Due Date: Wednesday, March 8
- Understand the relationship between scene (a plot device: a specific moment of conflict in a character's life that reveals an important quality about him or her, which you experimented with in our last assignment) and story arc (the journey of discovery around which the whole plot revolves--and which is built on a series of connected scenes.)
- Experiment with these structural elements in your own Short Story or Graphic Novel arc
Something really special: an Oscar-nominated short film by the team at Pixar
- "Green Eggs" by Ned H (a poignant evocation of a bitter personal moment the author structured like a work of fiction adapted from a memoir)
- "Simpson and Jolie" by Janelle A (this wonderful little story was published in the Valencia West Campus student arts and literature magazine, Phoenix)
- "Boots" by Jackie Z (this story was also published in the Phoenix and won Story of the Year)
Means of Evaluation
- Your score on the rubric for Unit 3: The Short Story or Graphic Novel Arc; this rubric is also available at our course webspace in Blackboard.
The Lecture (what you would get if you were in class with me!)
When you create fiction, you first figure out the one thing in the world your protagonist most longs for, and then create a series of experiences that drag out his or her getting it for as long as possible. In the course of achieving this goal, you create so many complications that he or she becomes a changed, better, more interesting person as a result. This is plot. In the eponymous novel, Jay Gatsby works desperately to rekindle his romance with Daisy Buchanan and claim her as his own; in The Walking Dead, Rick Grimes works desperately to survive both the zombie apocalypse and other people in competition for increasingly limited resources. We read and watch to see who wins. And along the way, everybody changes. Gatsby's romantic readiness becomes delusion; Rick does things in the name of survival that he never dreamed he could be capable of. And don't get me started on Walter White!
Plot is an artistic arrangement of events in a story that create pleasure for the reader. This assignment is your opportunity to experiment with artistic arrangement. To help you along, please observe the basic and universal plot shape in a little Youtube lecture video by Professor Courtney Smith:
Did you notice that this is the basic plot shape for films as unrelated as Star Trek: Into Darkness, Finding Nemo, The Great Gatsby, and Monsters, Inc?
Because it's good to have a model, let's apply this structure (with some additions!) to John Updike's story, "A &P:"
- Exposition/Back Story: Sammy is 19, still lives at home, his family is financially dependent on him, he has never had a girlfriend, he hates his job, and his outlook on the future is bleak. His friend Stokesie is similarly trapped by the lack of opportunity in their home town and is caught between being a 22-year-old male and presenting himself as "management material." The girls are rich, don't do any shopping except the occasional errand, and are unimpressed by the social convenions of the hick beach town where they summer with their families.
- FYI: exposition is best delivered on a need-to-know basis instead of a big, boring multiple-paragraph lump at the beginning of your piece. Notice how the details I collected stretch out across the entire story.
- Problem/Inciting moment: this occurs when three girls in bathing suits step into the A & P and, for good or ill, attract every eye in the store, disrupting the locals as they shop. The swimming apparel is perceived as disrespectful in this proper, conservative, and conventional community.
- FYI: as you write, consider the moment when the action occurs that makes today different from every other day in these characters' lives.
- Rising Action/Complication: first, Sammy has to get over his own initial disapproval. Then he notes Stoksie's hypocrisy; he then sees the judgmental glances thrown at the girls by the "sheep," and ultimately, he is disgusted by the meat man McMahon's leering at them behind their backs.
- FYI: when you create your linear sequence, remember that you must organize the actions so that they flow logically and plausibly, one after the other. You have to organize your piece just like you had to organize your essays: plot is how you organize a story!
- Crisis: the girls are nearly out of the store when they are at last openly confronted by the manager/superintendent of the Sunday school, who berates them in front of the whole store about their trashy appearance.
- FYI: "crisis" is the moment of highest tension. Every TV show creates a mini-crisis just before a commercial break to get you stay with the network.
- Even a non-scripted show like Chopped uses this convention, setting up the big reveal about the loser of each round--and then cutting to commercial BEFORE the actual reveal. If you want to know who's out, you have to stick around during the commercials. FYI: that feeling is called "suspense," and you want to create as much of that as you can before you move to the next phase.
- Climax: the girls defend themselves against the suggestion that they are indecent; the moment is about to explode when Sammy declares, also in front of the whole store, that he quits the job he needs; he even explains that his action is the result of his disapproval of the way the girls have been treated. He reiterates that he really has quit, drops his bow tie on his apron, and leaves.
- FYI: you need to make the action in your story clear enough to suggest a genuine change in your protagonist. In "A & P," Sammy moves from describing the floor as "our green-and-cream rubber tile floor" to informing us that the bow tie "is theirs." Note the world of difference in those pronouns. That's how a professional shows that all-important change.
- Resolution/Denouement: in the parking lot, Sammy looks for the girls, but they are gone. He realizes that he has no girls, no job--and a very bleak future as an unemployed person.
- FYI: happy endings are not required. In some ways, they aren't very interesting. It costs when we stick by our guns; art reflects this reality.
As I said, background information filters through the action and dialogue on an as-needed basis; lumps of exposition are boring.
