Showing posts with the label Literary Analysis/Commentary/Interpretation

Cain, Abel, and Jeff walk into a bar...

I'm trying to get insights into narrative from one of the greatest stories ever told, "Cain and Abel".

First I laid out the good and bad plot points in a graph. I had to do it by character or it didn't make any sense. Everything is going good for Abel, then it goes bad. The plotline goes up, and then down. Cain is similar, the down part is just longer and further down. I'm not convinced that is really that useful.

I marked when there was order and chaos along those plot lines. I'm not sure that's really that useful.

I divided it into seven main events and marked whether they were positive or negative.

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Adam, Eve, sex, pregnant - positive
birth of Cain - positive
birth of Abel - positive
offering to Lord - positive/negative
Cain and God talk - negative
Cain kills Abel - negative
Cain and God talk 2 - negative

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It is interesting that this directly marks where the change occurs in the story, the turning point. I also realized that t…

On the Path to Story Analysis, Scene Analysis, and Sentence Analysis

Science is a test of facts. Art is an exploration of values. They are different realms of experience, knowledge, and insight. Writing fiction is an art. Creating stories is the most important art. It's infinitely complex. We need a framework to understand both the meaning that we can pull from existent stories and how to create new stories. I've studied many, and like all conceptual frameworks, I've found that I need to build my own.

I think there are three important levels to focus on if you're writing stories: sentence, scene, and story. I am going to briefly introduce three sources for each of these that I'm trying to integrate and adapt into my own system.

Do we want to start at the top or bottom? Let's start at the top, with story, and we'll work our way down. Remember, this is a general overview so all of these books will contain a lot of good info that I'm not going to cover.

There is a great little ebook by Martin Turner called "The One Bas…

Un-Birthday Presents

I've found the normal method of giving gifts on birthdays and holidays to be boring. Oddly enough, I just found out today that Humpty Dumpty thought the same thing.

I'm reading "Through the Looking-Glass" by Lewis Carroll with one of my students, Carrie. It's the sequel to "Alice in Wonderland". Today we read a section where Humpty Dumpty is explaining the concept of un-birthday presents to Alice.

I've thought the same thing for years. Everyone is both expecting and already getting gifts on their birthday and on holidays. What's better is to give them one at some other time, when it's more interesting to receive something you aren't expecting. Here's part of the conversation between Humpty Dumpty and Alice.

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‘It’s a cravat, child, and a beautiful one, as you say. It’s a present from the White King and Queen. There now!’

‘Is it really?’ said Alice, quite pleased to find that she had chosen a good subject, after all.


The Value of Horror Stories

Why do people like horror stories? What's the point? It may be different than you think.

The first thing you have to realize is that fiction is a highly advanced form of play. And, what's the purpose of play? Animals play to prepare themselves for the future. Lion cubs play hide and seek, chasing, wrestling, fighting, and killing. These are the skills that they will need for life.

When a lion becomes fully mature it no longer plays, it doesn't need to. There are some animals that never really grow up. Domesticated animals are usually neotenous, or child-like. Pigs are like baby boars, dogs are like baby wolves, cats are like baby panthers, etc.

Humans are neotenous our entire lives. This is why we play our entire lives, and why we can learn our entire lives. The type of play that you're involved with will depend on your environment. A child that has had a safe, happy, and protected life will probably play nice games. Most people don't have that experience of life t…

Trying to Understand the Romance Genre

I don't really understand the romance genre. It seems too much like it's the same story over and over again. It's less like characters acting in the world than a plot with whoever thrown into it. In the end I think the whole thing centers on value, like the rest of life.

I posted this in a romance reading group a couple of months ago. People seemed to think it was about right.

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Does this ring true for the reasons behind this trope?

A young, attractive woman is pursued by two men. (Because she wants to feel valued.)
After some internal turmoil she chooses the more powerful, wealthier, and more dominant man. (Because she wants to feel valued by a man that she values, which is a man that is effective in the world.)
As the relationship develops he learns to value her so much that he loses much of his dominance and now sees her as an equal. (Because she wants to be as valuable as the man she most values.)

