There is no answer to boredom. -- Katherine Fullerton Gerould
- Story of Accomplishment: Some feat to be accomplished. The Situation is called a Story Purpose. These are said to have a Plot Line.
- Story of Decision: Some course of conduct to be chosen. The Situation is called a Story Problem. These are said to have a Story Line.
- Ancient Shores (Jack McDevitt). A North Dakota farmer unearths a buried sailboat made of a substance unknown to modern science and knocks Max Collingwood, a family friend, and April Cannon, a chemist he hires, out of their ruts.
- Jumper (Steven Gould). When his abusive father begins to beat him with a belt buckle, Davy Rice discovers he can teleport himself out of harm’s way.
- Lest Darkness Fall (L. Sprague deCamp). A lightning bolt knocks Martin Padway, an archeologist, out of modern (then, 1930s) Rome into the Gothic Italy of the Sixth Century.
- Ringworld (Larry Niven). Nessus, a Pierson’s Puppeteer, visits the bored-with-life Louis Wu and knocks him out of his rut by promising a voyage beyond Known Space to investigate a strange artifact the puppeteers have discovered.
- Up Jim River (Michael Flynn). The
challenge by the harper to help her find her missing mother is the force
that knocks the scarred man out of his comfortable niche in the Bar of
- a man goes on a trip
- a stranger comes to town
Write the opening of a novel using the authorial-omniscient voice, making the authorial omniscience clear by going into the thoughts of one or more characters after establishing the voice. As subject, use either a trip or the arrival of a stranger (some disruption of order—the usual novel beginning).-- John Gardner, “The Art of Fiction” (1984)
- The Chief Actor may be singular (Davy in Jumper) or plural (the harper and the scarred man in Up Jim River). Plural actors may have plural problems. The harper must find her mother. The scarred man must come to terms with his split personalities.
- The Environment includes
- the physical setting,
- the human interactions (moral, social, cultural) within that setting,
- and the atmosphere
(emotional mood) of the setting.
- A change in the environment. As Scout grows to school age in To Kill a Mockingbird her tomboy character comes into in conflict with her new more grown-up human interactions. The eruption of Yellowstone in Supervolcano: Eruption (Harry Turtledove) changes the physical environment of Colin Ferguson and his scattered family. The change need not be to a physical environment. In “Nano Comes to Clifford Falls” (Nancy Kress), the social fabric of life changes when nanotechnology becomes easily available.
the Chief Actor and placing him in a strange environment. Martin Padway is uprooted and dumped into Ostrogothic Italy in
Lest Darkness Fall. In Up
Jim River, Donovan buigh is uprooted from the Bar of
Jehovah. The eponymous Dr. Zhivago is uprooted from his
comfortable bourgeois life by the Russian Revolution. In City at World's End (Hamilton) an entire town is transferred to a far future in which the sun is dying.
- An environment in conflict with another environment. The Grapes of Wrath places the cultural environment of the migrant workers in conflict with that of the fruit growers. In Eifelheim (Flynn), the culture of the Krenken is in conflict with that of the German peasants.
- The Chief Actor wants to change an environment. The settlers in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars trilogy want to change the physical environment of Mars. Martin Padway in Lest Darkness Falls wants to stave off the Dark Age.
- The Chief Actor wants to conquer an environment. In G. David Nordley’s story “Into the Miranda Rift,” Wojciech Bubka and his fellow cavers/climbers set out to “climb” through Uranus’ moon Miranda, which is portrayed as a ball of rubble permeated with caves, cracks, and tunnels.
- The Chief
Actor wants to escape an environment. John Radkowsky and the crew in Mars Crossing (Geoffrey Landis) must win
free of Mars and return to Earth. Lois
McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan wants to escape his role as a Vor noble for a
life as a mercenary captain. Think, too, of Huckleberry Finn trying to escape the environment of Hannibal for the supposed freedom of life on the River.
environment that does not want the Chief Actor in it. Tom
Jones wants to be accepted by Sophie and Squire Allworthy; but society
rejects him as a bastard. Charlie Gordon
in “Flowers for Algernon” (Daniel Keyes) wants to be accepted by his co-workers
and does not realize at first that he is not.
(This is the opposite of #6, where the Actor wants out. Here, the Actor wants in.)
- An environment unsuited to the Chief Actor’s character. Lorenzo Smythe in Double Star (Robert A. Heinlein) is temperamentally unsuited to the environment of John Joseph Bonforte, a politician whose policies he detests.
- A change in the status quo of the Chief Actor within the environment. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch was in harmony with his small-town Southern environment until he decides to defend Tom Robinson, which brings him into conflict with it.
- A change in the status quo of the environment itself. In Guns of the South (Harry Turtledove), Robert E. Lee finds his environment changed by his acquisition of AK-47s from time-traveling South Africans.
Our favorite Situations. What Story Situations have left you curious to learn more, to learn how it would be resolved? What about the Situation aroused your curiosity? Did it fit into the framework of ten model Situations outlined above? What about multi-character tales in which different Actors face different Situations. Did multiple Situations leave you confused or interested (or both)?