Module Two: The Master Story Teller
If you completed the previous lesson, you will have taken an example from either one of the parables of Jesus, or a satirical writer such as George Orwell, C S Lewis or Charles Dickens. Use the example you wish (either the one you chose in the previous lesson or another) as a guide for this lesson. All the above mentioned were master story tellers.
- Firstly read, or ensure that you are really familiar with the story/novel you have chosen. Spend a few minutes considering what hidden meaning the author wished to convey.
- Consider how this has been done.
- Ask yourself how the author would have written this in a factual report.
- Would factual teaching be as effective as fiction in conveying the hidden meaning?
- What basic elements does the story consist of?
The Major elements of good fiction:
a) Human drama(s)
b) The reaction to that in the lives of the characters
c) An understanding of and a sympathy with the situation by the audience/reader
d) Eventual conclusion
These are the prime characteristics of good story telling.
As an example for analysis, the short story contained in Luke chapter 15 verses 8 – 10 is given below. A breakdown of the structure of a plot is noted in brackets.
The Lost Coin
A woman had lost one of ten silver coins which, as they had been part of her wedding dowry, were priceless (the problem was posed). She was horrified as it was shameful for a woman to lose them and she feared how she would explain what had happened to her husband, family and friends (the emotional response). To avoid the shame, she knew she must find the coin at all costs (her ambition). She lit a lamp, swept the house and searched carefully (her action to achieve her ambition). The recovery of the coin was so crucial that she continued searching until she found it (her refusal to give up). When she found the coin, she called her friends together and shared the good news (celebration of success – final conclusion).
Sympathy and Understanding
Those who heard this story in its original form, i.e. Jesus’ audience, would understand and sympathise with the woman. Thus it is clear that, to be appreciated fully, the reason for a character’s response or action must be understood by the audience. In this way, fiction can be dated. It also follows that a writer must know his readership. He cannot appeal to their sympathies or their understanding if he does not know what interests them.
The Hidden Meaning
Due to the fact that the story of the lost coin contains a deeper or hidden meaning, it has transcended time. Consequently, fiction that has become classic and maintained its popularity over the years is fiction that contains deeper or fundamental truths. It is fiction that respects the morals or aspirations which transcend time. The following is an analysis of one of the most well known novels of all time and one which has retained its popularity.
A Christmas Carol
Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly lawyer, returns home on Christmas Eve to his cold, dilapidated home. As he sleeps, the ghost of his partner, Jacob Marley, tells him of the torments beyond the grave awaiting those who have been unkind to their fellow men. Unless Scrooge mended his ways, he would suffer the same fate as his deceased partner (the problem was posed). Scrooge is so horrified, (the emotional response) he asks what he must do to avoid such a fate (his ambition). He is told he must endure the visitation of three ghosts who would reveal past, present and future. This would enable him to change. He agrees to do go through this harrowing experience (his action to achieve his ambition). Although the visions are terrifying and distressing, Scrooge continues to the bitter end (his refusal to give up). When he has experienced the last and most horrifying vision, his attitude is changed and he turns away from his mean and miserly ways. He repairs wrongs and uses his money to help those he had previously dismissed (celebration of success – final conclusion).
Obviously the story as told above is greatly condensed but, in its essence, it follows the same, basic pattern as that of the woman who lost her coin.
Q.1 Taking a novel or story of your choice, analyse it as the two stories above were analysed. Complete the analysis below by filling in the blanks.
a) The problem posed
b) The emotional response
c) The ambition
d) Action to achieve that ambition
e) Refusal to give up
f) Celebration of success and its results – final conclusion
a) What kind of people was “The Lost Coin” written for?
b) What kind of people was “A Christmas Carol” written for?
c) What kind of people was the story you have analysed written for?
Before you begin writing, it is helpful to consider your plot. There are successful authors who claim that they construct and develop their stories around a character. This may well be the case but I would always argue that, without a substantial plot, a story does not hold well together – very much as a building needs a firm structure.
If you have already decided on the subject of your book, answer the two questions below as they stand. If not, chose another story and use it to answer them.
Q.3 In one paragraph, identify the crux of what you want to say in your novel/autobiography. You may want to make several points but there should be one overriding theme.
Q.4 Using the model (a-f) above, apply it to your story or the story of your choice. Obviously section d), “Action to achieve that ambition”, will be long and complex. It will occupy the majority of your story. It may take some twists and turns before reaching its conclusion. The way we do this and how we prevent the reader from becoming bored will be discussed in a later lesson. Meanwhile, try to explain your planned action in about a paragraph.