Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pick One (Or A Few)

So pick one. Action or romance? Huge world events and explosions or tight-knit relationships in their own little corners of the world? Wouldn't it be nice to have a scale in which you can easily categorize the type of stories you prefer?

I thought so, too.

So my father-in-law came up with The Fiction Scale. I have found it helpful in so many ways. In fact, I may ask those whose works I beta read in the future to categorize their work using The Fiction Scale so that I have an idea of where the story falls.

I apologize to any of you who have already seen this. I've been a walking zombie the past few days and just need to get some rest.

The Fiction Scale According to Steve Argyle
For my own convenience, I rate fiction on a scale that refers to the balance of characterization and plot. When I say "world events" I do not mean "our world events" but "book world events."

I categorize the books I read on a decimal scale. For example, I would rate the Harry Potter books at about a 5.8. Pride and Prejudice is a solid 1. My own life is a 2.6, so I mostly enjoy reading books in the 5 to 7 range

1. The characters have relationships with each other.

2. The characters have relationships with each other while world events happen vaguely in the background.

3. The characters have relationships with each other while doing things in the background.

4. The characters have relationships with each other while doing interesting things.

5. The characters have relationships with each other AND do interesting things related to world events.

6. The characters do interesting things that shape world events and have relationships with each other in the background.

7. World events compel characters to do exciting things. Relationships are a luxury.

8. World events ARE the real characters. People are just props in the background. Relationships are accidental.


My first novel, The Breakaway rates 4

My second novel,
Monarch rates 5.5

I like 1 - 6 stories

(update: Justus asked some good questions in the comments section pertaining to what "interesting things" means. As I can't get a hold of my father in law right now, I'm taking a stab at answering Justus's question.

I came up with this so far: Knowing my father in law, what he means by "interesting things" is that the conflicts and trials that the characters overcome are either more dangerous or "grand scale" than the simple everyday conflicts and trials we overcome, like deciding who or how or whether or not we're going to marry, like in P&P)

Questions For You:
Where does your own writing fall? Does it differ from what you like to read and watch? Do you think a scale like this might help you discuss literature with your fellow writers?

~MDA (aka Glam)


  1. Maybe a 5 for Time Prism, a 2-4 for The Dragons' Oracle. I give a range for my second novel, because I think #4 is vague: "interesting things"?

  2. Justus:I think "interesting things" refers to doing the typical "character arc stuff" - overcoming a trial, conflict, ect.

    I'll have to ask him to be sure.

  3. If so, wouldn't everything be at least a 4? What book has nothing interesting in it?

    By the way, I'm not trying to "dis" the scale. It's cool. But #4 confused me as it didn't contain some of the usual words or phrases: namely, "background" and "world events."

  4. I like this idea a lot.

    My short stories tend to be number 2s. the novel I'm working on is more of a number 5.

  5. Hmm, I think mine would be 2-4? I say that because mine seems to fit in all three. Is that possible? I like the scale, Glam. It's a cool idea! :)

  6. The scale is an excellent idea. I will most defintely attempt to implement it when I get the chance to write again.

  7. The Argyle scale. Cool.
    This is a helpful scale to anyone that knows it of course. :)

    The Shores of Utopia - 5+
    Changes - 4

    My life - 3

  8. Justus:I just realized that even Pride and Prejudice, which my father in law rates as a solid one, has character arcs, so "interesting things" can't mean just that.

    Knowing my father in law, what he means by "interesting things" is that the conflicts and trials that the characters overcome are either more dangerous or "grand scale" than the simple everyday conflicts and trials we overcome (like deciding who or how or whether or not we're going to marry, like in P&P)

    Does that make sense?

  9. What a fun scale! I think most of my writing comes in around 5.

  10. Glam,

    This is definitely useful, especially when you want to beta read others’ works. It gives you an idea of what to expect. Because there are differences between these categories, knowing in advance what category you’re reading would impact the way you critique others’ works. My first novel is a 1 I think, and my second would be a 3.

    I didn’t really get the difference between 3 and 4. Could you help me out?

    You know what? I think it would be nice to have a website with book ratings using this scale. Sometimes I have a hard time finding books that I really, really like. This would definitely help. There are websites with movie ratings. And I don’t mean only G or R ratings and everything in between, but also ratings like the ones they have on Netflix, for example, that you can check out in details and decide whether a movie is appropriate for your children. Wouldn’t it be nice to have something similar for books?

    BTW, I loved the photo. I'm such visual person.

