Writers Discussing Writing – pt III (Samuel Snoek-Brown, guest)

October 28, 2012

NaNo '12 ParticipantAs a run up to National Novel Writing Month for 2012,  we’ve been talking to writer, Samuel Snoek-Brown, my guest for the past three weeks. He wrote a short story that really caught me, and we’ve been deconstructing it and discussing it’s structure.

I seriously recommend novice writers try doing this with work they like. It’s a great way to teach yourself about what it is that goes into a story.

So first, take a look at his short story, Lightning My Pilot.

Then, if you haven’t yet, see our talk over the past two weeks:

Writers Discussing Writing – pt I

Writers Discussing Writing – pt II

I really didn’t expect us to have that much to discuss, but you know writers… especially deadly serious ones. Here it is…

Blog three of three

EJR: As we left off last time: talking about short stories and breaking them down to their beginning, middle, and end. And then into their various scenes. So I can identify what’s been going on craft wise­– What’s the beginning, middle, and end here in this piece?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: A beginning, a middle, and an end, right. Well, if I was breaking by scene, here in this story– there happen to be five scenes here, and if we take that down to less scenes? Humm. We might skip any overt exposition and jump right into the rising action, or we might eschew resolution altogether.

EJR:  So skip exposition, and we’d jump in at rising action. And skip the resolution. Two down to three. Cool. I never saw it from that view before. How simple can you get?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: My story feels a lot more traditional, though. However compressed it is, that first section is explicitly expositional: the mother is introducing the subject matter and the main problem of the story: the clouds, and how to explain them to her son, which, of course, is part of a larger question of how to explain the world to her son.

EJR:  Yes, I can see how you went for 5 but I like that you did it in such a short manner. Exposition didn’t seem like exposition. It felt like I was seeing a story, not a writer telling us a story. No wasted energy in this piece.  Short but complicated I might point out.

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  Right. because then the second section is all about the “fighting” that clouds do during a storm, and it complicates the story she was telling her son about the clouds. This is also where I introduced the absent soldier father (is he still at war? did he die in the war?), so it’s complicating the story she’s trying to tell her son about the world, too.

EJR: Keep going. I like talking writing and using the better terms for it all.

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  Well… I’m not so sure that the climax comes in the third section. In a way, I realize, looking at it now, that the third section — which is about the darker implications of the “war” in the sky as well as the real wars in our world — is really a further complication of the story. It’s more rising action.

Even the fourth section, where the mother/son mythology about the clouds slips out into the real world, in the kid’s classroom, isn’t really the climax, although it does re-reference the father and the sacrifices he’s made, the world the kid and his mother are living in.

EJR:  So you set out for a structure then allowed yourself to mix it up as it came to you. Great. Sometimes the structure is only found after the piece is written. Right?

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  Right. In fact, it’s hard to pinpoint a traditional climax, because there isn’t really any external antagonist or external conflict that will come to a head. The only real conflict is between the mythology this mother is building with her son and the real world that her son has to plug this story into. If there’s an antagonist, it’s the mother, but she’s also the one driving the story, both the one we’re reading and the one she’s telling her son.

EJR:  Good to bring up traditional antagonists. They’re not always so cut and dried in the better-written pieces. That can be all for the good.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: That fourth section, though, is where the story begins to get away from her, where her son begins to take over, and in that way it could serve as a kind of climax that leads to the confrontation with the homeless god-admiral in the end.

But if I had to point to the climax, I’d say it’s that confrontation with the homeless man. It’s that moment where mother and son, side by side, have to find a way to reconcile the story she’s been telling her son with the real world. It’s the moment when the mother comes ->this<- close to having to tell her son the truth. The REAL truth.

EJR:  So let me repeat from your ideas so far: “The falling action that results from that happens extremely fast: it’s the time it takes to walk her son back to their car. It covers one sentence. Maybe two or three, if you include the final question her son asks and the mother’s consideration of a response.”

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  Yes, This is a very shallow triangle, if you look at it graphically. That’s three whole sections — in my Word document, that’s five out of seven pages — devoted to rising action, and then BAM, in the course of a few very short paragraphs, the action falls and the story wraps up.

EJR:  What a ride! Visually I think I can see what you’re getting to. My readers are going to love this.

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  The way I see the story, that first scene, in the car where the mother first explains the god-ships, is clearly the setup.

I’ve always preferred to view the beginning/middle/end model as an overlay of the three-act  narrative, so that the beginning of a story is its setup, the middle consists of confrontation, and the end presents a resolution. But of the five scenes in the story, that last one is by far the longest. Each of the first four scenes is roughly a page long, but the last one is three pages all by itself.

EJR:   And anyone can take a story and rip it apart like this to find how it was done. And them doing so can create a frame to practice on. A very low-risk activity for beginners who need those training-wheels.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Wait! There’s more!

EJR:   Laughs. Go for it!

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  The next two scenes are about warfare in the clouds — storms and rain. That’s the first part of the complication, and it’s abrupt and violent. The fourth scene is more extended, dealing in a longer time span, and it’s returning to exposition in a way. But with the illustration of warfare in the boy’s drawings, and the reference to the father’s military photo and insignia on the living room, it’s clearly a part of the middle section. It’s heading toward resolution (the mother is siding with her son against a world that fails to understand or accept their mythology), but it isn’t quite there yet.

The resolution — the mother and son successfully bringing their worldview to an outsider — occurs in that long final scene at the park.

All of this together, rising action, complication, resolution, means that we have a one-page beginning, a three-page middle, and the three-page ending.

EJR:   Brilliant. I can’t thank you enough. This made my day. I hope the readers who are just beginning to be deadly serious about stories are feeling the same. Thank you so much.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Thanks, EJ — I enjoyed our conversation tremendously, and I’m looking forward to sharing your blog with loads of people!  Keep being awesome.


2 Responses to “Writers Discussing Writing – pt III (Samuel Snoek-Brown, guest)”

  1. Reblogged this on Samuel Snoek-Brown and commented:
    EJ Runyon and I had a LONG and very interesting conversation about my story “Lightning My Pilot.” We get into areas of general craft, but it’ll help to read the story (if you haven’t already) to understand some of what we talk about. And if you haven’t read parts one or two of the interview, you can start the whole conversation here; then you can check out part two dive into part two of the interview here.

    Otherwise, dive into the third and final part of the interview, in which I break down story structure!

    Any comments? Feel free to leave some here, but definitely leave questions or comments at EJ’s blog: join our conversation! 🙂

    Oh, and PS: I’ve added a new “Interviews” page to my blog, under the “Writing” menu, where you can find interviews I do with other writers and interviews people have done with me. I’m planning to expand the interviews I’ve done with others soon (including an exciting interview I hope to post early next month), so stay tuned. And if you want to interview me, just drop me a line — I’m fun to talk to. 🙂

  2. […] Reblogged from E.J. Runyon's Author Blog: […]

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