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The Diverse Writers & Artists of Speculative Fiction
The Five Commandments of Storytelling
Every effective story has five structural components that work together to communicate a CONTROLLING IDEA in a way that bypasses readers’ critical minds to touch their hearts and change their worldviews. These components are the Five Commandments of Storytelling.
When most writers and editors talk about Story structure, they rely on a grab bag of different approaches that capture part of but not the whole of Story’s fundamental structure. In the same way, two wings, two jet engines, and a fuselage don’t make a functioning airplane.
In the Story Grid Universe, we understand that Story structure is about embedding GENRE-specific VALUE SHIFTS within every UNIT OF STORY — from the line-by-line BEATS to TROPES to SCENES to SEQUENCES to QUADRANTS to the full STORY — to communicate the ARTIST’s CONTROLLING IDEA.
The Five Commandments of Storytelling are:
1. Inciting Incident
The inciting incident destabilizes the protagonist by upsetting the balance of their life for good or for ill. Every inciting incident is either causal (the result of an active choice by an AVATAR) or coincidental (something unexpected or random or accidental). In response, the protagonist forms a goal, which they begin to pursue. Read more about Inciting Incidents.
2. Turning Point Progressive Complication
The protagonist goes through a series of actions to restore balance to the world after the inciting incident. As these actions fail, it progressively complicates the story until the protagonist faces a final turning point where everything they have tried fails. This can be brought on by AVATAR action (someone does something that renders the protagonists initial strategies useless) or by revelation (when new information is given to the protagonist that forces them to change). Read more about Turning Point Progressive Complications.
When the protagonist’s initial strategy to deal with the inciting incident has failed, they face a dilemma. This is the crisis. The crisis poses a real choice between incompatible options with meaningful stakes. It is always a binary “this or that” choice. Every crisis is either a Best Bad Choice (choosing between two horrible things) or an Irreconcilable Goods choice (choosing between two wonderful things). Read more about Crises.
The climax is the active answer to the question raised by the crisis. The climax always reveals the truth about who the AVATAR really is when they enact their choice under pressure. Read more about Climaxes.
The resolution is what happens as a result of the protagonist’s choice during the climax. Because the crisis had meaningful stakes, when the AVATAR makes a decision, something meaningful will always happen as a result. Read more about Resolutions.
Examples of the Five Commandments of Storytelling
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Scene 19
Inciting Incident: Causal. Mr. Collins proposes marriage to Elizabeth Bennet.
Turning Point Progressive Complication: Active. Mr. Collins refuses to accept Elizabeth’s refusal because it doesn’t make sense to him.
Crisis: Irreconcilable Goods. If Elizabeth accepts Mr. Collins, she’ll save her sisters after her father’s death, but she’ll sentence herself to a lifetime of misery.
Climax: Elizabeth refuses again.
Resolution: Mr. Collins calls her charming and Elizabeth realizes the only way Mr. Collins will go away is if her father agrees with her.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, full story
Inciting Incident: Coincidental. The emergence of an extraordinary external environmental change agent, a Kansas Cyclone.
Turning Point Progressive Complication: Revelatory. Dorothy discovers Oz is not a wizard and he is incapable of granting the group’s wishes.
Crisis: Best Bad Choice. Should Dorothy quit her quest to return home, remain in the Emerald City, and make the best of things, or should she continue to seek a way home, which looks to be impossible?
Climax: Dorothy chooses to continue seeking her own way home.
Resolution: Dorothy finds her way back home.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, Chapter 24
Inciting Incident: Causal. Poirot calls Sheppard out for hiding a secret.
Turning Point Progressive Complication: Revelatory. Sheppard confesses that he convinced Ralph, after the murder, to hide out.
Crisis: Best bad choice. Will the killer confess to save Ralph, or will Poirot have to out him or her?
Climax: No one speaks up. The smoking gun clue arrives.
Resolution: Poirot dismisses the people in the room except Sheppard.
Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Scene 2 – “Aaron Burr, sir”
Inciting Incident: Causal. Hamilton introduces himself to Burr and asks how he graduated from college early.
Turning Point Progressive Complication: Active. Burr advises Hamilton to keep his opinions to himself if he wants to get ahead.
Crisis: Best bad choice. Following Burr’s advice means Hamilton denies his own instincts and potentially fails in life, but disagreeing with Burr could risk his friendship with someone who could help him.
Climax: In the last line of the song, Hamilton openly rejects Burr’s advice by saying, “If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?”
Resolution: The resolution comes at the beginning of the next song, “My Shot,” when Laurens, Lafayette, and Mulligan ask Hamilton who he is and what his plans are. This gives Hamilton a chance to prove his intelligence to them.