  11. Krisz:The difference between 3 and 4 is the word "interesting" - see my comments in the "update" on the post or my comments to Justus up above. Does that help at all?

  12. Krisz:Also, there's a difference in the fact that the characters in 3 are participating in things in the background that he talks about in 2. And in 4, the characters are not participating in those background events.

    My take in my words: In 3 the characters are more involved with background events, although their relationships and conflicts aren't as dangerous - but in 4 the characters are not participating in background events, but their conflicts are more dangerous.

  13. Hmmm...I don't typically think in terms like this. I guess I don't typically like 1. stories--I need more than a love story to drive the plot. Typically, I just think about what would realistically happen (romantic-wise or not) in terms of the characters relationships in the situation of the story.

  14. This is the thing - I'm not sure. I'd like to say the characters are involved with each other and with interesting things in their world - but am I fooling myself? Is it enough? Too much? It's so difficult to see it objectively sometimes. Certianly too difficult (for me) to see it objectively enough to pick a number. Does anyone else ever feel that way?

  15. I figured your father-in-law meant just that, but I don't like to assume.

  16. What a cool rating system! I would love to say mine is a solid five! What I hope I'm writing and what actually is might be two very different things. Perception is funny like that, but I am shooting for 5.

  17. My attention span is too short to put the scale into use...what is wrong with me?!

  18. Oh, I like this scale. Glam, I think this might have helped us a lot in our discussions of Gifted and other books. I would say it's about a 3 or possibly 4.

    Krisz, I've often thought the same thing about ratings for books and so I include that on my book reviews as a "cleanness score." I have friends and family who are looking for things for their younger kids and teens to read. I just think it's nice for them to get a heads up for what's in the books I review.

  19. Wow, am I the only on in the 5-7 range?

    Epic, me likie. Reading and writing (though I will read just about anything). I try my best to disguise it with my characters though, make it seem like things aren't as world shattering as they actually are.

    I know a lot of people can do big ideas with small things - and I applaud that talent.

    Me? I need the world involved. Or the universe, as it were. :) Part of why I love dystopian fiction so much.

    Hound is a 6 I think, though Kumari would argue it's a 7 (but, she's wrong. /chuckle).

  20. At my most exciting my novels are a five and below. Perhaps that speaks miles of the rejected query onslaught that has deluged my inbox as of late.

  21. Martin:I tend to really appreciate the lower numbers. Sometimes it feels like the higher you go the more it has a potential to get shallow. But that's speaking in general terms.

    Robyn:Yes, it's possible to fit all three, I think. But I also think that the more you're able to pinpoint it, the more focus your novel probably has. I could be way wrong.

    Suz:You're not writing? Did I miss this somewhere?

    Charlie:The Argyle Scale. I love that title. Thanks! My life seems to be a 2, I think.

    PJ:I can see yours as a 5. Perfect!

    Beth:I think that's exactly what the scale is trying to show, though. How the characters interact with to the situation of the story's world.

    Tess:I think it definitely is about stepping back to see where your characters fit in the scheme of the world you've created. How are they reacting and interacting with that world? It's difficult to see sometimes, and I think that's why some writers here are having a hard time picking numbers, too.

    Nisa:I like 5. It seems to have a lot of potential in the well-rounded story category. So shoot for that!

    Anita:You're probably functioning on lack of sleep. I know I am. My brain feels like it hit a brick wall.

    Lois:Yes, I think Gifted is a 4. Possibly... your later books in the series will be higher?

    Erin:Nothing wrong with higher numbers. One is not better than the other. I can appreciate all books along the scale. I know you can, too, from the discussions we've had.

    T. Anne:NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!! The lower numbers do not mean less or bad. At all! It's just a category to see what KIND of story it is. Perhaps you are sending your queries to agents who rep the higher-numbered categories? Perhaps you should find some that rep more of the 1-4 range...

  22. Great scale, it really makes you think. I like reading books on the 4 - 8 scale range. I think Floating on the Surface is going to end up being around a 4.5 whereas before it was 1.5. So according to the scale I wasn't interesting in reading my own book. Good thing I'm rewriting it. Winter's Illusion is 5ish so far.

    I like reading and watching shows with more action, than romance, truthfully. More entertaining.

    I think the scale would be a great idea because it would not only help the writer to classify their story, but also let others know what to expect. Whether the story is more character driven or plot driven.

  23. My only quibble with this scale is that a good story will arguably be more than one of these. "The Lord of the Rings" might rate a 7 or higher, but I think a case can be made that at an important level, it's really the story of Frodo's relationship with Sam. Or perhaps Frodo's relationship with himself.

