Martin L. Shoemaker is a programmer who writes on the side… or maybe it's the other way around. Programming pays the bills, but a second-place story in the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest earned him lunch with Buzz Aldrin. Programming never did that!

His work has appeared in Analog Science Fiction & Fact, Galaxy's Edge, Digital Science Fiction, Forever Magazine, Writers of the Future, and numerous anthologies including Year's Best Military and Adventure SF 4, Man-Kzin Wars XV, The Jim Baen Memorial Award: The First Decade, Little Green Men—Attack!, More Human Than Human: Stories of Androids, Robots, and Manufactured Humanity, Avatar Dreams, Weird World War III, Weird World War IV, Surviving Tomorrow, Humanity 2.0, Gunfight on Europa Station, and Cursed Collectibles. His Clarkesworld story "Today I Am Paul" appeared in four different year's best anthologies and eight international editions. His follow-on novel, Today I Am Carey, was published by Baen Books in March 2019. His novel The Last Dance was published by 47North in November 2019, and was the number one science fiction eBook on Amazon during October's prerelease. The sequel, The Last Campaign was published in October 2020.

Making Story Models by Martin L. Shoemaker

A picture can launch a thousand words. Let Martin L. Shoemaker teach you how.

Engineers make models of aircraft. Architects make models of buildings. This book will teach writers how to make models of their stories to plan the work or to analyze the results. Martin L. Shoemaker (writer of Today I Am Carey and The Last Dance) brings his 30 years of software modeling expertise and tools to the task of crafting fiction.

Whether you're a plotter or a pantser, an experienced pro or a brand new writer, this book will show you new ways to think about your work and solve difficult problems.



  • "I like the wide approach, so a writer of romance, or science fiction, or screenplays will find something in this book to learn from. All in all, a readable book with nice large diagrams and great information. "

    – GoodReads reviewer Cat Girczyc
  • "As the title says, this book is meant to be a tool for plotting out your story (and even if you write by the seat of your pants, he discusses some tools for that as well). The first half is the real meat of it - using graphs to build and define parts of your story. The second half goes into various story structures throughout storytelling (including Save the Cat's) and how they can be used."

    – GoodReads reviewer Spencer
  • "There's no one pattern he proposes as the be all and end all. Instead it gives the reader a toolkit to apply to a story at any point in the process, from initial planning to rewriting."

    – Amazon reviewer Kate



Looking at Feralt's Triangle, we see the pieces in a new light. Beginning, Middle, Ending. Introduction, rising action, falling action. Feralt's Triangle is a graphical depiction of Three-Act Structure, using a second dimension to show action or tension. It led me to my summary of Three-Act Structure:

•Something changes.

•Things get worse.

•Pay the price.

Something changes is the inflection point between Act I and Act II. The world is normal (for whatever "normal" means in your character's world) until something changes. Then you're in Act II, Rising Action: Things get worse. Finally, at the climax, you Pay the price to overcome the real challenge. Or in some stories, you flinch, you don't pay the price, and we see how that turns for the worse.

The concept behind Pay the price relates to a theory of storytelling that says that during the Rising Action, part of why things get worse is that the protagonist is solving the wrong problem: they're responding to events around them, while avoiding the real action that they should take. They might not be one-hundred percent reactive, and certainly not passive. (Passive protagonists piss me off.) But they're not tackling the real problem. Some story theorists argue that a solid story has two conflicts, an external and internal. The external is the visible, obvious problem to be solved, while the internal is what's really wrong–something wrong within the protagonist themselves. It's some necessary change that they're resisting, perhaps out of fear, or obsession, or any number of other character flaws. These are things that either blind the character to the real problem, or give the character an excuse to avoid the real problem. If I can just solve this external conflict, I won't have to deal with my internal conflict!

In this theory, then, the climax is when every other option has been stripped away. The protagonist has to solve the internal conflict to succeed–or can adamantly refuse to solve it, and suffer the consequences. The first path is triumph, the second is tragedy. If you go back to the Greek definition of tragedy, it's not just a story where things go wrong: it's a story were things go wrong because of the character's inherent flaw. And most often, that flaw is one of their strengths, but taken to an extreme. The character is a proud ruler, so proud that they cannot take a humbling step that might save the kingdom. They'd rather the kingdom crash. Then they give up their pride. Or the character thinks they're smarter than the gods, the classic Greek tragic flaw of hubris: the character is so sure of their course that the gods use that to lead them to disaster.

So in my formulation of Three-Act Structure, there is Pay the price, or Refuse the price, the latter leading to tragedy.

Now if you're a real bastard toward your characters, you can add in Pay the price, and everything still falls apart. If futility and nihilism are your thing, I'm not going to stop you from writing that. This is the moment when you prove your philosophy. You lead your protagonist right up to the point where everything has to lead to victory… and instead they get defeat, because there's no reason in the world, there's no justice, and you can't win no matter how hard you try. If you want to tell that story, great; and then your Falling Action is going to be watching your character suffer in misery as all their plans lead to failure.