The Four Plots of SF&F

To follow up on a post about what makes for good science fiction, I wanted to talk about the diversity of story types. Comments on the previous post seemed to pit “character” stories against “idea” stories when in reality, I believe both are viable. (Read: I love ALL types of science fiction!) I’m curious to hear, though, which type of story you like best, so let’s get down to discussing four specific types.lotr

In How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Orson Scott Card claims there are four elements that determine the structure of story. In each story, one of these four elements dominates:

Milieu. The whole point of a story structured around milieu is to allow readers to explore a world or worlds. Think The Wizard of Oz or Gulliver’s Travels.

Idea. When an idea or mystery is most important part, the story ends once the idea has been revealed or the mystery solved. Think 2001: A Space Odyssey or any mystery novel.

Character. A story structured around character is usually concerned with that character’s growth or change. Think “literary.”lotr2

Event. If something is wrong in the universe and must be righted, only a certain event will satisfy readers. Think The Lord of The Rings.

So… which type of story do you like best? Which do you think is most important? Which do you think best serves young readers of speculative fiction?

(By the way, check out this article to see the pathos that results when audiences are promised one type of story and are given another.)

cheryliconParker Peevyhouse is having a hard time picking a favorite.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “The Four Plots of SF&F

  1. Event is usually most exciting (to me) and Character most interesting. I would think it’s easiest to get kids turned on to SF/F with an Event story. For me, Milieu isn’t enough; a story about a place isn’t going to grab me — a story about a person is.

    (I’d submit Maria Doria Russell’s The Sparrow as an example of the Character type.)

    Great questions!

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      I think with the popularity of fantasy, it’d be possible to do a good milieu story. But I’m not sure how!

      If anyone knows of any great Milieu stories in MG/YA, let me know!

  2. I’m going to have to go with Event, too. It seems more action drive. Plus the picture of LOTR is way cool. Go, Frodo!
    The world would have to be pretty cool and unique in the milieu one to survive in today’s publishing world, I think.
    Nice post, Parker!

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      Event is probably the most popular. Just my guess.

      I’m a sucker for a good Idea story, though. I love a puzzle.

  3. I’m dorktastic; in any genre Character for me is key, followed by Event and trailed forlornly by Milieu. I spend most books I read either half in love with a character or half imagining myself AS them, so places don’t do it for me. Yes, I’m an escapist at times, with my SFF!

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      I know what you mean–I swear I would still have read the Harry Potter series even if it had nothing to do with magic, castles, or defeating evil. Just because the characters are really wonderful to spend time with.

  4. I agree with Tanita.

    Character is key. I’ll put down a book if I don’t like the characters. Then Event and Milieu. A good story will weave all of them together into a fabulous work I can’t get enough of.

  5. I’m an events girl. Always have been.

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