Writing U.N.C.L.E.: The Three-Corner Structure

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Title: Writing U.N.C.L.E.: The Three-Corner Structure
Creator: C. W. Walker
Date(s): early to mid-2000s?
Medium: online
Fandom: Man from U.N.C.L.E.
External Links: Writing U.N.C.L.E.: The Three-Corner Structure
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Writing U.N.C.L.E.: The Three-Corner Structure is an Man from U.N.C.L.E. essay by C. W. Walker.

Some Topics Discussed


As U.N.C.L.E. fanfic writers, we create a lot of different kinds of stories. Some fall within the traditional genres: action-adventure, romance, fantasy, espionage thrillers. Some fall within genres more unique to fandom: Mary Sue, slash, hurt-comfort. We also write stories of various sizes: vignettes, short stories, novellas, novels, and even multi-part series.

Genre-wise, however, MFU writers actually had a bit more freedom than writers for other series. MFU was never truly and rigidly defined. As the writers' guides from that period admit, MFU had a bit of everything: high adventure, espionage, satire, slapstick, and even a touch of science fiction now and then.

On the surface, MFU's format could be described simply (at least in the 2nd and 3rd years) as a teaser with four acts. Back in 1985, an article in The Inner Circle III newsletter also identified several sub-formats: The Rolfe format (basic); the Caillou format (a bit more complicated with the innocent established very early); and the later Fields format (usually a preliminary incident occurs before the actual affair begins). One might add a Fourth Season format, which thrusts the audience right into the action from the start.

Because, as fanfic writers, we need not worry about time or space limitations, format is no longer a concern. Many MFU writers still split their stories into four acts, but many don't. Some stories are just too short to divide into four acts (I remember writing one of my first stories at age 11 devoting two pages to each act.) Some are far too long.

Picture, if you will, an equilateral triangle. Divide the triangle equally in half. On the left side, is the world of the fantastic. On the right, the mundane.

Now, at each point on the triangle, we distribute our characters. At the very top, at the apex, we locate the U.N.C.L.E. agents. (One might consider Waverly-Solo-Kuryakin yet another triangle, but that's a subject for another column).

The agents always exist in the "in-between," and indeed, this is probably the real genius of U.N.C.L.E. They have one foot in the fantastic world of espionage and one foot in the mundane. They save the world practically every week of their lives ---yet they still worry about expense accounts and insurance rates.

There is nothing that most MFU fans like better than exploring the characters of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin (not to mention, Waverly, Dancer and Slate as well). It's fun to imagine what Solo thinks of Kuryakin and vice versa, but without other perspectives, eventually, the result can become claustrophobic and repetitious. Opening up the agents' world grounds them in a more solid reality and provides other story possibilities.

Outside characters, male or female, connected with U.N.C.L.E. (like Mandy and George) or not, offer us new perspectives and points of view. They also force the agents, themselves, to look inward, and examine and reflect upon who they are and what they are doing.

Because MFU is such a balancing act, here's the most interesting thing: the three points of the triangle are always occupied. Always. If there is no Innocent, one of the agents will become the Innocent. Often, it's Illya (giving rise to the "wimpy Illya" syndrome that many complain about). If there is no Villain, one of the agents will become the Villain (the "mean Solo" syndrome.)

Does the three-cornered structure hold for all stories? No. There are many short pieces that are merely vignettes. Also, there are many stories that emphasize the psychological or the personal, where the fact that Solo and Kuryakin work for U.N.C.L.E. is almost beside the point.

But stories that present the agents functioning -as- agents will naturally occur in the MFU world where the mundane meets a heightened reality. There will be those characters who know little or nothing and those who know a lot; those who act from duty and responsibility, and those who do not. In other words, there are bound to be Innocents and Villains, no matter how they are labeled. And there will also be the agents, our guys, as usual, inevitably caught in the great in-between.