Applying Mirror Structure to Stories

3167236184_4c5385c657_zAgain, Mirror structure means:

– Finish what you start

– Resolve the relationship questions that you pose

– Fulfil the promises made to the reader.

But how does this actually work? Well let’s look at these points in more detail.

-Finish what you start:

If your story starts as a mystery, then it finishes when the mystery ends. If it starts as a romance it ends when the romance ends. If it starts with children disappearing then it ends when we know what happened to the children. If it poses a question, it ends when the question is answered.

You can have more than one start in a story. You can have more than one end. But make sure you resolve your starts in the order that they appear. There is a significant difference between romantic suspense and a suspense story with a romantic subplot. When your start your story with romance on the first page, readers expect it to be on the last. Suspense can be in there, but given you’ve promised to the reader that the main focus of your story is going to be on the romance, you would be better to wrap up the suspense before or with the end of the romance. If someone comes to read a romance story, and that bit finishes before everything else, then they’re not really reading a romance story. You’ve done the old bait and switch.

– resolve the character relationship questions that you propose.

There are three main types of relationships in fiction

– Window dressing:

These relationships have roles within your story, but the relationship itself doesn’t change. They are important, because they let us see different sides of the character and they can provide conflict, but the nature of the relationship doesn’t change. If your MC, a vicious spy, has a daughter, then that relationship is important to him, but if it doesn’t change, it’s just there to show sides of your character.

The changing relationships:

These relationships are important to the structure of the story. They start with discord, and they evolve over the course of the story. It is through these relationships that we see change in the character – as the character changes, the relationships involve. There are fewer of these, and these relationships are resolved by the end of the story. The roles have changed, and re-stabilised.

In Lord of the Rings, both Sam and Golumn are this kind of relationship to Frodo. The interactions within these relationships change as the character changes, the themes of the story are explored through these relationships. These relationships eventually resolve and in doing so show character change. Sam dragging Frodo up the mountain is a culmination of relationship change, and Golumn stealing the ring from Frodo and falling into mount doom is a culmination of a changing relationship.

These relationships aim somewhere. In fact, in that regard their similar to the last kind of relationship:

The antagonist:

This is another changing relationship, but it’s a very specific one. This relationship starts when someone or something seeks to prevent your MC from achieving their goal. It ends when the MC achieves their goal despite the antagonist, or fails so badly that you believe they will not try again

And the last point –

Keep your promises.

This is actually quite straightforward:

If you promise explosions with your choice of genre and the style of writing, then deliver explosions. If you promise messages about the nature of the universe, then deliver.

There is no rule that says an adventure can’t have messages about the nature of the universe in it. But it sure makes your life easier if you set the reader up for that.

So how do I use these? Generally, I free write to the middle, then go back and look at what I’ve written, I find the promises I’ve made. I take a look at the stories I’ve started, and in what order. I look at the relationships I’m exploring.

And then I go and finish what I’ve started.

Photo taken from Flickr, creative commons, attributed to Andrew Barclay

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