Common Mistakes with the Five Commandments
Writers can avoid errors in applying the Five Commandments by focusing on how the commandments function together. Here are several common mistakes drawn from Danielle Kiowski’s The Five Commandments of Storytelling.
The inciting incident does not tie to the climax. The inciting incident must promise the climactic action. In turn, the climax must mirror the inciting incident to show how the protagonist has changed.
The inciting incident is unresolved at the end of the story. Stories are about processing unexpected change, so if the inciting incident is unresolved, the protagonist has failed to metabolize the invisible phere gorilla.
The turning point does not complicate from the inciting incident. The turning point illustrates the failure of the protagonist’s initial strategy, so it should arise naturally from a series of complications caused by the gradual breakdown of the procedures the protagonist relies on. A drop-in of an unexpected event undermines this dynamic, even if it prevents the protagonist from following the initial strategy.
The link between the turning point and the ensuing crisis decision is weak. The crisis must come directly from the turning point. Ensure the turning point is strong enough to force the protagonist to decide, and the options available in the crisis come from the turning point.
The turning point, crisis, and climax do not follow a consistent protagonist. Switching protagonists breaks the arc and interrupts the construction of the controlling idea. Ensure the same character facing the turning point and grappling with the crisis is the one enacting the climax.
The resolution does not tie back to the stakes established in the crisis. The crisis makes it clear that the protagonist must suffer some consequence. If they enact the climax and everything goes well, with no cost, this breaks the connection between the resolution and the crisis, undermining the controlling idea by invalidating the stakes.
The Five Commandments of Storytelling by Danielle Kiowski
In-depth Course: The Five Commandments of Storytelling
Dig into all Five Commandments of Storytelling:
Strap in and enter worlds of wonder in Chosen Realities: Summer 2020. The Journal contains a dazzling array of short stories, scripts, interviews, and more! Stroll through fantastical universes, rocket through science fiction landscapes, and muse on poetry in this jam-packed introductory volume of the Journal of Diverse Writers and Artists of Speculative Fiction. Entertainment and enlightenment await!
You may be looking for some Afrofuturistic art for your project. Click the links to the artist and contact them on Deviant Art to collaborate!
34 Publishers Seeking Young Adult Novel Manuscripts
One of my favorite genres to read now is young adult (YA) fiction, even though when I was a teenager, I struggled to find good books. These days the YA genre is profitable, diverse, and covers a wide variety of genres, from science fiction to romance and everything in between. A lot of YA publishers are open to submissions without an agent. Some of these publishers exclusively publish YA novels, others publish children’s books as well, while others are open to a wider variety of genres and age groups.
Not all of the publishers are currently open to submissions, but the majority of them are. If you click on the name of the publisher it will link to our full review of them or to their website. All our full reviews contain links to the various publishers’ submission pages. The list is in no particular order.
Allen & Unwin is a large independent Australian Press that is open to submissions on a wide range of topics, including children’s and YA. They have won a number of Australian publisher awards. They accept based on pitches, and have a system known as the “Friday Pitch” which insures that at least one editor reviews each unsolicited pitch.
Boroughs Publishing Group is an e-publisher that focuses on publishing romance novels, novellas, and short stories. Within the romance genre they are interested in publishing a large number of sub genres including contemporary romance, young adult, historical fiction, paranormal, urban fantasy, multicultural, erotic, thrillers, and fantasy novels.
Jolly Fish Press was started in 2012. They are based out of Provo, Utah. Jolly Fish has a major distributor and a large staff for a relatively new press. Their authors have won numerous awards. They publish middle grade and young adult fiction.
Page Street Publishing is a YA and children’s publisher. They have excellent distribution.
Shadow Mountain is an imprint of Deseret Book. Both publishers are Mormon, but Deseret Book focuses more on producing faith-based content. Shadow Mountain publishes primarily fiction and they have published a number of New York Times bestselling books. Because the company is Mormon run, books have to be approved by in-house censors in order to be published. They are very firm about publishing “clean books only”. However the authors need not be Mormon. They only have four short reading periods a year now.
Charlesbridge publishes high quality books for children and young adults with the goal of creating lifelong readers and lifelong learners. They have good distribution.
This Philadelphia-based press publishes just 25 books a year in a whole range of genres, from children’s books to nonfiction to science fiction. Unlike most publishers that tackle a large range of topics, Quirk Books has a clear marketing plan and to a certain degree their books have a cohesive feel, because they all are quirky. They have published a wide variety of bestsellers and they have excellent distribution. Some of their bestsellers include The Last Policeman, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. At the time of this update they are not open to submissions.
The books they publish tend to be on the younger end of the young adult genre (think thirteen-year-old readers primarily). They are an established and respected publisher.
