of answers.

Usually given by a bunch of professors and scholars who jump on their grammar and literature high horses to tell you (idealistically) the correct way to execute such writing practices.

Which is why another favorite “how to write good” book that I’ve read in recent years is Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative.

Not just because he’s on the “master writer” bandwagon there.

DFS breaks down these tools of storytelling in a way that is super accessible to most readers these days: through pop culture and the understanding of movies and television shows.

Because let’s be real—the good ones are yet another form of masterful writing and storytelling.

Sure, bad acting or directing can kill a movie; but nothing kills it faster than a terrible script. In fact, a terrible script often leads to the aforementioned bad acting and directing. The players just can’t put enough lipstick on that pig to make it worth watching.

In today’s excerpt, he’s breaking down the different “units of narrative measurement”, which are essentially all the little plot points and changes that move the story along.

You’ll see that settings and surrounding play heavily here, but they aren’t the main focus.

They are instead a piece to these units, as getting the reader intrigued by the structure and language, invested in the story concept, and dedicated to the characters all has to happen before you start tackling the setting (though if you are doing “setting is super important, it is its own character” (like yesterday’s On the Road excerpt) angle, then maybe pop setting up a bit more in your outlining and development process.)

A setting is how you get your readers to feel like they are right in the story with you.

And with shorter pieces of writing, like a short story or essay or article or one-act play, you might actually be working with just one scene or setting.

So building those up, from the smallest point of action or dialogue to the full-on act and story, is an important lesson to master.

PS - If you are a Twitter user, Chuck is also one of my favorite writer accounts to follow.

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