A story may be simple, making its way logically like a river to the sea, beginning, middle and end.
Girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back again.
But a more complicated story may loop in time, with flashbacks and jumps.
Girl meets boy, girl remembers being hurt before and is frightened, girl loses boy, girl faces her fear and gets boy back again.
I find stories with complex structures more satisfying. But then, I’m a structure freak. I like stories where the ending is foreshadowed and where elements mirror each other.
And even more intricate structures are possible. Words can create illusions. They can bridge impossible gaps allowing magical connections to be made between unlinked things. This is the stuff of fantasy, but also the stuff of poetry and of magic realism. Imagination can stitch together things never connected in the real world.
Girl meets monster, girl remembers being hurt before and senses the monster’s hurt. She feels him a kindred spirit – they are both monsters. She kisses the monster, and he is transformed into a handsome prince.
Princes may become monsters in fiction, and metamorphose back through the power of love. Of course, as Marge Piercy says in her take on this trope “Though courtship turns frogs into princes, marriage turns them quietly back.”
Recurring words and images can stitch together these magic connections. Salman Rushdie employs this technique playfully in The Moor’s Last Sigh, by using different meanings of the same word. The superhero theme recurs in the novel, and he segues from Batman to bats in the belfry.
Metaphorical links join with mirroring to allow the leaps.
Girl meets monster, girl remembers being hurt before and senses the monster’s hurt. She feels him a kindred spirit – they are both monsters. She kisses the monster, and her spirit dances on air. A few tentative steps on the air and they have learned to fly, soaring over the towns and fields, the valleys and hills.
You see? From the (admittedly hackneyed) dancing on air metaphor, we have segued into flying. Cross-stitch a little more back and forth between love and flying, layering metaphors and repeat words. That’s all it will take for the two to be united seamlessly without the reader being able to see the join.
In the novel I’m working on now, the main character, Vincent is a man entirely invented by himself. He is whatever story he is telling at the time. This allows his story to intertwine with that of Don Vincent, a fifteenth century Spanish student. Once in the realm of the imagined, it is easy for Vincent/Don Vincent to encounter a pair of merchants, one of whom sells time and the other luck. I’m aiming for a nesting of stories within each other, self-similar as fractals, so it becomes unclear whose story we are reading.
Vincent has a secret, which I will not tell you. But I think I will reveal it early in the book, so that the mystery becomes, not the secret, but how he reacts to having to carry it. The end, in a sense, will come in the beginning. That was one bit of advice I gleaned from a creative writing course I recently did – if you have a secret, spill it early. Another nugget is that causality runs backwards in fiction. Whereas in our world causes produce effects, in the world of fiction the reverse is true – everything that happens is determined by the ending.
Building-in these ideas has taken me further than I have ever gone from a linear structure. My plan for the structure looks more like a mandala than a story. I’m not sure how much it’s really going to guide the writing.
I have only written two chapters of the book. It’s probably going to be the hardest thing I’ve written to date. I still have an incredible amount of research and mapping to do, even though the basic tale can be told In 1,000 words.
In particular, in the research vein I’m looking forward to reading Pedro Paromo by Juan Rulfo, which is already sitting seductively on my shelf calling to me. A mere 143 pages, some say it is the most complexly structured novel ever written. I understand it’s several ghosts telling their stories, each interrupting the other as one says something that triggers another. Perhaps, in that book, I will learn some secrets about how to spin bridges made of words over the abyss of impossibility.