    I disagree that "Pride and Prejudice" is a 1. I think it's more of a 3: the soldiers are in town because there's a war going on (the war against Napoleon, isn't it?), and there is a lot of subtext about class and money as well.

    It's an interesting way to look at fiction, though, and could be a good way for people to measure how successful their storytelling is when compared to what they're trying to write. If I think I'm working on something that's a 7 but readers think it's a 4, I probably have work to do!

  24. In fantasy, the pathetic fallacy can be literal: world events not only mirror the character but sometimes *are* a character.

    I suppose that would be a nine or ten on your scale?

  25. Robin:Great comment, yes, I agree with that last part especially. It could be a great tool for expectations.

    Scott:Oh, I agree! I think it's the different "layers" of a story that can make it more than one number. I stated up above that if a writer can't pinpoint their novel into one number, they might not have enough focus. I still agree with that; however, I think that if you can assign numbers to different layers, that's fine.

    Lord of The Rings works on many different layers. Didn't Tolkien just focus on that one relationship mostly so he could tell all about the world he created? (That's supposed to be a bit sarcastic).

    P&P a 3? Hmmm, I see your point there. I'll talk about this with my FIL when I see him next. Great stuff to chew on.

    Yes, I agree with the last part of your comment. It's a useful tool to see if you're accomplishing what you set out to do.

    Tara:More to chew on... hmmm!

  26. I think my book would end up being a 4. I have the word "postwar" in it, which, to me, makes it automatically higher than 1. :)

    This is a scale for genre, moreso than a scale of quality, or entertainment value, right? I mean, I would tend to lean toward the low numbers in choosing what I read. An 8 doesn't sound that interesting to me.

    I think the Lord of the Rings is a great story to bring up. I'd personally place that at 5, which seems like a great place to be--and something I'm striving for in my next book.

  27. Oh, erm, I was distracted by the photo of Daniel Craig. Whoops!

    My novel would be a solid 5.

  28. You inspired me to post some thoughts on genre on my blog too. :)

  29. I guess mine is a 6 to 7. More 6 though.

    And if we are voting on the picture, my vote is Daniel Craig all the way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Oh. Sorry.

    And I'm an action girl all the way. Sure romance is fun but I'm a thrill of the chase kinda gal. Actually in all aspects...hehe. :)

  30. Oh, I ignored the actual questions in the post. My reading habits tend to fall into the 4-6 range. I think the book I just wrote is a 6, or so I like to tell myself.

  31. 5.5 maybe? 6? It's hard to say.

    I'm pretty sure anything under the range of 5 has me bored to tears and snoring by the end of chapter 3.

  32. I don't know what my book is at this very minute. But I love your post, as always. AND I agree about Pride and Prejudice, of course.

  33. I suppose I really am obligated to chime in, if only to clarify the definition of "interesting." I hope everyone will forgive my little intrusion.

    The Argyle Scale (I kind of like the sound of that)is, of course, subjective. When I said "interesting," I meant "outside the scope of everyday life." While the intimate drama of interpersonal relationships is no doubt interesting, it is not uncommon. Perhaps "uncommon" might be a better word than "interesting, but I'm not yet sold on it."

    Yes, P&P is set more or less during the Napoleonic Wars, but every county in England had its regiment raised and billeted in the country all through the 19th Century. The presence of soldiers, including dashing young subalterns, in English country society was so commonplace at that time that I would not even consider it adequate to push the book past a 1.6 at best.

    Mr. Bailey has a good point about a precious few books spanning categories on the scale. That is what makes them truly great books.

    Michelle, my dear, shallow? Really? One would almost think you had a rather narrow view of depth. A work may be shallow in terms of character relationships and be utterly profound in terms of ideas. Admittedly there are a great many shallow books on the market (the literary equivalent of sofa paintings) but not all books above a 4 on the scale will be shallow even if they don't have a lot of the convoluted emotional interplay that you are so fond of.

  34. Steve:Thanks for chiming in. I said in GENERAL terms, hehehe. But yes, I do have a narrow view of depth. Very narrow. It's something I'm trying to fix. I may need your help with that. I know you could enlighten my stuffy mind. :)

  35. I guess my book would be a 4-5. Love this scale!

  36. I love the scale! My writing is a definite 1 and those are the books I like best too. Although I'll read from 1-6 but 7 and 8 kind of bore me.

  37. Alexa:Nothing wrong with 1! I love 1's. :D


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