Story and Plot

Story and Plot.

The fiction theorist. John Gardner stated: there are two stories: Someone went on a journey or A stranger came to town.

Another theory is that all fiction is about when two worlds collide––a love story.

Chaim Potok once said that he only wanted to write about the clash of cultures. The Insider encountering The Other.

When two worlds collide there is always conflict, and conflict is the essential of fiction.

What stories come to mind when you think of these metaphors?

Someone went on a journey: Lord of the Rings, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Moby Dick…

A stranger came to town: Star Girl, the Hobbit, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and the Tempest…Dracula, 

Worlds collide: Romeo and Juliet, To Kill a Mocking Bird…

The Insider encountering the other: Goldilocks and the Three Bears…

Clash of Cultures: Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Dr. Zhivago…  

Human beings are put to the test when there is conflict. Some band together into a pack to repel the antagonist. Others act as loners and sometimes reach across the divide to bring peace.

Examples of pack mentality: the Outsiders, the movie version of Frankenstein.

Examples of loners: Steppenwolf, the Hate U Give, 

Examples of loners reaching across the divide: Eleanor and Park, Romeo and Juliette.

Dynamic characters have to be capable of transformation, and the encounter and collision of cultures, belief systems, or philosophies will always be an irresistible agent of change.

The change might be from alive to dead, ugly to beautiful, ignorant to wise, callous to compassionate, from certain to uncertain, or vice versa.

But the change occurs because the character confronts a situation that challenges, and shakes up her previously held beliefs, hence the metaphor of worlds colliding, strangers, and journeys.

The world metaphor is also useful because it suggests the importance of setting and the inevitability of discovery.

It may literally be a new world, but it might merely be the house next door, or a set of assumptions, or the unexplored terrain of the next stage of life such as puberty or marriage.

And in all of these situations the main character will be in some way transformed, and probably transformed in a permanent way.

Usually the character will have her scope broadened.

Usually our character will come through the turmoil with greater wisdom, compassion, and understanding, although the opposite can happen too.

As reader though, we will always have own capacity for empathy enlarged by having lived in the character’s skin for the duration.

Story as journey.

Not all stories recount journeys, but it’s a useful metaphor for establishing the pattern of plot.

Where does the protagonist want to go?

What obstacles does she encounter?

What discoveries are made?

What conflicts arise?

How does she overcome the obstacles and conflicts?

Is the goal reached? Or does it change?

This is a story in the diction of a five year-old.

I’ve never been this far from home. I’ve never stayed up this late. I’m out west.
We rode the train. I slept upstairs. You put your clothes in a hammock. They have Dixie cups.
The world has mountains on the edge, where the sun sets, big black things, and that’s where we’re going.
I’m in the front seat with my mother. I’m five. We’re going to a dude ranch. There will be cowboys.
There’s a soft green glow on the dashboard. My mother wears perfume.
I’m traveling. I’ve never been this old.
“The stars are ablaze,” I tell my mother.

‘Frontiers’ by John M. Daniel.

Write about a time you set out on a trip, but failed to arrive at your destination.

Story as Power Struggle next…