January 2, 2019 at 8:10 am #68892
Lately I have been contemplating whether there is a pattern to the type of stories that I like to read/write. Not in terms of genre but in the “ordinariness” of the characters (average Joes like you or me vs characters who are bestowed all sorts of great powers/destinies/heritages by authors like you and me) and the level of stakes involved (e.g. saving the world vs saving a single family’s livelihood).
As I usually do, I ended up overthinking everything. The result is a sort of framework I have used to understand my thoughts so I decided to share it with you guys.
Basically, depending on how “ordinary” or “extraordinary” the characters and the plot are, there are four different kinds of stories that can be written. Obviously “ordinariness” is subjective (If even the most insignificant background character can use magic in a setting, is magical ability still something that would make a character extraordinary?) and most novels would incorporate more than one of these categories with all their plots and subplots but I think you guys can understand the idea.
#1: Extraordinary people doing extraordinary things
Example: Every superhero/Chosen One/Lost Royal Heir story ever.
#2: Ordinary people doing extraordinary things
Example: A HR manager has to use all his negotiation skills and understanding of human nature to save a group of innocent people who have been taken hostage by crazed gunmen.
#3: Extraordinary people doing ordinary things
Example: A dark lord from a fantasy world gets stuck in our world. Since there is no magic in our dimension and the dark lord has no paper qualifications, he has to get a job at a fast food restaurant to pay the bills.
#4: Ordinary people doing ordinary things
Example: A family moves away from their home country to avoid war. They encounter problems adapting and integrating into the community and experience strains in their relationships as the children grow up under the influence of their new country.
I have read and enjoyed stories that from all four categories. But if I do have to pick one, I would say that I generally like writing stories that fall under #3 best. Mostly because I feel that stories about #1, #2 and #4 are more common and that there is a lot of untapped dramatic and comedic potential in exploring the relatively mundane aspects in the lives of great people (I am not counting all the trashy romances involving royals/nobles/celebrities/rich people in this sentence). But also because I am a little sick of the idea that just because you are writing about kings and queens and sorcerers, the fate of the world/nation/people must hang in the balance (What does a fantasy world look like when it is not on the brink of a war or a revolution? How is magic used in daily life? For example, how would a magical police force solve crimes?).
#1 would be my guilty pleasure when I am in the mood for some wish fulfillment but by now I think the plot, characters and execution must be very special if it is to excite me. I do find some of my writing naturally gravitating to #1 but that might just be because of my chosen genres and the influence of mainstream media on me.
As for #2 and #4… Again, I would say that I can enjoy any story that has excellent plot, characters and execution. But, frankly, unless it is in a different time period or a unique setting which I can be eager to learn about, I personally find it more challenging to find interest in these kinds of stories. I think it is because since there are so many real accounts of ordinary people with both ordinary and extraordinary struggles, there must be something very interesting in the story to convince me to get invested in a fictional one.
So what do you guys think? Which of these types of stories do you tend to write and which do you like reading the best? 😀January 2, 2019 at 9:30 am #68897Charis Etter@kpcentaursister
Great topic! I spent a bit of time trying to think of another category, but I think you’ve pretty much covered it.
I would love to read some of your #3 stories. I like those, but sadly there aren’t many that are written well enough for me to be able to read them. I do love the comedic aspects of it, though. I haven’t found many well written stories in this category that are not children’s books. Granted, I love to read younger chapter books, but I have a hard time writing them sometimes. Why do you think that’s generally the focus audience?
I typically tend to write in #2. Being an ordinary person myself, I find it is easier for me to write a believable character that way (though most of my characters have an extraordinary aspect that makes them unique). Plus, with my dystopian leanings, it is also an easier way to explain the world.
https://galaxyagent.wordpress.comJanuary 2, 2019 at 10:44 am #68905
It’s great to know that I’m not the only one who’s sad that there aren’t more #3 stories. 😛 I attribute this dearth to two things (Disclaimer: This is just my own theory, not based on any research or statistics):
(1) The writers who would create “extraordinary” characters tend to write in genres that focus on violent, dramatic conflict (e.g. war, revolution) instead of finding magic in the mundane. This naturally steers their stories towards #1.
