Grand Argument Stories

Vaughn

What is storytelling? Simply put it is a means of communication. So if we are to discuss storytelling we must first understand what is meant by communication. The process of communication requires at least two parties: the originator and the
recipient. In addition, for communication to take place, the originator must be aware of the information or feelings he/she wishes to transmit, and the recipient must be able to determine that meaning. This is different from interpersonal communication which is a process where one party sends a message to a second party and the second party acknowledges they received and understand the message. As writers it would be great if our reader was able to immediately give us feedback As it is our only indicator of whether or not our message was received is book sales and that means a prolonged lag time.

Similarly, storytelling requires an author and an audience. And, to tell a story, one must have a story to tell. Only when an author is aware of the message he/she wishes to impart can he/she determine how to couch that message so it will be accurately received.

It should be noted that an audience is more than a passive participant in the
storytelling process. When I write the phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night,” I
have communicated a message, albeit a nebulous one. In addition to the words, another
force is at work creating meaning in the reader’s mind. The readers themselves
may have conjured up memories of the fragrance of fresh rain on dry straw, the trembling
fear of blinding explosions of lightning, or a feeling of contentment that recalls a
soft fur rug in front of a raging fire. But all I wrote was, “It was a dark and stormy
night.” I mentioned nothing in that phrase of straw or lightning or fireside memories.
In fact, once the mood is set, the less said, the more the audience can imagine. Did the
audience imagine what I, the author, had in mind? Not likely. Did I communicate?
Some. I communicated the idea of a dark and stormy night. The audience, however,
did a lot of creating on its own. Did I tell a story? Definitely not!

Grand Argument Stories

The question arises: Is telling a story better than telling a non-story? No. Stories
are not “better” than any other form of communication–just different. To see this
difference I need to define “story” so we can tell what a story is and what it is not.
Herein lies a political problem. No matter how I define “story,” there will be an
author someplace who finds his/her favorite work has been defined out, and feels it is
somehow diminished by not being classified as a story. Rather than risk the ire of
countless creative authors, I have limited my definition to a very special kind of story:
the Grand Argument Story.

As its name indicates, a Grand Argument Story presents an argument. To be Grand,
the argument must be a complete one, covering all the ways the human mind might
consider a problem and showing that only one approach is appropriate to solving it.
Obviously, this limits out a lot of creative, artistic, important works–but not out of being
stories, just out of being Grand Argument Stories. So, is a Grand Argument Story better
than any other kind? No. It is just a specific kind.

What’s In A Grand Argument Story?

A Grand Argument Story is a conceptually complete story with both an emotional and logical comprehensiveness. There are a number of qualities which determine whether a story is a Grand Argument or not. These are seen in the story’s Structure, Dynamics,
Character, Theme, Plot, and Genre.

Structure: the underlying relationship between the parts of a story describe its structure. A Grand Argument Story has a very specific structure which will be explored thoroughly in my next post.

Dynamics: the moving, growing, or changing parts of a story describe its dynamics. A Grand Argument Story has eight essential dynamics which I will explore in blog posts on the Art of Storytelling.

Character: Grand Argument Stories deal with two types of Characters: Overall Story Characters and Subjective Characters. These Characters provide the audience with the experience of moving through the story in both a passionate and an intellectual
sense.

Theme: Theme, in a Grand Argument Story, is tied to every structural and dynamic element. Theme provides the various biases and perspectives necessary to convey the story’s subject matter or meaning.

Plot: Plot in a Grand Argument Story is the sequence in which a story’s thematic structure is explored. Plot details the order in which dramatic elements must occur within that story.

Genre: Genre in a Grand Argument Story classifies the audience’s experience of a story in the broadest sense. Genre takes into account the elements of structure, dynamics, character, plot, and theme to define significant differences between various complete Grand Argument Stories.

These parts of a Grand Argument Story combine in complex relationships to create its Storyform. A Storyform is like a blueprint which describes how these parts shall relate in a particular story, regardless of how they are symbolized for the audience. It is such a
Storyform which allows such different stories as West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet, or Cyrano de Bergerac and Roxanne to share the same meaning while bearing little resemblance to each other. What these two pairs of stories share is virtually the same
Storyform.