Arsenal Pulp Press is a Canadian small press based out of Vancouver. They have won the Jim Douglas Publisher of the Year Award (from the Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia), and they have been a finalist for Small Press Publisher of the Year (awarded by the Canadian Booksellers Association) five times. They have good distribution in Canada and on the West Coast. I’ve seen a number of their books in stores in the Pacific Northwest. They also regularly host and promote events for their authors, and that is a good sign as well.
Tell-Tale Publishing is a small press founded in 2009. They seem to focus primarily on eBooks but also they have print options (largely print on demand). They publish six imprints which include Dahlia (romance, and various romance subgenres), Stargazer (fantasy, steampunk), Nightshade (horror), Casablanca (mystery), Thistle (middle school, YA, new adult), and Déjà Vu (reprints for all genres).
The Parliament House is a small eBook and print press started in 2016. They specialize in fantasy, including paranormal, contemporary, and urban. Their website is well-designed, and the covers too are well-designed and market-appropriate. They seem active on social media and more focused on recruiting readers than writers. The fantasy novels they tend to list as favorites are aimed at young adults.
An established niche publisher, they started an imprint focused on teens in 2020. They are actively looking for young adult fiction proposals in the historical fiction category only, particularly 20th-century historical fiction. They are also open to young adult narrative nonfiction proposals.
CamCat Books is a small independent publisher that was founded in 2019. Since then they have acquired and published a large number of novels, both through unsolicited submissions and agents.
Brother Mockingbird Publishing
Brother Mockingbird Publishing is a small independent press committed to discovering writers from the American South, but they are also open to good fiction, regardless of where the author is based.
GemmaMedia focuses largely on literacy, and improving reading, which includes publishing work for Hi-Lo readers.
Persea Books is an independent book publisher based out of New York that was established in the 1970s. Since then they have gained a reputation for publishing thoughtful books in a variety of literary genres, including YA.
Albert Whitman & Company has been around since 1919. I grew up reading a series, the best-known series that they have published, The Boxcar Children. Over the past few years they have started to focus on publishing a larger number of books each year. They launched a teen imprint in 2011, and it still appears to be going strong.
Entangled Teen is the YA imprint of the romance publisher Entangled Publishing. Entangled Publishing is a newer company but they have had a lot of success in the genre of romance and they have sold a lot of books. They primarily operate on a digital first model, which usually means print runs only happen if/when the digital book has been successful. Also look at their Teen Crave (paranormal/scifi/fantasy YA category romance) and Teen Crush (contemporary YA category romance) imprints. Make sure to read our full review, as we do have concerns about this publisher.
Polis Books is an independent publisher of fiction and nonfiction, founded in 2013. Their focus is on publishing new voices. They are a technologically driven company. They publish print and digital books. Polis Books was founded by Jason Pinter. Mr. Pinter had over a decade of experience in editorial, marketing and publicity for a variety of publishers including Random House, St. Martin’s Press, and The Mysterious Press.
Owl Canyon Press is an independent publisher based out of Boulder, Colorado. They were founded in 2011. They publish fiction, nonfiction, young adult fiction, and works in translation.
Flux is an imprint of North Star Editions that publishes exclusively young adult fiction. Their motto is “Where Young Adult is a Point of View, not a Reading Level”. Most of the books they publish focus on the older end of the young adult market. They publish edgier, darker stuff than other young adult publishers. They publish all sub genres of young adult, from realistic life stories to sci fi. They are established, have good distribution, and have published many books that have sold well.
AM Ink is a Western Massachusetts based press that publishes quality biographies, children’s books, novels, and short story collections. Some of their imprints are open to YA fiction.
They publish primarily science fiction, fantasy books, as well as YA. They offer an advance and they say they offer competitive royalties, but the details are sparse and mentioned here. They don’t mention a distributor, so I assume if they have one it is Ingram.
Young Dragons is a division of Oghma Creative Media. It is a traditional independent publisher with three imprints. Little Dragons (Lee Press) focuses on publishing picture books and middle grade readers. Fledgling Dragons (Fife Press) focuses on young adult fiction. Inquisitive Dragons (Arbroath Abbey) focuses on publishing nonfiction resources for parents and educators.
BHC publishes young adult and adult fiction in most genres. They have published many debut books. They publish between 16-20 books a year. All books are published in print and eBook formats, and they are starting to release more audiobook versions as well. You can get a feel for what they publish here.
City of Light Publishing is a small press with many imprints, based out of Buffalo, New York. Their Cross Your Heart Imprint focuses on YA.
Sky Pony is a division of Skyhorse Publishing. This division focuses on publishing work for children, and are also open to publishing Young Adult work as long as it intersects with other areas of interest for the publisher such as ecology, farm living, wilderness living, recycling, and other “green” topics.
