While this post started off with a focus on children’s literature, it is absolutely a post about all kinds of narrative, for any human audience.
The success of a novel is only five percent about the structure and ninety-five percent about the quality of the writing.Elizabeth Lyons, Manuscript Makeover
THE LINEAR STORY
The linear story tracks a single main character from beginning to end.
It implies a historical or biological explanation for what happens.John Truby, The Anatomy of Story
The linear story is a traditionally Western story.
Linear Plots In Adult Film
Most Hollywood films are linear. They focus on a single hero who pursues a particular desire with great intensity. The audience witnesses the history of how the hero goes after their desire and changes as a result.
Linear Plots In Children’s Stories
As in film, the majority of children’s stories are basically linear. However, the plot doesn’t necessarily begin where the story begins. Home-away-home adventure stories are generally linear.
Dennis Butts, among others, has pointed out that in their use of formulaic elements and stereotyped characters, adventure stories owe a good deal to the structure of traditional folk- and fairy tales in which similar patterns tend to repeat themselves. [Also to myth.] Butts refers to the ideas of both [Vladamir] Propp and [Joseph] Campbell as possible instruments to examine the structure of adventure stories, and to those of [Bruno] Bettelheim* to show the appeal of these stories. He also discusses Treasure Island in terms of folktale.Maria Nikolajeva, From Mythic to Linear
*Bettelheim was an asshole who set psychology back a couple of decades. Look up his theories on the causes of autism. (tl;dr: Refrigerator Mothers)
- The Epic Of Gilgamesh (the oldest known adventure story — 3rd millennium BC)
- Tom Sawyer (‘master text’ for adventure story as the Narnia Chronicles are for fantasy), but is itself an off-shoot of The Odyssey
- The legend of Saint George and the dragon
- The Greek tale of Perseus
- Robinson Crusoe (compared to Odyssean stories, the Robinsonnade keeps the characters in one place in order to focus on character development.)
- King Solomon’s Mines (1885)
- Jack and the Beanstalk
- Treasure Island
- Kim, Rudyard Kipling (1901)
- Peter Pan
- Sherlock Holmes
- The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings
- Doctor Who
- Star Wars (a parody of the hero adventure story)
- James Bond
- Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
- Cinderella, and any story using the ‘Cinderella Structure’ in which the hero can never go home again
For more on children’s adventure stories and their evolution, see The Centrality of the Adventure Story.
Continue reading “Shapes of Plots In Children’s Literature”
My sense is that if you go far enough in any stylistic direction, you can make a beautiful and complex representation of reality, although that representation may not be linear. God knows we’ve got enough linearity in our representations of our world. We’ve tremendously overvalued analytical knowledge, rationality, etc. To me, the process of writing is just reading what I’ve written and—like running your hand over one of those mod glass stovetops to find where the heat is—looking for where the energy is in the prose, then going in the direction of that. It’s an exercise in being open to whatever is there.George Saunders