Monday, August 24, 2015


Not long ago, you arrived at a vision where Story could be divided into two basic types.  The first of these embodies the coming-of-age of a young person, as demonstrated by examples from the eighteenth century on into the present. 

Your personal favorite of all stories in this classification is Huckleberry Finn, which has earned a place in your work in progress, The Hundred Novels You Should Read before You Writer Your Own.

You also include Dickens' Great Expectations, Bobbie Ann Mason's In Country, Henry James''s What Maisie Knew, and David Mitchell's impressive Black Swan Green.  To be sure, there are yet others, say Jack Schaefer's Monte Walsh, that fit the rubric.  

These examples ratify the visions you've brought into focus during your journey from a boy, reading for adventure, to a young man, reading for information.  Then, there is the you, reading to teach himself how he might best compose stories of his own,evolving toward the self you now occupy, which has become a storyteller, editor, and teacher.

There is no traditional name for the second type of story.  You've taken to calling it Stranger in Town, even  hearing in your mind's ear the late great singer, Mel Torme, interpreting a song with that title.  The stranger can be an actual stranger, an unknown person such as the lead character, Shane, in another novel by Jack Schaefer,.  The stranger may be a native, returning home after having been away and, thus, no longer "one of us."

The third story archetype is a combination of the two, well represented in your Hundred Novels project by Willa Cather's My Antonia.  You often find a distinct, additional binary in all three types, the aspect where one of the lead characters is told, "Time to make a choice.  You're either with us [or In]. or against us [or Out]."  The lead character is also often told, "There is no going back," or, "We don't take kindly to your new-fangled ways."

In your process of arriving at your own hundred novels and reviewing the also-rans, you notice the importance of choice within a given story, how the lead character is brought to some kind of reckoning or bargain table, and how the nature of the choice sends clues to the reader.  Old vs New, Tradition vs Modernism, Norman vs Anglo-Saxon, American vs European, Improvise vs Follow the Script.

Lead characters must have more in mind than a goal they wish to achieve.  They must want something beyond the form and shape of the culture from which they come.  Would Romeo and Juliet have any of its power if Juliet had come from Romeo's own Montague clan?  Would the precautions and strategies in that play have meaning if the two lovers were not from mortal enemies?  Would Antigone's wish to bury her slain brother have the same effect if her dead brother had not opposed Creon, the newly crowned King?

To the same degree that Nature abhors a vacuum, Story wants no truck with goals and desires that do not stand as metaphors for something lost, withheld, denied, or misunderstood.  Many successful writers are able to produce a significant body of work in which these requirements are present, seeming to arrive at them in ways described by critics as "natural" or "instinctive.

But isn't that approach a bit limiting?  Some delving into the basic mysteries of self, reached through whimsical combinations of study, meditation, logic, and the investigation of myth, symbol, and culture, are more likely to provide the earnest student with causes, alternatives, and the potential for new basic causes with which to grapple.

The way you read Story now, it seems to you an earnest attempt to supply some kind of torch or other blaze of light to help us find our way through the labyrinths and mazes of the process we've come to regard as life.

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