The Free-form Author

While some authors write specifically to make an argument to an audience, many others write because they want to follow their personal muse. Sometimes writing is a catharsis, or an exploration of self. Sometimes authoring is a sharing of experiences, fragmented images, or just of a point of view. Sometimes authoring is marking a path for an audience to follow, or perhaps just presenting emotional resources the audience can construct into its own vision. Interactive communications question the validity of a linear story itself, and justifiably so. There are many ways to communicate, and each has just as much value as the next depending upon how one wishes to affect one’s audience. Sometimes, however, we just want to tell a story and entertain our audience.

In a series of blog posts I will discuss each of the elements listed above.

 

 

 

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On The Fly

Dorothy Cannell: I was stuck.  Absolutely no idea what to write for this month’s blog.  Usually something going on in my life will send up a little spark, and I’d think maybe I could get something that might be interesting or entertaining; but now nothing crept, let alone leaped out.  This I thought is what makes fiction – just making it all up – so much easier than working with reality.

I remembered speaking with a writer years ago who told me she had absolutely no idea what she was going write about when she started a book.  No germ of a plot, no characters in the wings.   She just sat down and typed the first sentence and went from there.   Now that I thought would be difficult, but why not on this occasion give it a try? Below is my attempt.  All I knew five minutes ahead was that that opening sentence would include the word murder.

“I think I should murder Uncle Horace,” murmured Miranda

Her cousin, Sarah, blinked.  “Where did that come from?”  The two young women had been talking about the church jumble sale which had absolutely nothing to do with their uncle, other than the fact he looked like an article well past its prime that might be donated to it.  He didn’t even live in Lesser Ditchwood where the event took place.

“Okay, if I must repeat myself – I think I should murder Uncle Horace.”

“Shush!”  Sarah glanced nervously around the tearoom where they were seated at a table by the window; there were no other customers regaling themselves with orange pekoe and sconces.  Betty who ran the place was in the back room.  Even so, walls had ears and couldn’t be expected to realize Miranda was joking.  Had to be, because she was a very nice girl except for a tendency to think a little too well of herself.  “What’s the old boy done to offend?  Forgotten to send you a birthday present?”

“Oh, no!   He sent me the usual hundred pounds. He really is quite a dear old boy.  Not stingy at all.  He’s good for Christmas too.”   Miranda took a bite of scone resulting in a muffled continuation. “It’s just unfortunate for him that he’s our only rich relation.  I could love him to bits and he’d still have to go.  You see, I’m in debt up to my ears, and the odd little contribution here and there from him or anyone else isn’t going to dig me out.”

“Debt?  Who do you owe money?  And why?  I’ve never known you splurge beyond your means.  You’re quite smug about making your own clothes and walking miles on end to get places when any reasonable person would take the bus.”

“Never mind the reason I’m in financial difficulties.  Any suggestions on how to do away with our uncle would be appreciated.”

An enlightened look appeared in Sarah’s eyes.  “It’s not you; it’s that idiot Randall Phips–Gibbons who’s in a fix.  Goodness, Miranda, why do you always fall for his type?  The last three were wastrels and he’s the worst of the lot.  I’ve never seen him sober and everyone knows he’s been booted out of his club because he can’t honor his losses at cards.”

Miranda bit into another scone.  “I’ve never thought much of your taste in men either.  Accountants in pinstriped suits would bore me stiff in five minutes, but if it will relieve your mind Randall doesn’t come into this.   Be a gem and focus on how to give our uncle the speediest possible sendoff into the next world.”

“I wish you’d stop saying our,” snapped Sarah, “it makes me all the more uncomfortable listening to this silliness.”

“Yes, I can see that.  You wouldn’t be human if the thought isn’t sitting there in your head that you stand to inherit penny for penny what I do under his Will.  It really was foolish of our parents to let on to us that one day we would both be very rich.”

