Monday, January 31, 2011

Reading Like a Writer: Academic January, The Conclusion

Academic January is officially coming to a conclusion. In week one, the parameters of the Character Desire and Plot discussion were introduced. In week two, we examined Sharon Darrow’sPainters of Lexieville, our action oriented example and in week three we took closer look at Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie, our character oriented example, which brought us to week four and our combination example, Kimberly Willis Holt’s National Book Award winning When Zachary Beaver Came to Town.
And, here we are on the last day of the month we are finally at THE END. 

Conclusion: The Relationship Between Character Desire and Story Structure
 This examination of character desire and plot did prove that Katherine Paterson’s motto, “Something’s got to happen. Someone’s got to change” is a reminder for all authors to heed (114). The three authors examined here demonstrate that a connection between character and plot exists within the three listed classifications: action-oriented, character-oriented or a combination thereof. Each of the authors, in her own unique way, is successful in depicting what it is the main character yearns for within the plot of her book, whether it be Pert’s longing to leave Lexieville behind or India Opal’s desire to create a family or Toby’s wish to have a summer like no other.[Image]  It is interesting to note that only in The Painters of Lexieville does the main character “get” exactly what she wants in the manner in which she hopes (although Pert does make many sacrifices to see herself safely out of Lexievile). This may be a benefit of the action-oriented novel where an author must clearly outline the main character’s desire as it is the protagonist’s choices, actions, and reactions in pursuit of an external goal that fuels the plot. In contrast, in a character-oriented novel like Because of Winn-Dixie, the main character’s desire is more subtly revealed as the story progresses. This may be so as emphasis is on what the main character feels, versus the actions the protagonist takes, throughout the novel. However, in an action-character-oriented novel, like When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, a combination of both the straightforward and the more subtle approach to revealing character desire is at play to depict both aspects of the work.

Character desire and plot cannot be extricated from one another. One must exist for the other to exist. As Stephen Fischer, quoted by Burroway in Writing Fiction, states, “Structure is the art that conceals itself—you only see the structure in a badly structured story, and call it formula” (40).  None of the authors examined here wrote to a formula, but each elevated her structure, and its depiction of character desire, to a level of concealed and deliberate art.

The Works Cited
Burroway, Janet. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, 6th edition. New York: Longman, 2003.
Darrow, Sharon. The Painters of Lexieville. Cambridge: Candlewick, 2003.
DiCamillo, Kate. Because of Winn-Dixie. Cambridge: Candlewick, 2000.
Holt, Kimberly Willis. When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. New York: Random House, 1999.
Kress, Nancy. Beginnings, Middles, and Endings. Cincinnati:  Writer’s Digest Books,1993.
Lukeman, Noah. The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002.
McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting. New York: Regan Books, 1997.
Nolan, Han. “Creating Fiction: A Journey to Truth.” One-on-One Plus Conference. Rutgers, New Brunswick. October. 2003.
Paterson, Katherine. The Invisible Child: On Reading and Writing Books for Children. New York: Dutton, 2001.
Pattison, Darcy. “Keep it Moving: Pacing a Novel.” Children’s Writer’s Guide 2002:  1-2.

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