(2) The writers who would find magic in the mundane (“ordinary things”) might have trouble figuring out how to create a decent, believable conflict if their character is “extraordinary” since the natural assumption is that an “extraordinary” person should be able to solve an “ordinary” problem easily with their greater power/resources/authorial favour. So they stick to writing #4. (This is not true of course. Solutions to this include (a) temporarily debuffing the “extraordinary” character and (b) having the special trait that makes the character “extraordinary” be useless or even detrimental to the conflict at hand).
#3 stories in children’s books? Hmm… I don’t really read children’s books so I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Can you give me some examples?
But I do agree that #3 stories may be more prevalent in books meant for children. I think it’s because kids are attracted to bright, shiny, fantasy and fairytale things like magic and princesses (so the characters better appeal to children if they are “extraordinary”) and lots of children’s books also like to teach moral lessons that can be more down-to-earth like loving your family (so the issues are allowed to be more “ordinary”).January 2, 2019 at 11:22 am #68911Charis Etter@kpcentaursister
@valtmy That’s a good analysis. I was thinking something along the lines of the Secret Agent Dingledorf series by Bill Meyers. The protagonist is more of a #2 character, but the villain is more #3. The protagonist will get home from school and then go fight crime (hence his #2 persona), but the villain (I think) is seen trying to go shopping or do PR things with all his technology to help him.
https://galaxyagent.wordpress.comJanuary 2, 2019 at 11:42 am #68914EricaWordsmith@ericawordsmith
Ooh!! I like it!! Hmm… Let’s see…
I really like #1 and #2 best because I’m a complicated person who complicates everything, so unless the ordinary story is very complicated, I probably won’t like it as much. Weirdly enough, my favorite book it #4. The Hawk and the Dove is about a bunch of monks living in a monastery, yet it is still my favorite book.
So, I guess I like a mixture between the first two for my writing. I like a mixture of ordinary/extraordinary characters. Some are definitely extraordinary (which are probably going to be some of the less referenced characters), some are a mixture of the two (some of the MCs) and then the majority be the ordinary.
Yet… I keep thinking, isn’t any character that does something extraordinary, whether he or she was ordinary in the beginning or not, doesn’t it make them extraordinary to an extent? I mean, if what you mean by extraordinary is the ability to fly, that’s one thing, but the will to take the Ring up Mount Doom, isn’t that require something extraordinary? I’m not sure, random thoughts.
@anne-of-lothlorien , what are your thoughts?
Tek an ohta! Tek an cala!January 2, 2019 at 12:53 pm #68939
For this discussion, I am basing the “ordinariness” and “extraordinariness” of a character on the number of trinkets the author dumps on him or her. So the focus is on the superficial aspects instead of the heart and soul of the character. After all, the whole point of the typical #2 story is that the ordinary person overcomes the odds and saves the day through extraordinary courage or resilience so I do not believe that inner qualities should count.
You can think of it as the difference between Frodo and Aragorn. It is hard to look at Frodo and see something special at first glance but with Aragorn it is more obvious.January 2, 2019 at 2:13 pm #68946EricaWordsmith@ericawordsmith
O.K. I see. Still, how special does extraordinary mean? I guess that can be one for me that makes me wonder. Like, is it something they’re born with or something literally given/accident in the story? What defines extraordinary in a story?
Going back and reading your first post again, I’m just wondering, if you like #3, how do you write stories that grip people in that sort of plot? If I were to consider one of the characters of The Hawk and the Dove I might call him extraordinary if I were thinking of his character, but the majority was ordinary doing ordinary things that we might not label as “great”, but that book shook me up more than anything I’ve ever read before.
Tek an ohta! Tek an cala!January 2, 2019 at 5:22 pm #68971Jenna Terese@jenwriter17
@valtmy Oh, HI! 😀 I don’t think I knew you’d come on to SE. Or maybe I did…it’s hard to keep track of everybody sometime. 😉
Great topic! For reading, I really like #2 and #4. For writing, I guess I would say I mostly do #2.
