Stories and the Story

This weekend I got to attend WOTS the Write on the Sound writers’ conference in Edmonds. Something I love about conferences is the hashing apart and analysis of plot, structure and character. What is the conflict in the story you are writing? 

At one workshop I attended the presenter listed five basic possible conflicts found in literature — man versus man, man versus society, man versus himself, man versus nature and man versus technology. 

At another workshop I attended a few years ago, these same conflicts showed up but that presenter also listed man versus God. But my favorite summary remains one I heard at that same conference: that all plots boil down to some variation of Girl Grows Up or Stranger Comes to Town. And when I stopped and analyzed my favorite books, I realized how true this was — even if simplified. Scarlett O’Hara, Dorothy, Jane Eyre, Lucy Pevensie, Anne of Green Gables? Girl Grows Up. The Hobbit, Treasure Island, Pride and Prejudice? Stranger Comes to Town. 

For years I’ve said that all stories are telling part of the One Story. So this weekend when I was thinking again about stories and the Girl Grows Up or Stranger Comes to Town model, I realized something. The history of the world – from creation to the fall and its aftermath – is the story of Girl Grows Up. Girl – creation – lost her innocence, became aware, got into a predicament. And the story from the coming of Jesus until now is Stranger Comes to Town. Jesus shows up on stage, completely unlike anyone we’ve ever met before and now all the rules are about to change…

In essence, Stranger Came to Town because Girl Grew Up. It is all One Story.

Being A Continent

Well, we’ve reached the end of the week, just barely. After the fairly successful first and second days, reality sank in for the kids starting on Wednesday, when it was time to wake up and do it all over again. Each day they came home more and more tired and overwhelmed by the prospect of a whole year of this schedule and afraid they will never understand what is going on. It helped that Athena and Apollo could come home for lunch each day, speak English and relax their brains a little bit. After three days of eating at school, one in cooking class (fun!) and two in the cafeteria, today Artemis took the train home to eat and relax her brain with us as well, and I planned to drive her back to give her a little more time at home. I made a yummy meal that everyone likes, and while everyone is worn thin and soooo ready for the weekend, there was a really nice feeling of family togetherness around the table. This is hard, we’re almost to the end of the week, I feel somewhat guilty that we’ve voluntarily inflicted this on you, but we’re in it together and we’re going to support each other and muddle through until it gets better. We’ve had tears from everyone this week, except for Hermes – and I’m willing to bet his are not far off as weariness is showing with his frequent tongue sucking. Each one of the kids has had a moment when they are just DONE; they are discouraged, overwhelmed and they fall apart and dissolve. To be honest, I’ve had some of those moments as well.  In addition, this week, Zeus began his Job Hunt For Real, and as such this morning after the kids were all off and I’d come back from the village store with groceries, he needed to debrief and bounce his ideas off me. It was good, and I think I am able that way to be a real help, but it did make me reflect that mostly this week I’ve been a Meal Cooker, Idea Bouncer and Pieces of Kid Picker-Upper. As you may know, my “job” while we are here is to write the novel that I started last year and am “supposed” to write, by which I mean that I have the continuing sense that it is a story that God wants me to tell. (Now this is potentially frightening that I have put it here because you will probably hold me to it!) Helen, the protagonist, has been sitting in her new friend’s apartment for over a year now, waiting for me to once more take up pen and get on with her life. Last week, up in the mountains I read a short book called The War of Art to get my rear in gear and my mindset ready. So the first full day of school in a quiet house for a couple hours, I sat down with ol’ Helen and got reacquainted. It was more of a symbolic act to show the world that I am not waffling anymore, but since then,… well…Helen went back to sitting in her chair with her sprained ankle while I dried tears and made hot lunches and bounced ideas. And that’s okay – I gave myself permission not to actually write anything until next week. And after all, I need to update you, too. C.S.Lewis wrote somewhere about his mother that she was like a Continent, her presence large and solid and stable, and when she died he and his father and brother all lost their moorings. I don’t want to die young and make my family lose their moorings, but I do like the idea of being a Continent for my family. (In a healthy way, of course.) I get to be there for them, hopefully solid and stable, especially right now, showing love with clean clothes, covered books (that’s a whole other post), walks to school, good food, a listening ear and a strict bedtime. Helen can wait a little longer, don’t you think? She’s got a sprained ankle; how far can she go?