Category Archives: Zen of Story Structure

Zen of Writing: The Preconscious

Built into the mind is an instinctual base of reactions and attitudes that cannot be altered but merely compensated for.

When a story’s problem revolves around the unsuitability of someone’s essential nature to a given situation or environment, the central issue is The Preconscious.

The solution lies in the character conditioning itself to either hold its tendencies in check or develop methods of enhancing areas in which it is naturally weak in reason, ability, emotion, or intellect.

Excerpted from
The Zen of Story Structure

DEFINITION: The Preconscious: innate responses.

SYNONYMS: unthinking responses, immediate responses, impulse, impulsive response, instinctive response, innate response, reflex.

DYNAMIC PAIR: The Subconscious, basic drives and desires.

Zen of Writing: Memory

The Past is an objective look at what has happened. In contrast, Memory is a subjective look at what has happened. Therefore, Memory of the same events varies among individuals creating many different and possibly conflicting recollections.

Often one’s current feelings come from memories, both pleasant and unpleasant. Many a taut story revolves around a character’s effort to resolve open issues from its memories by recalling or forgetting them.

Excerpted from
The Zen of Story Structure

DEFINITION: Memory: recollections.

SYNONYMS: remembering, recollections, reminiscence, recalling, retention.

DYNAMIC PAIR: The Conscious, present considerations.

Zen of Writing: Conceiving

Conceiving is the process of arriving at an idea. For example, If there were no artificial light in the world, one might conceive the need for some form of electric torch. That would be conceiving. But the design of an actual incandescent bulb versus a fluorescent one would require conceptualizing a specific implementation of the idea one has conceived.

Conceiving need not come before conceptualizing. For example, a common dramatic technique is to give a character a very clear mental image of an object or arrangement that holds the solution to the story’s problem. But the character does not know the solution lies in the conceptualization. It is only when it finally conceives of the need for a particular kind of solution does it realize it had the answer all along.

Simply put, Conceiving defines the question, Conceptualizing clarifies the answer.

Excerpted from
The Zen of Story Structure

DEFINITION: Conceiving: coming up with an idea.

SYNONYMS: originating, inventing, devising, engendering, hatching ideas.

DYNAMIC PAIR: Conceptualizing, visualizing how an existing idea might be implemented.

Zen of Writing: Becoming

Becoming means achieving an identity with something. This is different from “Being” which merely requires posing as something.

To Become, one must do more than just pretend to be by mimicking all the traits of what one wants to become. Rather, one must also lose all those parts of oneself that are inconsistent with what one wants to become.

“Giving up” a part of oneself is always the hardest part of becoming and the reason so many characters spend a lot of time “Being” without ever Becoming.

Excerpted from
The Zen of Story Structure

DEFINITION: Becoming: transforming one’s nature.

SYNONYMS: embodying, manifesting, personifying, incarnating, transforming.

DYNAMIC PAIR: Being, temporarily adopting a lifestyle.

Zen of Writing: Being

“Being” is an elusive concept, subject to inconsistent common usage. For purposes of story, Being is meant to describe the condition of existing in a certain manner.

Whomever or whatever is “Being” a particular way is not truly of that nature; to do so would require Becoming. In fact, being may be put on as a deception or because it is necessary to adopt a role in order to achieve one’s purpose. However, as long as there is nothing more or less to the functioning of a person or thing, it can be said to “be” what it appears to be.

Stories often focus on someone who wants to “be” something, without actually “Becoming”. The important difference is that “Being” requires that all the elements of what one wants to be are present in oneself. “Becoming” requires that there are no elements in oneself that are not in what one wants to become.

Excerpted from The Zen of Story Structure

DEFINITION: Being: temporarily adopting a lifestyle.

SYNONYMS: pretending, appearing, acting like, seeming as, fulfilling a role.

DYNAMIC PAIR: Becoming, transforming one’s nature.

Zen of Writing: Conceptualizing

Conceptualizing means coming up with a practical implementation of an idea. It is not enough to simply have the idea. To conceptualize, one must develop an actual mental model of how such an idea might be made manifest. In other words, one might have an idea to build a spacious house. But to conceptualize the house, one must imagine everything that makes up the house — the design, the layout, the colors & textures, everything that is essential to understanding what that specific house is. Conceptualizing requires being able to visualize something as a whole.

Excerpted from The Zen of Story Structure

DEFINITION: Conceptualizing: visualizing how an existing idea might be implemented.

SYNONYMS: visualizing, imagining, envisioning, visualizing implementation, planning.

DYNAMIC PAIR: Conceiving, coming up with an idea.

Writing About Learning

Learning describes the process of acquiring knowledge. It is not the knowledge itself. When a portion of a story focuses on learning, it is the gathering of an education that is of concern, not the education that ultimately has been gathered.

Learning need not be an academic endeavor. One might learn to express one’s feelings, or learn about love. Learning does not even require new information, as sometimes one learns simply by looking through old information from a different perspective or with a new approach.

 It is not important if one is learning to arrive at a particular understanding or just to gather data. As long as the focus in on the process of gaining information, Learning is the operative idea.

Excerpted from
The Zen of Story Structure

DEFINITION: Learning: gathering information or experience.

SYNONYMS: cultivating experience, acquiring information, collecting data, gathering knowledge.

DYNAMIC PAIR: Understanding, appreciating the meaning of something.

Writing About “Obtaining”

Obtaining includes not only that which is possessed but also that which is achieved or lost. For example, one might obtain a law degree or lose an election. One can also obtain a condition, such as obtaining a smoothly operating political system or loosing the love of a parent. Whether it refers to a mental or physical state or process, obtaining describes the concept of attaining.

Excerpted from The Zen of Story Structure

DEFINITION: Obtaining: achieving or possessing something.

SYNONYMS: controlling for oneself, possessing, having, keeping.

DYNAMIC PAIR: Doing, engaging in a physical activity.

Writing About Doing

Doing is the process of being physically active. In and of itself, Doing does not require any purpose, but simply describes engaging in a process, task, or endeavor, whether for pleasure or by necessity or compulsion.

Excerpted from The Zen of Story Structure

DEFINITION: Doing: engaging in a physical activity.

SYNONYMS: performing, executing, effecting action, acting.

DYNAMIC PAIR: Obtaining, achieving or possessing something.

Writing About the Present

“The Present” does not refer to the way things are going, but to the way things are. It is a here and now judgment of the arrangement of a situation and the circumstances surrounding it.

A story that focuses on the Present is not concerned with how events led to the current situation nor where the current situation will lead, but defines the scenario that exists at the moment.

Excerpted from The Zen of Story Structure

DEFINITION: The Present: the current situation and circumstances.

SYNONYMS: how things stand, the here and now, current situation, as of this moment.

DYNAMIC PAIR: The Past, what has already happened.