And somehow, the necessary words were found

I enjoyed that little exercise so much I think with a little twiddling I could have the start of a short story.  Perhaps someone out there will enjoy trying writing this on the fly.  On that thought, I will return to my immediate reality of putting the dogs out, taking my granddaughter to school, and thinking about what to have for dinner.  Maybe I can find a kernel of interest there for next month’s blog.  Meanwhile I’ll need to work out who does murder Horace when he comes on his annual visit to Lesser Ditchwood …

Dorothy

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Nancy Drew in the Rear View Mirror

John Clark with a look at how YA female protagonists have changed as I look at three recently published books. For years, I’ve joked that Nancy Drew, but Tom was Swifter. That’s not so true in contemporary YA fiction. Take Darcy Prentiss, the seventeen year old protagonist in Gillian French’s new book Grit. She’s had to deal with the death of her daredevil dad during a beer-fueled stunt while building the Penobscot Narrows Bridge when she was little. In the story, she’s trying to earn enough money raking blueberries to cover school expenses while drinking herself oblivious at night to blot out all the pain created by some foolish mistakes that led to a less than stellar reputation, the constant stream of trashing from her aunt and the bleakness she sees whenever she looks at her future. She’s also hiding her cousin Nell’s secrets in an effort to protect her from even greater emotional pain. Then, there’s the unsolved mystery surrounding the disappearance after a party on the blueberry barrens of her former best friend Rhiannon a year ago.

Things become even more stressful when she’s anonymously nominated as a contestant for Bay Festival Princess. Following her as she tries to hold onto some personal dignity, protect Nell and unravel the puzzle surrounding Rhiannon’s vanishing all make for a dandy first book. Gillian gets the whole blueberry culture Down East as perfect as possible, while giving us a strong girl who you can find walking the corridors in pretty much every high school in the ‘other’ Maine.

Danielle Mages Amato’s debut novel, The Hidden Memory of Objects, gives us a most unusual heroine in Megan Brown. Her older brother is dead, but what caused his death is at first murky and mysterious as well as unexpected and devastating to her and her parents. Tyler sheltered her from plenty of the slings and arrows that accompany being a somewhat shy fifteen year old on the fringes of Washington DC power circles. After falling into a period of emotional numbness, She starts snapping out of it when physical contact with important possessions her brother left behind create intense pain, followed by movie-like images of events that may have happened to him.

When she begins realizing she’s not crazy, she enlists the aid of Eric, a slightly odd classmate who is intrigued by her visions. Their search leads to Nathan, another teen who claims he knew her brother Tyler and worked on a project with him. Megan’s so intent on digging into the mystery surrounding Tyler’s death, she can’t seem to realize how shabbily she’s begun treating Eric. Watching her balance the relationships with the two boys and get them right is impressive, as is her dogged determination to unearth the real cause of Tyler’s death. Was it suicide, accident or a fatal overdose? As she inches nearer the truth, she meets Dr. Brightman, a noted expert on Lincoln’s assassination after finding a copy of his book among her brother’s possessions. He shares her strange talent and is eager for her to work with him. Add in more flashbacks, treachery, underground parties all over the DC area, a very powerful politician with a dangerous obsession and the three teens crashing a gala fundraiser at Ford’s theater and you have a finely crafted mystery featuring a gutsy girl and some supernatural elements.

Eric Lindstrom’s Not If I See You First (another debut novel) gives us Parker Grant who has some pretty strict rules to live by, topped by Rule #INFINITY: There are NO second chances. Violate my trust and I’ll never trust you again. Betrayal is unforgivable. She has good reason to need strong rules. When she was seven, her mother drove after drinking too much wine. She was killed and Parker lost her vision.

Three months ago, she woke one morning and found her dad dead in bed. Because an empty prescription bottle was found near him, the insurance company refused to pay, leaving her in a real jam. As a result, her aunt, uncle and two cousins moved 1600 miles and took over the household. Parker has a few resentments toward them, but is still so numb from the loss of her dad, she’s unable to sense how those around her are feeling, even her best friend Sarah.

What Parker believes is a workable survival mode begins to fail her when she discovers that Scott, the boy she loved and first kissed when they were thirteen, is attending her high school as a result of two schools merging. It was his perceived betrayal that started her retreat from the world and caused the creation of Rule #INFINITY. Her way of coping with stress and feelings is to run at the athletic field early each day. She’s adept enough at navigation so she can get from her home to the field, run herself into an endorphin high and get home without being seen. At least until the track coach discovers her and how well she performs.

Faced with Scott being back in her life, coupled with the hugely frightening chance to run track for her school and the un-thawing of her frozen emotions and buried grief hurts like crazy. However, Parker’s pretty strong and once she is honest with herself, watching her tackle all these challenges makes for a compelling and heart-felt story.

