Three Reasons Why Great Stories Include Variation

Well, I thought that I’d talk about one of the essential ingredients of a great story – variation. In other words, how great stories will often contain an interesting mixture of different genres, different emotional tones, different levels of formality, types of pacing etc… during different parts of the story.

Variation is an important part of storytelling because, on the most basic level, it prevents the reader from becoming bored. When done well, it prevents your story from becoming predictable or repetitive. However, it is an important part of a good story for so many other reasons too. Here are a few of them.

1) Contrast: To use a visual metaphor, this is a little bit like how a bright light in a painting or photo will look even brighter when placed against a dark background. Because the gap between the lightest and darkest part of the picture is fairly large, the light looks brighter by comparison. And, the same principle is true in fiction too.

For example, S. K. Dunstall’s “Linesman” is a fairly slow-paced sci-fi novel about intergalactic politics. So, on the few occasions that the novel includes thrillingly action-packed scenes, these scenes seem about twice as fast-paced because they are contrasted with lots of slower-paced scenes.

Likewise, Ryu Murakami’s “In The Miso Soup” (SPOILERS ahoy!) is an atmospheric horror novel that mostly relies on things like suspense and atmosphere to unnerve the audience.

As such, when the novel includes a single splatterpunk-style scene of gory horror, this scene is about ten times more shocking because it is so different to the rest of the novel.

So, including variation in your story allows you to place emphasis on certain scenes through the use of contrast. Not only that, a good amount of contrast can also make your story seem more dramatic as a whole too.

2) Progression: Simply put, variation makes your story flow better. Likewise, because the story moves from one genre or emotional tone to another several times, it will have a sense of movement and momentum to it that can give the reader a real feeling of progression.

This also means that your story will feel larger or more detailed too. For example, at the time of writing this article, I’m about halfway through reading a novel called “Lies, Damned Lies, And History” by Jodi Taylor (mild SPOILERS ahead).

In the first half or so of this novel, the story goes from mysterious suspense to comedic sci-fi/historical fiction to a heist thriller to an understated drama to a dramatic thriller. And it feels epic.

Because it crams so many genres into a relatively small space (about 160-170 pages), the first half of this novel feels larger and longer than it actually is. So, when done well, variation allows your reader to feel like they’ve progressed through a longer story than they actually have.

3) Originality: Although there is no such thing as a “100% Original” creative work, the feeling of originality comes from seeing an interesting and distinctive mixture of different things. In other words, originality isn’t about coming up with entirely new things, it is about doing something different with stuff that people already know about.

So, coming up with an inventive way to mix scenes from different genres, to mix different moods etc… can really make your story stand out from the crowd. It will also make your story more memorable too.

A good example of this is probably “Make Me” by Lee Child (again, SPOILERS ahoy!).

For the most part, this novel is a fairly typical suspense-thriller/action-thriller novel with some vaguely ominous background elements. Then, during one of the later parts of the story, the novel suddenly turns into full-on horror fiction. Although there is a fair amount of foreshadowing, this switch to another genre really catches the reader by surprise and means that the novel’s shocking ending is about ten times more memorable than the ending of a typical thriller novel.

So, yes, variation will add originality to your story and/or make it more memorable.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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