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This can change somewhat, and those are the be…

Story, Drama, Conflict, and Suspense

Let's stress test my unique ideas of story and drama. Then we'll look at coming up with more useful thoughts about suspense and conflict.

In my article "What Is a Story?" I came to new definitions about story and drama that I think get to the very root of the issue.

A story is the representation of a change, or set of changes, resulting in a steady state.

Drama is the potential or actual change to a thing of value, in its value.

My friend Jon liked the article and sent me a message about story. His favorite author George Saunders gave this example of what a story is at a seminar he attended.

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a.  Not a story:  "the cat sat on the mat."
b.  A story:  "the cat sat on the dog's mat."

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This was my off the cuff response.

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That's interesting. See, I would say that's an idea for a story. I've seen several writers do this. They're examples of the difference between a fact and a story, as Aaron Sor…

What Is a Story?

Most answers to this question don't seem very good. What Is a story? I will try to do better than I have seen.

There are a few different categories that answers fall into. There are the dictionary answers. Here's one: an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment. It seems okay.

There is the classic idea of character, setting, and plot. That seems a bit better. Writer Brandon Sanderson expands on it a bit in the course he teaches at Brigham Young University. He includes conflict and the framework that the story is told through, e.g. tense, point of view. So, maybe we could sum this up with something like "the conflictual intersection of characters, setting, and plot told from a point of view in space and time." I've never heard anyone else say it like that, but that seems pretty good. I came up with a way to say four of these with a word that starts with A: agent, arena, agenda, antagonism. So that's cool.

There are a ton of these f…

Critics and Creators

This piece of wisdom popped into my head the other day, "Creators don't write for critics. Critics don't write for creators." I posted it on my Facebook page and got a few comments. The more I thought about it the more I realized the truth and importance of that statement.

My Aunt Karen made a comment about it being true. Since I had been thinking about it I felt like articulating a bit more, so I did.

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Jeff - I was just thinking about how when I write articles about books or movies I don't intend those for the creator at all. I intend them as part of a discussion to learn from for people that either want to appreciate and have a deeper understanding of the work, or for people that want to learn from the work so that they can create their own things. When I write something I don't think about any critics at all. I think about the reader at times, but as the person experiencing the work, not commentating on it. Creators and critics are usually see…

John Galt, Harry Potter, and Hero Problems

There is a problem with heroes. Today we will not solve this problem, but we will look at two examples, John Galt and Harry Potter. Articulating the problem is often half the battle.

"Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand is one of the most polarizing books ever written, people usually either love it or hate it. The book is about the slow fall and collapse of American society. John Galt is the hero, although we almost never see him, and even hear very little about him. He's a genius that created a way to generate unlimited free power, but because of the systemic corruption in the society he walked away from the entire society and started his own. (Atlas was the Titan that was punished by being forced to hold up the sky, although he's usually depicted as holding up the world. Ayn Rand states that the story is really a closer take on Prometheus. Prometheus is the Titan that stole fire from Olympus and gave it to man. For that he is chained to a rock and his liver is eaten every …

Why is Slytherin House Bad?

Is Slytherin house bad? Should they be bad? Why?


There are four houses in "Harry Potter": Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. Each is associated with certain psychological traits and attributes. Gryffindor is associated with bravery, Ravenclaw is associated with intelligence, Hufflepuff takes everyone but is most closely associated with friendliness and loyalty, and Slytherin is associated with ambition.

Slytherin is not presented as all bad in "Harry Potter", but they are presented as almost all bad. This is not particularly popular because many people are in Slytherin. But, there are good reasons for this. (Also, it's important to point out that no one is a pure fit for a house. Some of the characters in "Harry Potter" even seem to be a bit of a contradiction.)

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I did one test where it gave you the percentages of which house you would fit in. I was rated 43% Ravenclaw, 26% Gryffindor, 19% Slytherin, and 12% Hufflepuff.


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