"If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write." -Martin Luther
www.jennaterese.comJanuary 2, 2019 at 6:47 pm #68989Taylor Clogston@taylorclogston
This is from Stephen King’s On Writing, right? If not, you’re in good company, because he made a chart nearly identical to this! The primary difference, which is actually pretty vital, is he considered people ordinary or not because of their internal traits rather than just their external traits.
I think if we look at things in the manner you’re suggesting (which is a really cool way to do it; I love different analysis systems) I think we need to also consider the presentation of the story. I don’t know that ordinary people doing ordinary things is ever going to work outside of slice of life so long as it’s presented in an ordinary manner. When you take those two elements and present them in an extraordinary manner, though, you get Ulysses.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about (externally) extraordinary characters in ordinary situations, outside maybe Terry Pratchett stuff? Even then, it’s all relative to the setting, but even still the story of a con artist opening a post office was one of the most riveting books I read last year.
When I was in high school, I used to read a lot of manga with a sort of premise like your #3, and I still know a lot of people who do so. Stuff like <i>Devil</i> <i>is</i> <i>a</i> <i>Part</i>-<i>Timer</i> and <i>Maidragon</i>, right? Not implying that this is the reason everybody consumes these kinds of stories, but I read them to feel a sense of “I may have no life and no friends but I can feel happy by watching awesome people just going through life and being happy in an ‘normal’ way.” It wasn’t healthy for me so I try to stay away from it these days, but the temptation’s there =P
I tend to prefer “ordinary people in extraordinary situations/doing extraordinary things.” Stephen King, I think, said this is the kind of fiction he writes (which makes sense for horror). I think he also described “extraordinary people in ordinary situations” as literary fiction, but then he was talking about internal traits.
"...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and MargaritaJanuary 2, 2019 at 7:40 pm #68994Samantha Farrar@samantha-pen
type 3 and 2 plus just the ordinary 4 are my favorites. I love the way they are all mixed in stories Les Mis is probably a 2 but in a way also a 3 and a little bit of 4 so yeah…
Little Woman is a great 2. It’s also interesting because I love Historical Fiction and that is most obviously a two but it shows the 3 aspects of what we consider extraordinary.
*A passionate ENFP author, in training for Christ.*January 2, 2019 at 7:46 pm #68996
Within the context of a story, what construes as “ordinary” or “extraordinary” is, undoubtedly, relative.
But to me, to be considered “extraordinary”, it makes no difference whether the character gets the special trait at birth or later in life so long as it is before the main conflict. (This means that the orphaned farmboy who gets magic powers and then goes on to fight the dark lord is not ordinary).
How to write #3 stories that are gripping…? The same way to write any gripping story, I suppose. Have your antagonist (whether ordinary, extraordinary, human or not) pose a threat, in some way, to the protagonist and inject heart and creativity in all aspects of your writing from plot to characters to worldbuilding. Of course, for me, I usually don’t rely on just #3 in my own writing as I like to try to cover all sorts of conflicts.
But I understand the issue that it can be hard to come up with a worthy conflict for #3. I think I addressed this in my answer to @kpcentaursister.
Hi! Haha, yes, I don’t come here on SE all that often.
Why do you #2 and #4? Is there a reason for why you prefer to read #2 and #4 but mostly write #2 only?January 2, 2019 at 7:55 pm #69001
I’ve never read On Writing but I guess I should
😛 Great minds think alike?
Ah, yes, that might explain my liking of Pratchett. And hey, I’m glad someone finally caught one of the references!
I suppose there is a risk of #3 stories being used for unhealthy wish fulfillment like you said but I don’t think that has to be the case. At least that’s what I’m striving for my own writing. Otherwise it’s bad news for me. 😛
Yes, I agree. I think mixing the four categories can help to give richness to a story and make the setting and characters seem much fuller and more life-like.January 3, 2019 at 2:43 pm #69162Jenna Terese@jenwriter17
@valtmy Hmm, I’ve never really thought about it too much. I guess I just like writing #2 because I like having just a ordinary character having to do something that seems beyond their capability and offers struggles that they have to overcome. With not wanting to write #4, I just don’t think I do that well writing that type of story and making it interesting. But I love reading it. 🙂
"If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write." -Martin Luther
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