On this observation journal page I had intended to play more with previous thoughts on story structure, treating them literally as the story. The idea becoming the thing.
It’s not uncommon, of course — consider the Discworld’s Narrativium — but I suspect I had been thinking in particular about how Diana Wynne Jones occasionally literalises some aspects of genre her books (see e.g. aspects of the Gothic in Time of the Ghost and Aunt Maria, and of course the mythosphere in The Game).
That was the plan.
Instead I got distracted by some theories of narrative that were working for me, and wondering what they would look like AS a narrative.
It has similarities to the pick-three-pictures-and-match-them-to-a-movie game (for a more involved version of that see: The Deal with Dixit). It’s a way to shuffle stories I already know into new configurations, as well as to draw out directions I’d like to pursue.
- “A story called into being by the existence of a container to put it in” becomes Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, and the sort of house that is built in such a way that it causes ghosts to spontaneously generate — and the existence of a single man of good fortune might cause the emergence of monstrous wives…
- “Story takes shape of its container” becomes… well, at it’s mildest it’s just “grow to fit circumstances”, but actually it becomes several VERY GOOD books I have read since writing this page. But I can’t tell you what they are because this would be a spoiler. Impressionable things that become good (or feared) because of who took them in, and all the violence and generosity and assumptions involved.
- “Story, like a shark, must keep moving or die” becomes of course the Questing Beast and Nancy Mitford’s ‘the Bolter’, but also stationary things that yearn for the changeability even of decay.
The main lesson: Nearly anything can be a story-shape if you’re deliberate enough about it.
Edit: This has now been continued: Getting meta with story structures #2.
Writing/art exercises: Made-up rules
- Theory into story: If you’re familiar with theories and guidelines in your field, pick one theory of writing or art composition that you often work with (the rule of thirds? the rule of threes?).
- Alternatively, pick some personal beliefs about what makes a good story/picture (velvety moss? forward motion? girls with swords?) and rephrase it “all stories/pictures should do XYZ”.
- Treat that theory TOO literally. To what extent can you make it become the story? Does alluding to something three times have an actual magical power known to people in your story? Is this a painting of a world in which all girls MUST have swords, whether they want to or not?
- Do a quick written/drawn sketch.
- Found theories: Or instead, pick an object lying nearby. A bowl of receipts? A fork?
- Convert that into your new theory of story/composition. “All stories/books should be like a bowl of receipts”. “A good painting should comply with the Fork Theory of composition.”
- Now see if you can (a) work out what that might mean and (b) sketch out a story/image adhering to that theory. (An ornamental framing device for a found-text piece?)
- (NB I think it’s Loomis’ Creative Illustration that deals with randomised compositions.)
- Did you think of any existing stories/pictures that fit that theory?
- Make a few notes on what went hilariously wrong, and if anything worked unexpectedly — to what extent do formal guidelines vs freedom vs deliberateness suit you?