Mary Robinette Kowal Profile picture
Mar 14, 2018 20 tweets 7 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
I am offering a free narrative structure class to students participating in #NationalWalkoutDay

You are powerful. You have a story to tell. May I help you tell it?…
Teachers who are supporting your students during #NationalWalkoutDay, if you want me to virtually pop into your classroom and do a mini-session on narrative structure, let me know.
Meanwhile, here are some tools you can use. It turns out that you can explain pretty much every story, fiction and non-fiction, through a fairly simple organizational theory. I’m going to talk about this through a lens of fiction, but it’s everywhere.
Stories are made of four elements, mixed in different proportions: Milieu, Inquiries, Characters, Events. These elements can help determine where a story starts and stops, and the kinds of conflicts your characters face.
Milieu stories are driven by place. These stories begin when a character enters a place and end when they exit. So things like Gulliver’s Travels, Around the World in 80 Days are classic examples.
So knowing where milieu stories end, this also tells you what sort of conflicts go in the middle, because your job is to figure out what your character needs to do. And then systematically deny them the solution.
So milieu conflicts end when your character exit the place. The conflicts keep the character from leaving. These are things struggling to exit. Trying to survive in. Attempting to navigate.
Inquiry stories are driven by questions. They begin when a character has a question and end when they answer it. Super-complicated. These are mystery stories like Sherlock Holmes and Poirot.
For an inquiry conflict, your goal is to keep your character from finding the answer. They’re lied to. They can’t understand the answer. The answers lead to dead ends. (red herrings)
Character stories are driven by angst. They begin when a character is unhappy with an aspect of *themselves* and end when they solidify their self-definition. Coming of age stories. Romances.
Your character is trying to change. Stop them. Don’t let them break out of their role. Fill them with self-loathing. Have the change backfire.
Event stories are driven by action. These begin when the status quo is disrupted and end when it is restored or there’s new status quo. And yes, everyone dies counts as a new status quo. Disaster stories. Inferno. Deep Impact.
For event driven conflicts, don’t let your character restore the status quo. Fight scenes. Chase scenes. Explosions. They try to set things right? It has unintended consequences.
Now it’s easy to confuse character stories and event stories. Character stories are about internal conflict. “I’ll never be popular.” Event stories are about external conflict. “Oh no! An asteroid is coming at the Earth!”
So that’s what individual MICE elements look like. But you almost never see single thread stories. Most stories are made up of multiple threads, honestly, because single thread stories are really dull. So how do you do multiple threads?
For a lot of people on the internet, the phrase "nesting code" explains everything.
To use a concrete example. Wizard of Oz is a beautifully nested story.

It begins with a character story. Dorothy is dissatisfied with her role as a Kansas farm girl.
Then open Event. Tornado!
Open milieu. Welcome to Oz.
And…Inquiry. What do the ruby slippers do?
Then Glinda says, “The ruby slippers will carry you home” Closing Inquiry.
Depart Oz, closing milieu.
Return to Kansas where everything is fine, closing event.
Dorothy says, “I didn’t need to go looking for adventure any farther than my own backyard.” Closing character.
When you have stories that feel like the ending fizzles or the ones that end and then end again. And then end again. And again. This is often because the nesting code is broken.
The same structure works for non-fiction and, in many ways, for structuring a protest, or talking about it afterwards.

So here's that giant slide deck, condensed into a single image.

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More from @MaryRobinette

Aug 12, 2018
Good morning! Ready to try again for a rocket launch?

While you're waiting, remember that the Persiad meteor shower is also happening. You don't have to be in Florida to see it.

#NASAsocial #SolarProbe
Granted, having written #thecalculatingstars there's a different resource to watching meteors while waiting for a rocket launch...

#NASAsocial #SolarProbe
Stargazing while waiting for launch.

By which I mean looking at stars through a telescope.

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Read 13 tweets
Aug 11, 2018
2am and the sky looks clear. Who's ready for a rocket launch?

Why is the Parker #SolarProbe launching at night?

Because during the day it would be too hot to visit the sun...

We've arrived at the causeway and the rocket looks AMAZING lit up across the water. We're about 2.5 miles away.

#NASAsocial #SolarProbe
Make sure you follow #NASAsocial because my fellow attendees have much better night cameras than I do for the Parker #SolarProbe launch.
Read 22 tweets
Aug 10, 2018
Many thanks to @torybruno for stopping and talking to us.

I asked what he was excited about and he said "watching this big beautiful rocket launch and set new speed records."


#NASAsocial #SolarProbe
This really is a beautiful rocket.

#NASAsocial #SolarProbe
The other thing @torybruno said was that it was hard to get a sense of scale. He felt it most when he went to the top. It's essentially a 30 story building.

Looking over the edge is...vertiginous.

#NASAsocial #SolarProbe
Read 4 tweets
Aug 10, 2018
Heading until the 45th Space Wing

#NASAsocial #SolarProbe
The MOC was built to consolidate range control into one location. Prior to this, Each SLC had a blockhouse to serve as mission control for the launch. They were only 100 yards from the rocket.

It was not...ideal safety conditions.

#NASAsocial #SolarProbe
Now there's a single location to provide weather advisories to Patrick, the Cape, and KSC.

Lightning is the primary concern. Florida is a lightning capital with the 3rd highest strikes worldwide.

#NASAsocial #SolarProbe
Read 5 tweets
Aug 10, 2018
Don't mind me. I'm just hanging out on launch pad 39-b

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The pad is covered with these metal tabs. They exist to bolt 3/4 ply to in order to cushion the concrete from the weight of the crawler.

On the road, they use gravel.

#NASAsocial #SolarProbe
The "business end" of the flame suppression trench.

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Read 10 tweets
Aug 10, 2018
Learning more about the crawler from Dan Schultz, one of the drivers.

#NASAsocial #SolarProbe
The hard part is that of the VAB driver's job is that they can't see everything. Parts of the path are built at the max turning radius, which is 6° so they have to hit their marks very precisely.

#NASAsocial #SolarProbe
They have spotters that are about 20 feet ahead and the drivers rely on them for hitting their marks. There are 30 people involved in every move.

Driving it takes about 8 hours. Then there's loading and unloading, so 12-16 hour days are not uncommon.

#NASAsocial #SolarProbe
Read 6 tweets

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