Monday, January 11, 2016

Cinderella and the Heat of Battle

by Kasey Tross

One of my goals for the year is to read 20 books, with at least 3 of them on writing, so as to supplement my other goal of finally finishing a comprehensive first draft of my novel. My current read is "Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft" by Janet Burroway. So far I'm finding it to be very helpful.

One thing she mentions is the idea that your story should essentially be a war, a battle fought between your protagonist and the forces that oppose your protagonist, and the war should have many battles in which power is seized and lost.

She gives the example of Cinderella- Cinderella's mother dies and her father marries an evil stepmother. The stepmother brings two ugly daughters with her, and when Cinderella's father dies, all the power is in the stepmother's hands.

But then, an invitation arrives to a ball to which all the young women of the household are invited- suddenly, Cinderella again has some power and some hope.

Yet the wicked stepmother forbids her to go, and the stepmother is once again in power.

When the fairy godmother appears to assist Cinderella, however, Cinderella seizes power once more.

And so on- clock strikes midnight, power lost; Prince will try the shoe on every maiden in the land, power regained; stepmother locks Cinderella away when her moment comes, power lost; she is finally able to try on the shoe and is shown to be the prince's true love, power regained, war is won, Cinderella triumphs.

I'm a big fan of simple things, and I loved the simple formula this idea set forth. In fact, it helped me rewrite the beginning of my story, which has always felt awkward to me because while I know it's important to start in the middle of action, I wasn't sure which action to start in the middle of, because the story starts after the main character has been through some unpleasant action, but before the main action begins.

After learning about this idea of "doing battle", I realized that I needed to give the reader an opportunity to understand the shock of the MC's current situation (because that way we understand why we want to root for her), but still keep it the current situation without rewinding too far back to when the actual situation changed, because then I would be losing a lot of ground on the main story; on the other hand, starting in the current situation left me ripe for a lot of info-dumping, and I HATE that, so I was trying to avoid that as well.

If that makes any sense at all.

So I rewrote the story to begin with a dream in which the MC is over-the-moon happy, and then she awakes to realize that her dream was nothing but a memory of what she had before, and her current situation is like a nightmare. That, to me, puts the reader in the middle of the action, and shortly after her waking to the current (awful) reality, she gets hope of a way she can change that reality- power shift! So,
happy --> miserable --> hope --> then I have another great twist which threatens it all!

That's your Writing 101 lesson for today.

Go forth.

Be awesome.

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