I’ve been thinking about layers today, which results in my craving petits fours…you know, those little cakes covered in icing? They’re yummy and adorable, but that’s beside the point.

Good stories…no, strike that. Great stories succeed on multiple layers. One of the most frustrating things for an author is succeeding on one layer then having the story fall flat because it didn’t wind up hitting the other layers.

This list is my no means in the right order, difinitive or authoritative, but I thought I’d put it out there as food for thought. In other words, which ones are you aiming for and which ones are you hitting? Obviously, we can’t hit them all in a ficly, but yeah, it’s about striving, people.

Conceptual: The idea behind the story. Is it original or at least interesting.

Technical: This the one we tend to harp on in comments the most. It’s the grammar and spelling stuff. This layer comes down to read-ability and comprehensibility.

Emotional: Does it evoke something? Is that something in line with normal human experience. For me, this is the core of great sci-fi and fantasy—can you describe plausible human reactions to fantastical events?

Oratical: I made this word up. By this I mean, did you tell a good story? Is there a beginning, a nice meaty middle, an exciting climax, and a satisfying denouement?

Thematic: This is the kicker, the thing that takes a neat story to the next level. When you miss this, it’s a “page turner” or a “good read”. Does the story speak to a larger theme, societal point of view, or internal struggle. This makes the story connect on a gut level with the reader, giving it valence and salience.

So, that’s my list and another overly long blog post. Did I miss any? Which layers do you think are the most important? How much do they interact? What is your favorite color?

11 comments Posted 2010-09-12 Author: THX 0477


  • HSAR

    I like blue.

    I’m not so sure about the “oratical” layer of a story – I think to do well at the technical side kind of includes this, and it is in some ways also tied into the conceptual side of the story (i.e. the story has to introduce an idea, has to develop the idea and bring it to some kind of conclusion).

  • ElshaHawk (LoA)

    oratorical perhaps? :) I have just finished plot mapping a story..and I need to explore my theme. Thanks for pointing that out! No really, I mean it!

  • Robert Quick

    Repost of challenge that ends the 26th for those interested:

  • Jim Stitzel

    I think what you call “oratical” is what is typically referred to as “structure” in the writing world.

    Also, I’d add “voice” to that list, the way the words sound on the page. Without a logical, consistent voice, a story will be doomed to fail from the outset.

  • THX 0477

    I don’t care. I still like ‘oratical’.

    But okay, yeah, ‘structure’ is the more appropriate term that escaped me while I was trying to write this.

  • Jim Stitzel

    Hehe, it’s no big deal. I just found your choice of words… amusing. :)

  • H.S. Wift


    Every ficler must now use this word! We will get it in the dictionaries! The Hawk decrees it so!

    In other news, I agree with everything you’ve said, layers especially, except for one thing: “We can’t hit them all in one ficly.” Could you be more wrong? If you look in greater depth at some of the truly great stories on ficly, you’ll find all boxes ticked. All layers hit, some on a different level, and that’s a whole different blog all together. What I guess I’m saying is that some stories are oratical in a more subtle way. They’ll set the scene quickly, throw in a nice meaty build-up and then hit you with the stunner, the climax, and then have a wind down or denoument, sometimes only one sentence; One amazing sentence. Take a closer look at an amazing ficly, and a closer look at your blog and you’ll see the scale of your blunder.

  • THX 0477

    I appreciate your enthusiasm for the skill of our ficleteers, H.S. Wift. My intent was to leave the door open so writers didn’t feel bad if they couldn’t manage to obviously hit them all in one ficly. Still, I think you make a valid point, especially as a goal for someone trying to make a really great ficly.

    Thanks for the corrections.

  • Tad Winslow

    Not sure about oratical :P sounds like ‘oral tickle’ if I may shade it with my own gutter mind, not to insult— that’s just how it sounds to me. However, I do like the layered inspection of the craft, THX. Good entry.

  • D.E DeWitt

    Good blog.

    The interesting thing about layers is that a writer usually incorporates these subconsciously. I’ve often read back on my own work and arrogantly said to myself, “What a great word choice. It really gets across the point. Now, when did I come up with that?”

    Which brings me to another point: that word choice helps with layers. One word change in a sentence can change the entire mood of a scene.

  • Mighty-Joe Young (A.K.A Strong Coffee)(LoA)

    oh i love ori—- wait i’d just misspell it.