Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Narrative Mode: #7 Cinderella plot

Cinderella plot: simplicity
Writing a modern Cinderella story is quite popular.  The simplicity of it makes for an easy plot and that increases the opportunity to add complexity to it.

  • Life is good between the two people, and the one dependent they have is healthy and happy.  [I am keeping this vague because like many of the other narrative modes, you can enlarge this one to encompass the business world, economics, politics, etc.  Imagine two political allies and their constituents.]  All is well until one suffers a death (political or personal).  
  • So a separation of some sort pulls the two apart.  The dependent must cling to the one who is left.  But he (or she) takes on a new partner, one certain to embrace the dependent.  All seems well in this change of events.
  • Until the original caretaker also dies.  Now the dependent is at the mercy of the replacement, and that individual is not the trustworthy person (business, system, etc.) that was first assumed.
  • Life gets very difficult for the dependent.  She (he, they) suffer greatly, must complete menial tasks in order to remain in this relatively safe condition.  The dependent loses hope and thinks she will never rise out of this lowly position.
  • Until opportunity arrives.  A young man (or new comer with high ideals) must make a connection and through the acts of individuals or groups who have sympathized with the plight of the dependent finds him or her or it.
  • They struggle with various difficulties that pull them apart. Then the magic moment, and life is sweet and promising again.
It does not take a girl, her father, step-mother, step-sisters and a prince to make this narrative work.  Any number of things can replace this simple story framework and add complexity.

 The Little Handbook of Narrative Frameworks available on Smashwords and Amazon.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tuesday prompt: #13 2013

What if these jasmine blooms were orange with white tips?
Take an ordinary outdoor scene and start describing it, but add a twist.  Alter shapes, colors and textures to the things you describe.

Rather than a tall oak, give it an awkward crouching trunk with filament-like leaves of puce.  Make the scene both alien and familiar.  Call a tree a tree, but what a tree it is!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Narrative mode: #6 Hemingway's Code Hero

Some authors create their own frameworks and follow them in several novels.  Hemingway was one such author.  His work has been analyzed for the Code Hero which is quite different from the hero of the Heroic Journey mode.  
  • Hemingway's Code Hero courts death as a matter of honor. In fact, the hero must constantly challenge himself with facing battles which will likely end in his death.  Winning though good, is merely a delay from facing the ultimate final battle.  
  • Courage, honor, individualism and endurance are key features of this framework.  The hero must follow the rules, maintain his ethical standing in the community yet accept these challenges knowing and even creating opportunity for death.  
  • Classic dangerous animals are the common form of danger faced, so the death is not without injury and physical scarring.  Still the hero goes on.  
  • Oddly, Hemingway's Code Hero is often afraid of the darkness, a condition too close to the emptiness of death which he fears while pursuing it.

How might this show itself in a story?  The hero must be strong, viewed as invincible by his community, yet he must also be humble, often poor and limited by his station in life.  Winning against life's challenges is not like running a race or struggling with illness.  The win is not one that is recognized by many, and may only be acknowledge by a single person.  The hero's gain comes from within.  So it would not be unusual to find the character as a loner who must be in the wilderness battling to travel through snow storms or a solitary man traversing a jungle to find the remains of a lost airplane.

If you have read Old Man and the Sea, then you have see the Code Hero in action.  Santiago daily goes out alone on the ocean to seek prize fish.  It is dangerous, stressful, and physically debilitating, but he does not turn away nor wish for any other life.  In battle, he fights, both loving his opponent and plotting its death while accepting his own if that is how it must end.  When he does return to land, the battle over, he returns to his solitary, weary life, and the reader knows that tomorrow he will head out again, perhaps to meet his ultimate fate, death.

 The Little Handbook of Narrative Frameworks available on Smashwords and Amazon.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tuesday prompt: #12 2013

I don't often give prompts for poetry, but I do write poetry on occasion.  Much of the prompts I have provided are easy to manipulate if one wishes to apply it to lines of verse.  In this prompt, though it will be directed at extending images in poetry, it is reasonable to expect that extending a descriptive image in prose writing is just as important, so feel free to adjust it to fit a story.

Below are three short images.  As a sample, I am extending one of them.  But the other two are for anybody visiting to practice extending the image.

tiny ships in a busy harbor
 a boat moored in a small busy harbor

The skiff tipped a bobbing gait with the wash
of the waves coming in, coming in and going out
in rippled ramps, after being beat into gentleness
by the tight harbor's cluttered docks.

Now your turn.

  • a barking dog at night
  • dark clouds overhead

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Narrative Mode ~ #5 Frame Narrative

