Recently, I’ve been revisiting this three-mood approach to story patterns (last posted about here Observation Journal — Story Patterns). I will probably continue to do so. [And later edits are indicated with a note and/or italics.]
Current thoughts are that breaking a short story into three big moods has proved useful in several ways. These include:
Recording my impression of a short story I’ve read.
[Edited to add:] Understanding story structure.
Borrowing a cage to trap a story idea, or a frame to train the story to grow on.
I’ve outlined these more below:
(A caveat, as ever, that I use “mood” very broadly, to include mood, texture, tone, trope, attitude, posture, allusion, reaction…)
I read through a few more short stories and made notes of the big segment-moods through which the stories moved. I was trying to think of these shapes separate from those stories, but I do wish I’d made a note of what stories they were! One of them was an M.R. James.
If this approach to thinking about stories (written or drawn!) resonates with you, I encourage you to make your own list based on short stories you like. But for completeness, here are all the short story shapes from this page and the previous one:
Ordinary — inkling — confirmation
Reluctance — engagement — deepening
Humorous sketch — elements clash/conflagration — fall-out
Inkling — build — reveal-behind-the-story
World — deeper — dissolve into it
Unsettlement — deepening horror — the cusp of annihilation.
Ominous — compounded — twist (of plot or knife)
Formation of goal — quiet progression towards goal — achieves goal
Inkling — red herring — solution
Foreshadow doom — Proceed towards doom — [evade] doom
Meet cute — complication — HEA (happily ever after)
Fragments — facets — whole
Situation — failures — successes
Door — something through — pushed back
Metaphor — metaphor — metaphor
Suspicion — Peel back — truth & consequences
They fit short stories, and while each trio could fit in a single illustration, they also work nicely for sequences of at least three (at the risk of feeling like an instructive Victorian cartoon).
After making the list, I again remixed and rearranged the orders, to see what sort of stories each new grouping suggested to me. For example, “Ordinary — deeper — fall-out” suggested the horror behind the mundane, or a secret history. “Dissolve into the world — conflagration — inkling” could fit a ‘getting of wisdom’ plot. “Confirmation — build — unsettlement” might be about discovering someone or something has feet of clay.
This process is not about reinventing the wheel of story structure. It was about learning what the shapes of stories mean to me. The thinking-through is the point. That said, now that I have the list, it sometimes comes in useful for quickly giving shape to an idea (written or drawn!). I’ll post some examples of that soon.
HINT (before inciting incident)—play—ESTABLISH—play (this is kind of the middle half of the book, keeping the aesthetic in play)—EXTRA (this is round about the big crisis)—business—(after the main ending) FLOURISH
I drew a timeline and jotted down a few notes for each of those stages, e.g. “eccentric/museum overdecorated, perfumed, scented smoke, etc”. Then I began sketching little settings and scenes and people, along with additional notes — everything from detail it was hard to draw (“illuminated corsage” — a real thing from the era), to bits of dialogue (“this requires a clocksmith”).
I’ve noted that I’d like to develop the idea of this structure a bit further. But simply sketching out an idea — getting it on paper at all and (for me) especially as pictures — helped develop new ideas, and much more specific ideas. “Blossoming velvet” and “cloying” becomes a picture of a particular ornamental birdcage, the silhouette of dresses evolves, facial hair is acquired, hairstyles rise and fall, poses are struck. But throughout, having a clear aesthetic made me stay on track.
After this, I did keep playing with questions of a key aesthetic (more in due course), but lately the drawing-a-prose-idea has also been an interesting line of enquiry.