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Posted Today, 11:34 AM

All the above questions and elements in story telling give us the tools to add to our fun when reading a short story. They also provide us a basis to explore longer novels. Today's focus will be on pre-reading to help readers choose books to purchase or read from the library. 
Walk into any book store and what do you find? People perusing the isles pre-reading blurbs, looking at covers, trying to decide on what book to buy.
An artful reader knows what to look for when it comes to authors and characters, but what about the structure of the novel? I think I've mentioned a few good questions to ask yourself on some of the previous posts.
Short stories are good for a single sitting read through as they never take much time to read. They focus more on one or two characters with action inside a limited space of time. They hardly ever include sub-plots. A short story is like a good song.
Novels take a while to read. Sometimes days and even weeks. They have multiple characters and they allow an author to flesh out the roundness of the main players in greater detail. Narration can be devious and filled with devices to put a little meat on a flat character or two. Novels can have an almost unlimited time span. Main characters can be seen from birth to death and beyond. Novels offer multiple plots and sub-plots and sound like a full fledged album of music.
Pre-reading at the library or bookstore helps to pick out which book you might be interested in. Pictures on the cover and blurbs on the back are never enough for a pre-read. Notice how advertisers use genre and the names of authors to draw in a reader. Look inside and see how many parts is it divided into. Do any the chapters names catch your eye? When you begin reading a novel spend at least half an hour on it and ask a few questions: 
Can you find a master plot? 
Are the characters and settings drawing you in? 
Is the narration first person or third?
Does the first sentence give away the genre?
Those are just a few questions to ask yourself. You'll find many more when you explore the art of reading. Here's a few more questions to ask yourself when choosing a new book (or an old one):
Would you read a badly reviewed novel from a popular author or a perfect short story?
Would you rather read a classic novel or a modern one?
Would a recommendation from a teacher, librarian, or a friend make difference in your choice of book?


Posted Yesterday, 02:23 PM

Master Plots and Genres
The Protagonist and the antagonist. 
The hero's journey (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings) and a stranger comes to town (Cat in the Hat). 
Master plots are recurring story types like the old rags to riches tale told over and over. These are called cultural myths or master narratives. Only the story patterns change. They are universal and tend to go in and out of style as culture dictates. Master plots look at cultural practices and historical trends. Discovering and re-discovering universal truths. At the very beginning of a story the reader will be thrown off balance and taken on a journey or introduced to a strange element or figure. A destabilizing event is the antagonist that begins the adventure. 
Master plots are not necessarily literately in nature. They can be framed in any genre. A genre is todays critical term defining a type or category. They also extend out into other media and ideological forms. Fiction and non-fiction are the two basic distinctions. Nonfiction gives us the facts and tells the truth. Fiction puts the reader in touch with their emotions and can enlighten all our efforts in learning the larger truths of life. Fiction provokes thought by delving into the universe and discovering old plots and re-writing new ones. Finding a larger story and framing a plot to make it interesting to the reader.
Genres are usually in opposition to each other. Or at least they're supposed to be. Westerns are not horror stories and science fiction tales of fantasy are not legal thrillers. Right? Well, sometimes it doesn't work out that way. It really doesn't have to. The master plot will tell the moral of the tale if it's told well and with an interesting framework. Crossing the lines and stirring the pot by mixing genres together is a common practice. Try this little trick when picking up an unfamiliar book at the library: Read the first sentence and try to guess the genre or do it without looking at the picture on the cover or reading the blurb in the back nor any of the reviews to give it away. Can you guess which genre? Titles and authors can be a dead give-a-way so just pick a book at random and see if you can guess the type of story by playing that little game. 
In closing, here are a couple of questions to ask about some of the books you've already read:
How many stories in any genre follow the pattern of 'the journey' or the 'stranger'?
What are your favorite examples of these two forms of Master Plot? 
...till next time...