framed with a strong outer shell
The frame narrative is a fairly difficult format because it requires a fair bit of juggling between the framing story and the story within the frame.  The two must be connected, each enhancing the other by offering interpretive value on the part of the frame, while the inner story offers details and meaningful specifics.  Before I lay out the process, let me give some examples most people will be familiar with.
  • Chaucer's Canterbury Tales ~ Chaucer sets up his frame with a menagerie of characters who are individually or in small groups going on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket.  They meet at a tavern and agree, with some finagling by the tavern owner, to travel together and participate in a story-telling challenge.  This is a very complicated frame narrative because not just one story is to be told but several, two by every member heading out on this jaunt and two by everybody on the return trip.  Chaucer never finished all the stories, but it was even more complicated because within the outer frame were several inner frames (various mini prologues and epilogues) which introduced and leapfrogged off each story to the next.  To add to the complication, Chaucer created a character named Chaucer who was the speaker in the outer frame who was retelling each of the stories by presenting it exactly as "he" heard it told by his fellow pilgrims.
  • Conrad's Heart of Darkness ~  Conrad's framing was not nearly so complicated as Chaucer's.  His frame has five characters on a ship on the Thames in England.  One is telling about where they are and who the other characters are.  A second (Marlow) is telling his story about an experience he had on the Congo in Africa, but the story is retold by the original frame speaker who on occasion intrudes on Marlow's narrative, inferring meaning and commenting on Marlow's actions and personal interpretation of his experience.
  • Bronte's Wuthering Heights ~ Bronte sets up a visitor (Lockwood) coming to the region to rent a manor house and its surrounding property from Heathcliff, the unscrupulous owner of side-by-side properties.  The visitor retells for a large part of the story the narrative of Nelly, all-around servant of the Earnshaw/Heathcliff/Linton families.  Nelly shares with Lockwood the activities of the other characters over the past twenty years in several gossip sessions the two hold over the course of his several months stay.  Lockwood picks up near the end of the novel upon revisiting the manor to tell much of the finale of the inner story.  His part in the frame is limited, his character more a foil for Heathcliff and a vehicle for telling the story than anything else.
So those are the popular examples.  The format breaks down in the following manner.
  1. First an outer story which provides an opportunity to tell a story.  This can be two people meeting at a coffee shop or something else equally simple or much more complex. If one of the two characters comes in appearing moody and withdrawn, the other character may wish to know the reason for the emotional condition. 
  2. The second then may agree or not agree to share the problem.  What is essential is that the frame and the inner story must be connected and somehow one of the characters feels free to or is compelled to tell a story.
  3. One option to the example above is that the first speaker tells about his recent experience.  If written ironically, the reader may come to understand that the recent experience of the happy character is the cause of the moody character's troubles.  A second option might be that the moody character's telling of an experience leaves him feeling better and the first, happier character is made moody because he is affected by the story told.  In any case, some story of epiphany would tie the two together.
  4. The inner story must be a thorough immersion for the reader whose return to the framing story completes the last piece to understanding the whole story (frame and inner narrative).
 The Little Handbook of Narrative Frameworks available on Smashwords and Amazon.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tuesday prompt: #11 2013

Responding to the call to adventure
Write a few paragraphs using the opening steps of the heroic journey by introducing a character capable of heroic actions, though she or he may not feel capable of such things.  Supply a problem or other motivating situation for the character to accept a call to adventure.  The common enough character feels a need, desire or push to proceed on a journey that under normal circumstance would not be considered the norm among choices of action.  That is it.  If you need more detailed information follow this link to my explanation of the Heroic Journey narrative mode.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Narrative Mode ~ #4 Cain & Abel

The Cain and Abel narrative is very versatile with lots of opportunities for adjustment:  two brothers, two sisters, two siblings, two cousins, two co-workers, two businesses, etc.
  • You need opposing factors in single or equal multiples who seem at first to be on the same side.  Brothers in the same family, friendly competitors, step-sisters who get along well.
  • They start out friendly and social, but one starts getting more recognition, more appreciation.  Parents don't feel there is any preference, but the older child sees things differently.  Or one company notices stock market increases where the two companies used to be rising equally.
  • Some denied jealousy, a little frustration when efforts are made to get that recognition and it doesn't work.  Everybody loves a little sibling rivalry, improves the effort.  Companies always rise and fall in value over time.
  • Things escalate, but the brotherly love seems safe from damage.  A little argument here, a friendly challenge maybe taken to extreme.  But one uses less than quality workmanship.
  • Until the tipping point arrives and one destroys the other.
  • No sign of guilt or taking reponsibility.  Then punishment, ostracism, life of misery.  Or earned forgiveness.
 The Little Handbook of Narrative Frameworks available on Smashwords and Amazon.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tuesday prompt: #10 2013

This is an exercise for plotting.  Below is a plot that contains a major flaw: the main character has no challenge to reaching her goal.  Replot the events so that the character still gets to the goal, but she doesn't have an easy time of it.

  • Susie eats at the same diner each day without fail, ordering eggs, bacon, and hash browns.  Though she does not know the cook's name, he always nods at her when he sees her head for a her favorite booth in the corner.  A short time later, her breakfast arrives.
  • Sam enters and takes the booth beside her own.  She sits looking in his direction over the two seat backs, he hers.
  • Each time she looks up, she finds herself looking into his eyes.  He smiles every time.
  • She hasn't any ketchup at her table and asks him if he could pass her his.  He walks it over to her and waits for her to finish before returning to his own seat.
  • She eats every bite, pleased she didn't have to do so without the ketchup.

(And you thought this was all about Susie and Sam.)

Now the goal is the ketchup.  Time to alter the plot so that she still gets the ketchup but the process is not easy.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Read an E-Book Week at Smashwords

It's Read an E-Book Week!  March 3 - 9.  You'll find my anthology Gardens in the Cracks & Other Stories at for 50 percent off.

Coupon code:  REW50
Follow the book link and apply the discount coupon at time of purchase.