gilmore-girls-a-year-in-the-life

With the recent Gilmore girls revival we now have agents/editors asking for similar story structures.

gilmore-girls-story-structure-agent-wishlist

What would that mean, exactly, to write a story with a similar structure to Gilmore girls.

One aspect which provides structure to Gilmore girls is the seasons. Rory’s life (like any diligent high school student’s) is determined by the school terms, in turn different according to season. Stars Hollow holds regular annual events which are also connected to seasons, be it Halloween pumpkins, picnic hampers or Christmas festivities.

In television miniseries, the seasonal structure isn’t new. Take for instance the Disney adaptation of Little House On The Prairie. Each of the three episodes has distinctly different seasons.

little-house-on-the-prairie-disney

The fact is, this story structure is very old, especially in stories for and about girls.

The straight (non-reversed, unironic) version looks like this:

Seaons Of Storytelling Chart

from John Truby’s The Anatomy Of Story

However, a writer may choose to avoid the cliche by turning it around. So the character declines in spring and is rejuvenated in the winter. This not only short-circuits the audience’s expectations but also asserts that humans, though of the natural world, are not enslaved by its patterns.

What about the seasons and writing for children?

If writing for children is different from writing for adults, surely it’s because our main audience has not seen enough of the world  or of literature to have noticed cliche, which becomes more noticeable the older/better read you become.

Maria Nikolajeva, academic of children’s literature has made the following observations about:

THE TREATMENT OF TIME IN BOOKS FOR GIRLS AND BOOKS FOR BOYS

This is a fascinating concept, and something I’d not noticed until it was pointed out, by Maria Nikolajeva in Children’s Literature Comes Of Age. Earlier in the book she defines books for boys (often adventure) and books for girls (horse stories etc, and those starring girls) which these days tend to have pink somewhere on the cover. In an ideal world there’d be no such thing as sex differentiation in books. Because gender is not genre. But I’m quite radical like that.

One Swedish essay on narrative differences in books for boys and books for girls stipulated that male time is linear, while female time is circular…. Time in books for girls and in books for boys is closely connected with place. Not only is male time linear, but male space is open, as books for boys take place outdoors, sometimes far away from home in the wide world. Male narrative time is structured as a series of stations where an adventure is experienced, a task is performed, a trial is passed. Time between these stations practically does not exist. The text can say something like “after many days full of hardships they reached their destination…” The male chronotope is thus corpuscular, discontinuous, a chain of different separate time-spaces (“quants”) which are held together by a final goal. These separate chronotopes may also correspond to chapters in adventure boos: each chapter is self-contained, even if some threads can run from one chapter to another. It is easily observable in classic stories such as Mark Twain’s The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer (1876) or Robert McCloskey’s Homer Price (1943).

The chronotope in books for girls is completely different. The space is closed and confined. The action mostly takes place indoors, at home (alternatively at school). Time is cyclically closed and marked by recurrent time indications: (“It was spring again,” “It was Christmas again”). Three classical girls’ books, Little Women (1868), Anne Of Green Gables (1908) and Little House In The Big Woods (1932), are very good illustrations. Any gaps in time can be easily filled by the reader, who knows that it takes time for plants to grow or for snow to thaw, that the school year is full of homework, that housework is the same year in and year out. Female narrative time is often extended to several years with certain recurrent points. The chronotope is continuous both in time and space. Spatial movement in girls’ books means merely a change from one confined space to another likewise confined one — for instance, from the parents’ home to a boarding school, from the heroine’s childhood home to her husband’s home, to “the doll house,” an image often used by contemporary writers trying to break this pattern; one example is Maud Reutersward’s A Way From Home (1979), the Swedish title of which is “The Girl and the Doll House.”

The female narrative chronotope is also based on our conceptions of male and female nature…Female time is circular, follows the cycle of the moon, and consists of recurrent, regular events of death and resurrection, seasonal changes and so on. … Linear male time is a product of enlightenment and is the spirit of action and progress.

…there are many deviations… As in all other areas, in chronotope structures of children’s books of the past ten to twenty years there is also a merging of male and female, a disintegration of the epic chronotope, and some bold innovations.

Nikolajeva’s book was published in 1996, so another 10 or 20 years have passed even since then. I’d be interested to know what has happened. Are stories for girls still mostly set inside? Do books for girls run by the moon?

EXAMPLES OF SEASONAL SYMBOLISM IN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE

Sometimes, winter is a metaphor for depression. As an example, see Blackdog by Levi Pinfold.

In the similarly named, earlier title by Pamela Allen, Black Dog, more is made of the significance of the seasons with inclusion of the following double spread:
Black Dog Pamela Allen seasons01Black Dog Pamela Allen seasons02_600x620

In Stick Man, illustrator Axel Scheffler demonstrates the passing of time with the following montage:

Stick Man Julia Donaldson seasons_600x810

In the Australian picturebook Tanglewood, too, we have a page of thumbnail illustrations depicting the passage of time via the seasons.

Tanglewood seasons

by Margaret Wild, Vivienne Goodman (Illustrator)