Posted 15 January 2018 - 12:19 PM

When plots become stories...
What is the difference between a plot and a story?
Everyone likes a good story. Stories are basically a chronological order of a group of events to give readers information about the characters and their events. A plot twists the order to give it an angle. A narrator can then put a tale into an order by cherry picking events to show cause, effects, and resolutions all to make the story more interesting. The very word 'plot' itself is a tricky one, isn't it? It could be defined as a conspiracy to distort a story. 
Try this next time you read a book for a second or third time. Take all the story elements and list them into chronological order. Are there elements in the plot not in the story? Is there a sub-plot that is not necessary? What about important story elements not included in the plot? Do you think the story could have been told without the careful plotting created by the author? Or was he sloppy in delivery? Did each part fit together to form a coherent whole? 
All stories begin with a beginning, middle and an end. Aristotle taught us that with his little book 'Poetics'. That dude has certainly left his mark in history in so many ways. Anyways, let's go into what he has to say about what makes a good plot stand out.
Here's an overview of Aristotles Poetics for reference:
Basically, Aristotle explains that we all learn through imitation. Listening to stories, looking at pictures, imitating gestures and words, etc. He believed it was a natural process and the result was to learn how to take apart stories and see how they were constructed.
The wheels always turn in a good story so we need A beginning. It introduces the characters, a setting, and a bit on their situation. The protagonist is introduced and we're given some details on his character. Everything is cool in the beginning. All is well and the reader is basically shown scenes that are stable in relation to the scenes surrounding the players. The beginning is a place where we get to know the people, places, and things and their characteristics. After a while an event will occur to throw all this into something interesting. Something to fling the characters off balance, launching them into opposite directions, and preventing or instilling in them a need for action.
This brings us to the middle. A place where everything goes awry. The characters are forced into new situations and face challenges so the reader can get a better sense of what the characters are up against. The antagonist is seen in a better light. Slowly being revealed to the reader. Things may get worse before they get better. What can happen next?
The ending is where all the conflicts seen at the beginning and how they're worked out in the middle resolve themselves. Most endings settle themselves either comically or tragically. Although, an open ending leaving some questions unanswered seems to be a trend. Leaving it open for sequels and spinoffs of all kinds. 
Keeping track of all the twists and turns in a plot can be difficult on your first time through a book. Learning the basics from 'Poetics' helps to keep it in mind though. Plus, it'll begin to make re-reading more rewarding, it'll add more discovery, and it'll ask more questions in the mind of the reader.
I'll close this post with a few questions for readers to consider:
What makes a great beginning?
Are there any stories, novels, or movies that grab your attention right at the start? Is there anything common?
What makes a great ending? Is it really the hardest part of the story to get right? 
What stories have powerful beginnings, a meaty middle, and a really shitty ending?


Posted 14 January 2018 - 12:32 PM

Going through my glossary of fallacies I noticed that Irony needed a bit of attention. I think a bit about it here is appropriate:
Does the title of this thread indicate a bit of irony?
Were you intrigued because it portended an occultish feel about it?
Or were you interested simply because your bullshit detector was running and you'd thought you'd have some fun.
Warning alert: 
What is being hinted at in between the lines? 
Is it slippery and wet with ambiguouus narrative? 
Do you detect any vanities, pretentiousness, or self righteous presumptions?
Does your own reading reflect any inner ironies still undetected?  
Irony helps us to find the reality as a reader. It's a free and indirect discourse using a a third person character to take over the narration. It makes it hard to know what the narrator really thinks. Detecting irony takes time and re-readings to find the discrepancies in language to catch on to any hidden truths. Irony looks beyond conventional wisdom and is used to sharpen a readers vision. 
Verbal irony is simple enough - it's when words don't match their meaning. They provide verbal wittisms to interest the readers attention. Sarcasm is one such device. Here are some others...
Stable and unstable irony helps to distinguish verbal ironies. Stable ironies are simply just the reverse of a statement. Usually used in a facetious manner. An un-stable irony never reaches a correct meaning and will remain that way. Making way for further confusion. It's used on purpose by some story writers. 
Dramatic Irony is found between the characters and the audience. A good example being the Greek tragedy Oedipus. The audience knows what's going to happen but the character doesn't.
Not all ironies come into focus at the same time. Sometimes they are ambiguous and multiple interpretations are required. Irony reminds us how difficult it is to make sense of the world and with the discrepencies between appearance and reality. 
If someone was looking down at you from above and narrating your story how ironic would it be in the telling? Remember, a narrator is not a god. How well do you understand your own life irony?
Here's a bit of cosmic irony: Never mind what we do or don't know up there in the Universe. What about the things we do or don't know about down here on the ground?