The following publishers are seeking YA work, but are open to limited demographics and/or topics.
Amble Press publishes fiction and narrative nonfiction from people who identify as a writer of color, as well as “those writing across the broader queer spectrum.” So far they have published eight books, including two by the managing Editor and Lambda Literary Award-winning author Michael Nava. They are interested in young adult and new adult books, as well as a wide range of other genres.
Deep Hearts YA is a new publisher of fiction for young adults. They focus on publishing LBGTQ+ stories, in all genres and sub-genres, including aro and ace lead characters. They are primary a romance publisher, but romance does not have to be the main focus of the manuscript if self-empowerment or self-realization plays a central role.
Ylva Publishing is the home of lesbian fiction and fiction about women-loving-women, and not surprisingly given the context, they only publish women. They mainly publish romance genre, but they are open to other genres, including historical fiction, crime, action, mystery, young adult, and erotica.
This established publisher allows YA submissions without an agent but only “of works that directly promote diversity, equality and inclusion.”
They are open to direct submissions from Canadian authors or focusing on Canadian content, who are from underrepresented communities, including Black writers, Indigenous writers, writers of colour, writers with disabilities, LGBTQIA2S+ writers and writers who identify with other marginalized groups.
An imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, which is edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith, and is in partnership with We Need Diverse Books. Native and First Nations writers and writer-illustrators are welcome to query her directly via a form on her website. Native and First Nations illustrators are also invited to reach out. They publish YA and children’s books.
Tundra Books, Puffin Canada, Penguin Teen Canada
These children and teen focused Canadian imprints are open to direct submissions by underrepresented authors and illustrators only. Authors need not be Canadian.
Emily Harstone is the author of many popular books, including The Authors Publish Guide to Manuscript Submissions, Submit, Publish, Repeat, and The 2021 Guide to Manuscript Publishers.
CALLS FOR ARTISTS
County Arts Agencies
3/10: Call for Artists - Carroll County Arts Council 16th Annual PEEPshow
3/12: Call for Applications - Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts Open Studio Tours
3/15: Call for Young Artists - Salisbury Wicomico Arts Council Douglas I. Smith Grant
3/17: Call for Arts & Humanities Organizations - Montgomery County Programming & Capacity Building Project Grants
3/25: Call for Artists - “Our Best ‘Foot’ Forward: A Celebration of Kent County’s Creative Community” Exhibition
Ongoing: Call for Arts Organizations & Businesses - Creative Howard
Ongoing: Call for Arts Educators - Harford County Cultural Arts Board Arts in Education Grant
Ongoing: Call for Arts Educators - Carroll County Arts in Education Grant
Ongoing: Call for Artists - Howard County Center for the Arts Exhibitions
Ongoing: Call to Public Artists - Baltimore Mural Program
Ongoing: Call for Arts Organizations - Arts Council of Calvert County Community Grant
Ongoing: Call for Arts Organizations - Caroline County Community Arts Development Mini-Grants
Ongoing: Call for Artists - Carroll County Arts Council Call for 2024 Exhibitors
Ongoing: Call for Arts Organizations - Carroll County Arts Council Arts Opportunity Mini-Grants
Ongoing: Call for Arts Organizations - Cecil County Arts Council Opportunity Fund
Ongoing: Call for Arts Education Organizations - Cecil County Arts Council Arts In Education Grant
Ongoing: Call for Arts Education Organizations - Frederick Arts Council Arts in Education Grant
Ongoing: Call for Organizations - Kent Cultural Alliance Project Grants
Ongoing: Call for Artists - Prince George's Arts and Humanities Council Digital Open Call
Ongoing: Call for Arts Organizations - Somerset County Arts Council Community Arts Grants
Ongoing: Call for Artists - Somerset County Arts Council Individual Artist Grant
Ongoing: Call for Organizations & Schools - Talbot Arts Mini Grants
Ongoing: Call for Curators - Black Arts District Project RestART
3/10: Call for Public Artists - Gene Lynch Urban Park
3/10: Call for 2D Artists - The Art of Racing (Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course)
3/12: Call for Musicians - Montpelier Arts Center Recital Competition
3/12: Call for Teen Artists - Montpelier Arts Center Gallery Library
3/29: Call for 3D Artists - "Off the Wall" at Laurel Arts Gallery
3/31: Call for Public Artists - Hidden Stories of Cecil County Art Walk
Ongoing: Call for Artists - Art Connection in the Capital Region
Ongoing: Call for Performers - Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center
3/23: Call for Presenters - Mid Atlantic Tours
3/29: Call for Performing Artists - USArtists International
3/6: Columbia Festival of the Arts’ LakeFest
Ongoing: Kent County Fair