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Weekend Update: June 17-18, 2017

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be posts by John Clark (Monday), Dorothy Cannell (Tuesday), Vaughn Hardacker (Wednesday), Joe Souza (Thursday), and Jen Blood (Friday).

In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:

 

 

 

An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. Contact Kate Flora

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GO WEST, WOMAN, GO WEST

Susan Vaughan here. In April the hubby and I spent ten days in Arizona. We hadn’t been out West in several years, so my friend and fellow author Linda Style’s invitation was a great opportunity to escape the forty-five rain-soaked degrees in Maine. What I didn’t expect in Arizona was to run across so many Maine connections.Linda and Chuck showed us the best hikes and sightseeing around Phoenix, some of which we wouldn’t have found on our own. On my bucket list was seeing the desert in bloom, and we hit it just right. One of my favorite days was spent at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, where we were surrounded by cactuses in full flower. Both plurals—cacti and cactuses—are correct, for you grammar hounds. The garden boasts many saguaro cactuses, a protected plant in the state. The saguaro grows only in the Sonoran Desert, and it can take up to seventy or a hundred years before a saguaro grows its first “arm.”We saw none with flowers at the top, maybe because the season was advance or because a saguaro doesn’t begin to produce flowers unit it is thirty-five or more years old. Harming a saguaro in any way leads to huge fines in Arizona.

We chanced upon Arizona’s state tree, the palo verde, Spanish for green stick, also in bloom. The palo verde has chlorophyll in its bark, thus the green stick moniker. Throughout the weeks we saw many of these. I snapped photos of ocotillo cactus with spindly branches and bright red flowers, low-growing clumps of hedgehog cactus, and prickly pears with pinkish-orange flowers that locals make into jelly. And the Maine connection? The clerk in the garden’s gift shop saw my LL Bean card and announced that she grew up in Boothbay Harbor. She added that she missed Maine summers but not the winters. 

An outing with Chuck and Linda took us to the Dolly Steamboat on Canyon Lake, which is so unlike any of our lakes in the East. The lake is literally in a canyon, in the middle of the desert, surrounded by bluffs and cliffs and craggy rocks. We managed to snag a table in the bow and munched popcorn while the captain described the various rock formations and pointed out wildlife. We saw bighorn sheep on a high bluff and moving bumps on a rock tower that he said were baby bald eagles. My simple Nikon couldn’t capture either very well.

The next day the hubby and I drove north from Phoenix at 200 feet above sea level to Sedona at 4000 feet up, where it was about ten degrees cooler but no less sunny. Sedona is known for its spectacular red rock formations, red because of iron oxide in the sandstone. The town is named for the first settler’s wife Sedona Arabella Schnebley. We stayed at the Arabella Hotel, and by coincidence I know Sedona’s granddaughter Laurie Schnebley, who is a fellow author and writing teacher. The Maine connection popped up in the hotel breakfast room. A man approached us when he spotted my husband’s Red Sox cap. This man now lives elsewhere, but grew up in the Mid-Coast area, and his brother lives in our small town.

My husband wanted to squeeze in as much as possible, so we hiked morning and afternoon. I slept well every night.

One wonderful hike happened because we got lost. Instead of what we intended, we found the Palatki Ruin Heritage site. The National Forest Ranger had taught in Maine at Outward Bound on Hurricane Island. The climb on rock steps took us up the cliffs on the left  to cliff dwellings and pictographs that date from 1100 A.D.Our other favorite outing was to Soldier Pass with Red Rock Jeep Tours. Not only was the scenery spectacular (Am I overusing that word?) but also our guide entertained us with descriptions and anecdotes of the history, geology, and plant and animal life, along with some corny jokes. He was our final Maine connection. Although not from Maine, he and his wife often visit Bar Harbor to go kayaking.

I hope this post hasn’t been too much of a travelogue for you, but it was fun for me to revisit my vacation. And I haven’t covered nearly all we did! If you go to Sedona, I urge you to take one of the jeep tours early in your stay so you can then enjoy the rest with knowledge of the area. I do love to travel, so does anyone have a vacation tip for me? Or questions about this trip?

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