Saturday, January 10, 2009

For example

To continue from my last post, the new (to me) idea that every element of a book can have a structure and emotional arc like the larger book, that even paragraphs, conversations, and scenes can have mini-stories with a beginning, middle, and end, I thought I'd try it out.

Version 1: "Typical" recitation of facts without any attempt to make them into a meaningful story arc:

This morning on my run I noticed the moon was full and low in the sky. It was bright enough to cast shadows, though I realized it was setting. At the same time the sun was rising on the opposite side of the sky, and for a strange moment, a golden-orange glow hung on both horizons and painted the clouds. Cool!

Version 2: More of a story:

I started my run in the dark. It was cold but not too bad, 31 or so. I spotted the Little Dipper arcing overhead, and a low silver moon hung like a lamp above the mountains lining the western horizon. The moonlight was bright enough to cast long blue shadows, and, as I trotted uphill and downhill along the wooded road, I was grateful for the thin light.

I crossed a river, crusted with ice, and blew on my hands to stay warm. The moon was setting behind a cloak of clouds, which were painted a dull orange as the light diffused. The sky was lightening, and now I could see thin pale clouds brushed among the few remaining stars. I started up another hill. When the moon fully set behind the mountains, how long would it be until the rising sun lit my path? Running in the darkness means not seeing road kills, thorny branches, and little except the blinding headlights of cars.

The moon-clouds glowed orange, and as I reached the top of the hill and half-unzipped my jacket to vent some heat, I turned to the right and saw the first edge of sunlight lighting the eastern sky.

I turned to the left: pumpkin-colored clouds from the old moon setting. Back to the right: the clouds were lit the yellow of egg yolks, and then even as I watched, brightening to ripe lemon.

I pointed my arms like a clock: setting moon and rising sun, each poised on opposite horizons. And when the moon dipped behind the mountains and went out, the sky blazed blue with the new light of morning.

Okay, clearly some trimming needs to be done (sufferers of logorrhea unite!) but speaking strictly structurally, it feels like the arc of Version 2 works better than the simple recitation of facts in Version 1.

Ideally it would be part of a chapter (or even a longer scene) that also had an arc of emotional flow, tension or mystery, emotion, climax, resolution, transition.

I'd have to be careful only to give this much weight to something if it were truly significant. And I admit in my hasty and unedited blog-scrawling, I did not try to make even each paragraph have its own flow from start to finish. And I'm not sure this would work in all cases ... but I need some guiding philosophy to shape my sloppy and rambling first drafts, and I think this may be part of it.


Peter S said...

This theory sounds right because it mirror something found in nature: fractals. Try chopping a crown of broccoli. As you subdivide you keep finding the same shape.

This should work in reverse too. Just as a sentence uses inflection and rhythm to indicate emphasis, continuation, and conclusion, so can a paragraph, or an entire book.

See, writing IS like broccoli!

S R Wood said...

Fractal! That's the word I was trying to think of. All I could come up with was the image from the Sorceror's Apprentice, where a chopped-up broom becomes hundreds of identical, miniature brooms.

Or broccoli.

There used to be a theory that rocks chipped off mountains would break in the same shape as the mountain. Look, a little Matterhorn!

Unsurprisingly this theory was later abandoned.