Posted 14 January 2018 - 12:01 PM

A bit on Style...
Does it really oppose substance? Why should it? Just because one style may be superficial doesn't make it any less useful than another. Different styles are chosen by choice depending on the character or story. The paradox between what a gifted word player vs a pretentious and fussy word rouser depends on knowing about the use of syntax and diction.
These are the main elements in style. Diction is your choice of words and Syntax gives us the order of words. No one style is better than another. Take the minimalist approach: this uses sparce word structures and terse short sentences. A maximal approach gives the word magicians something to play with. They can seem pretentious and long winded but sometimes it's fun to describe something that has a long rhythm to it. Try tweeting one long sentence without any periods. Can you make one longer than a tweet?
What is the aim or purpose in using particular styles? 
Here's some techniques associated with the lyrical style that may be of interest:
This one is great for a lyrical turn of phrase. 
So is Sibilance
The fickle pitter patter of short, sharp shocks within a phrase can really kick up an impact. Consonance and dissonance allows for greater impact in lyrical writing. 


Posted 13 January 2018 - 07:31 PM

They can fun and tedious if long winded. Especially when a lot of tautology is involved. Sometimes a narrator will stop for a moment and fill the reader in on all the people, places, and things around the character. There is a tendency in older literature to provide a more detailed description in the imagery presented. I think it's because describing imagery has changed over time with the introduction of photography and moving pictures. This gives people of today greater choices in imagery to use in describing their own stories. Script writers and play writes use lots of descriptors in their work. Visual props in the mind give it pop and clarity.
When does a description become too tiresome for the reader? 
(twitter! short descriptors gone viral) 
I recall a massive and drawn out description in Victor Hugo's epic Les Miserbales. Toward the end when Paris is blazing with revolution. The hero, Jean Valjean, goes into the Paris sewer system to escape the conflagrations above. Hugo's description of the Paris sewers is immense. A whole chapter explaining the centuries of mazes built under the city give it a vivid appeal. After reading it you gain an understanding of the history of the city involved. 
What other kinds of questions can be asked about this kind of treatment in description? Especially in a place as dark and dank as a sewer. Does it reflect what it takes to sacrifice so much to escape all of Jean's perils? I think the scene in the movie The Shawshank Redemption is an excellent parallel to this...
The scene where the hero crawls out of the shithole? No? Don't remember? How about this one..?
Good descriptions create vivid impressions, always raising up new questions and possiblities. Descriptions are what define the characters and sharpens the story. They show how the world looks and feels to the characters.
What about sparce, invisible, and in between the line descriptions. You know. Tricky ones that make you think. What is not said or implied has a descriptive voice too. Can you see it on the page? Descriptive points of view don't just add to a story they tell it. Instead of the narrator telling the reader straight about a character he adds description to make it fun for the audience. Sometimes a good description or image is all you need to get a good feel in. It gives it more definition to reasons and realities and how a character deals with them. Controlling and selecting details are essential to create movement. Piling them up just for effect gets a bit boring after a while. 
Observations and descriptions are not only literary functions. They also provide a means for people to express individual point of view. Learning how to use Descriptors for ourselves and others helps for a greater understanding of what is really important, common, and downright trivial in our lives. Be careful how you judge superficial details in others. Lest they reveal your own inner descriptions. 


Posted 13 January 2018 - 12:56 PM


Forster Woods

Posted 12 January 2018 - 02:56 PM

Imma thinkin' yer gonna have to look inside yer own crystal ball to get a reading in this thread!
:chicken-icon:  :chuckle:


