Saturday, February 27, 2010
The Books in the Cellar #17, and Snow
While the snow was coming down, and coming down and coming down, sometimes in heavy wet flakes the size of mouse mittens, sometimes busily in lighter flakes like abandoned eyelashes, and when I was not checking my email for EMERGENCY NOTICES from our town manager reporting on the inches accumulated, the branches broken and plummeting and the streets unplowed, I read Hints on Writing Short Stories, by Charles J. Finger (Little Blue Book #326, 1922)
While it snowed a few more inches, maybe a foot, I studied The Plot Genie, by Wycliffe A. Hill, 1934.
Only when the snowplow got stuck in our driveway did I put down the book and venture out with my trusty snow shovel. It would take more than my snow shovel to extract the plow truck from the snow bank in which it was embedded like a zircon in an engagement ring for a destined-to-be-short-lived marriage. A chain was located, and they hitched the plow truck to CSB’s behemoth, and he stepped on the gas. I fondly recalled the truck pull event at the Windsor County Fair (noise, engines grunting, dirt/snow spitting up as the wheels spin, more noise and smoke, cheering from the sidelines), and finally the plow truck was pulled free.
My shovel and I continued our aimless wandering.
Then the truck skidded and got stuck about two centimeters from a hemlock, and the process was repeated in reverse. Connect the chain from the plow truck to CSB’s truck, put the truck in gear, honk the horn, step on the gas, watch the snow fly and the wheels spin. The dogs leapt from snow bank to snow bank in glee.
Charles Finger is big on Sincerity in a story. He also points out that whether you make your hero a “Chinaman, an Eskimo or a Patagonian” he will be more or less like you, the author, “a being with faults, virtues, vices, meannesses, ideas and hopes, and in him the potential angel will be mixed with a good deal of the ape, the tiger and the pig.” He advises us that Murder in literature has gone out of fashion, and on the all-important question of Sex in literature, he tells us “it is folly to hide it or to pretend that things are otherwise. A writer should not be mealy mouthed.” On the matter of blizzards and snow squalls (subjects ever flowing from my leaky pen, as my diligent readers well know) he says nothing, which is a shame.
Then I turned to The Plot Genie (endorsed by the American Fiction Guild). In this brilliant compendium of all possible plots, the writer establishes that a good story starts with LOCALE and ends with a CLIMAX, and in between we get CHARACTER, MOTIVATION, OBSTACLE, METHOD, and CRISIS. He offers 180 samples of each element, and we can put them together as we see fit. It is like Mad-Libs for Grown-ups. So as the snow stuck to every twig and branch and eave and bird feeder, I chose for my locale: On a Bayou.
My character is A Duellist.
His motivation? To be Forgiven by a Loved one who has been Wronged.
The obstacle is an Obsession,
And the method of attack is Use of Sex Appeal. (I could have picked Feigning Suicide. Difficult.)
The crisis? One is About to Slay an Unrecognized Kinsman.
Leading us to the climax, In Which a Supposedly Interesting or Funny STory told by a Character Exposes his Guilt.
There you have it. Nothing could be simpler. My story is written. (And unlike the poor sap in 1922, if I know nothing about a Bayou, I can just look for one on the Internet.)
My next story will be At the morgue (locale), with a Jokester (Character), and Desire to Escape Inclement Weather (motivation), facing The Presence of a Sinister Influence (Obstacle), using A Sudden Disguise (Method), until It is Discovered that one has overdone a thing so That an Opposite Effect is Created (Crisis), then A Person in jeopardy is saved by an Unrecognized one whom he has Befriended in the Past. (Climax)
There is, I know, a mathematical formula for calculating the number of possible variations when we have seven categories each consisting of 180 possibilities. I do not know the formula but I feel confident that someone out there does, and I am probably related to him.
It is probably a number larger than the number of broken branches and snapped trees in our yard, but not by much.