Cumulative Plots and The Fifth Story by Clarice Lispector

the fifth story clarice lispector

“The Fifth Story” is a work of microfiction by Clarice Lispector. I tend to analyse short stories by looking at their dramatic arc, but what of a story like this? Surely “The Fifth Story” does not fit the seven-step story structure I seem to love so much. (I love it because it works, for both generative and analytical purposes.)

I also love when I read a story for adults which helps me to understand how children’s story works. (It more often works the other way, to be fair.)

If I could persuade the fiction writers of the world to do one thing every year, it would be to read the winners of the Newbery Medal and other awards for best children’s literature. Writers of children’s fiction know that the apparent simplicity of the novel is anything but simple to write. Yet, their accomplishment offer superb models of all elements of craft.

— Elizabeth Lyons, Manuscript Makeover

In understanding the strange narrative of “The Fifth Story” I’m guided by Jane Alison, who offers this story as an example of what she calls a ‘fractal’ narrative shape in her book Meander, Spiral, Explode. John Truby might call it a ‘branching’ shape. Refer to The Anatomy of Story. (I’ve written a lot more about plot shapes in this post.)

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