The remaining four elements, Inciting Moment, Rising Action, Crisis, and Climax, are delivered as scenes. A story as sophisticated and complex as "A & P" is made up of many scenes seamless woven together--but the outline above is intended to help you see at least four distinct scenes.
To be clear, a scene is a unit of action in a story or play wherein a question is asked or a piece of information is disseminated--or the question is answered and action is taken. The question or the piece of information must be so important that nothing is the same afterward, so action must be taken.
You practiced scene construction in the bonus assignment. Through action and dialogue, you revealed a piece of information about someone, and you know that you scored when the other students told you what adjective you had in mind. Now we must put a scene into an arc. An arc sets up the question or dilemma in the first scene, is complicated in the second, and resolved in the third.
For this exercise, you will practice plot as you employ re-organized elements of a personal experience --or create a completely-made-up experience--presenting frustration and denial (essential components of plot) through action and dialogue.
By the way, if you aren't sure about some of my claims in the outline above, call me at 407.582.1172 during office hours, and I will gladly explain them to you.
The arc should include a minimum of three scenes (setting up a problem, complicating the problem, resolving the problem OR asking a question, deferring the answer, and then getting the answer) and should be between 1000 and 1500 words. Don't forget to double-space, and out of courtesy, stick to the word limit.
CAVEAT: be mindful if you want to attempt genre fiction (romance, sci-fi, fantasy). At this stage, the conventions of the forms might tempt you into bad habits. Remember to freshen the form.
CAVEAT II: Graphic novelists, if you would like to see how The Sandman's Neil Gaiman interacts with his artists as he designs his work, click here. It's the script to A Season of Mists, one of his best.
Choose an option:
- Write a story using the main action of your Memoir as the base. Remember that fiction requires a certain re-shaping for its effect, and our allegiance is to a great story, not to history. Just change everybody's name and watch how the event takes on a different tone--and maybe even different resolution.
- Write a story in which a character changes from:
- angry to ashamed
- attracted to disgusted
- exhausted to enthusiastic
- determined to uncertain
- Write a story placing two characters in conflict: one wants something the other does not want to give.The ‘something’ may be anything—money, respect, jewelry, sex, information, even a match—but be sure to focus on one character’s desire and how that desire is either thwarted or fulfilled by the other character
- Write a story in which each of two characters has half of something that is no good without the other half. Neither wants to give up his or her half. Who wins?
- Write a short, complete arc from a longer narrative you are already thinking about—the narrative which may have been the reason you took this class. Choose a moment where someone learns something that changes him or her forever—or must make a decision after learning that something.
- Create a sustained sequence (story and pictures) of the graphic novel you've been planning; this will require dropping off the script on campus, but this is your opportunity to get some feedback on a long-cherished ambition.
Download and view The Character Lecture PowerPoint. Viewing this lecture will shave years off your development as a fiction writer. It ain't bragging when it's true.
Read "Green Eggs" by Ned H.
Read "Simpson & Jolie" by Janelle A.
Read "Boots" by Jackie Z.
Look at how these student writers created three-dimensional, round characters who each want something specific and personal--and then took them on a harrowing journey. Allow the excellence of these new writers to challenge you.
Throw all the thoughts about story ideas down on a page. Don't worry if they make no sense. They won't at first.
Get ready to make some decisions. Warm up. Pick up an object in front of you, write down what it is ("pencil," for example), and then write down as many words as you can think of that rhyme with that word. (Stencil, tensile, prehensile--you get the idea.) Or spend five minutes writing down everything you notice about this object.
Of course, it sounds crazy. But it really works. Try it and get back to me on it. i prefer crossword puzzles--even the jigsaw-puzzle covers at the New Yorker.
Create a working outline like the"A & P" model above. Writer to writer, I can't tell you how helpful that outline can be. It will keep you going when you don't know what to do next. Then, in no particular order, draft out specific moments from your outline list.
Draft all the scenes on your outline list; don't stop and edit. Just move forward until you have done the whole thing. Trust me on this.
Expect to render a completely vile first draft.
Wait a couple of days, and then read over what you have written. Chances are, you'll see immediately what needs to stay, what needs more development, and what needs to go. Expect to do this at least three times. If you do, you'll really and truly be functioning like a professional writer.
Or you can throw something together at ten p.m. on March 7 and always bitterly wonder what you might have done if you had allowed yourself to do it.
It's your choice. I've already made mine.
As you go through your draft one more time, try to evoke strong sense details. Your focus should be on conjuring the experience as if it were happening in the moment and for the first time.
Submit your work by deadline. The Fiction Assignment arc is due on Wednesday, March 8, by midnight. Please make sure that you have followed format submission guidelines in the fourth post and also on the syllabus. You'll lose points otherwise.
The burden will be on you to prove that your work was submitted on time.
- Be sure that you click on the box in Blackboard and upload the correct file.
- Make sure that you see the file.title.docx that indicates the attachment went through.
- If you send a late piece via Atlas, you will get a response from me that says that I have received your work. If you do not receive this receipt within 48 hours, contact me from Atlas immediately.
Email me through Atlas if you have any questions.