Posted 12 January 2018 - 02:02 PM

Time for a few notes and questions about characters. Without them the reading process would be for naught.
What makes them interesting, why are they fascinating, and what makes them stick in our minds and hearts?
What embodiments do they possess which make them smart, full of feeling, what motivates them, their memories and desires, their fantasies and their foibles.
In short, what makes them tick. Both their good and bad attributes are important to these decisions.
E.M. Forster gave us some dintinctions to look for in his book 'Aspects of the Novel' to help define the process of character development.
These are the forms for lead and secondary characters:
Ever notice that niceness almost always prevails at the end of a book? 
Do characters have to be perfect? 
What sort of characters stand out? 
Does an aspect of a flat character bring out the roundness of of the lead character? 
Is the character interesting enough for you to be interested in what happens to him in the story? 
What would you like to see happen to a particular character? Why?
Do the internal struggles and conflicts resolve themselves? 
Does the crisis a character faces reckon itself with the past? 
How do the good attributes change to bad and visa-versa? 
Why are some characters round and others flat? 
Does the character surprise you? 
Does he convince?
Look for any juxtaposition to monitor your impressions over the course of a characters development. 
Is the image of the self what you want verses what you want to want? Example being: The Ginger vs. Marianne dilemna
These are just a few things to look for in your reading of characters. When you start asking these questions it'll open the door to a greater understanding of where your own character development can go through the course of your own life story. Understanding how characters develop as a reader may help tell the tale. Characters and how they interact are what drives any story or narrative. Without them there would be no life worth living...


Posted 11 January 2018 - 01:47 PM






I've always enjoyed the narrative style from a good author. It brings the story teller in as a character. A narrator oversees a story's moral value or not. Knowing a bit about the narrative style helps to entice the reader into a more thoughtful discourse. 
Refining our reading of the narrator helps to capture our senses within the story. Usually, there are two types of person a narrator can be: 
The first and third. Yes, I know, grammar school English. Big deal. Right? Not so. Each has its own flavor in telling a story. So what are their differences?
First Person Narration captures the readers imagination by creating a sense of intimacy. It can force a reader into a more active roll by feeling the characters story. It is a direct telling and leaves the reader to figure out what the motives in the story are. First Person likes to ask 'why do we tell stories?" He is the I - the one closely observing the action.
Third Person Narration can be laid back and more relaxed. A free and indirect style. The reader knows the narrator is objective. Sort of like an omniscient know it all. Third Person keeps a certain distance from the reader. With third person an author can provide insight that is unknown to other characters in the story. Sorting through all the twisted images and putting sense to it all.
Third person can also capture language from one or more characters to give it a first person type of feel. Combining both at the same time allowing the reader to be inside and outside of the character at the same time. Sometimes it's possible to shift between these two narrative characters.
Then there are more unusual narrative possibilities to ponder. The use of the 'we' narrator is practical sometimes as an alternative choice. It's a first person plural narrator.
So the next time you pick up a book. Read a ways in and ask yourself if this is first or third person. How would the feel of the story change if it were told the other way around. 
How narrative moved beyond literary analysis
John Lanchester offers a brief take on this phenomenon in the London Review of Books:
"Back when I was at university, the only people who ever used the word ‘narrative’ were literature students with an interest in critical theory. Everyone else made do with ‘story’ and ‘plot’.  Since then, the n-word has been on a long journey towards the spotlight – especially the political spotlight. Everybody in politics now seems to talk about narratives all the time; even political spin-doctors describe their job as being ‘to craft narratives.’ We no longer have debates, we have conflicting narratives. It’s hard to know whether this represents an increase in PR sophistication and self-awareness, or a decrease in the general level of discourse."
In 1947 it was another Brit, George Orwell, who posited a direct relationship between political corruption and the misuse of language. But Orwell’s attention was fixed on language at the level of words and phrases: the use of euphemism to veil unspeakable horrors; empty slogans meant as a substitute for critical thinking; pretentious jargon designed to lend authority to special interests. While Orwell wrote many powerful narratives – fiction and nonfiction – he showed little interest in theories of political narratives in the way Lanchester describes.
The use of narrative for political purposes was not invented in this century or even the last. It is a standard lesson of Shakespeare scholarship that the Bard’s history plays, such as the Richard and Henry plays, tilted the historical record in favor of the Tudor dynasty (the family that gave England Queen Elizabeth I), an act of political dramaturgy that provided the playwright cover and, no doubt, financial rewards.
The long journey of narrative described by Lanchester took many professional stops before it arrived so conspicuously in the barrio of spin-doctors, speech writers, and other political handlers. For decades now, narrative theory has wended its way through the worlds of medicine, law, and business management, just to name the most obvious arenas.

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