The cascade thing can work well in a series, I think; three or four books in, the heroine finds herself dealing with a secondary character who's Just Like She Was back at the beginning of the series, and gets to find out how much she's changed/advise the secondary not to commit the same dumb mistakes she did/etc.
Your meal comment reminds me of a thought I had the other day, while in the kitchen: I would be amused to see a Plot Coupon Epic Fantasy built around the explicit notion of a recipe. Rather than needing to assemble the Sword of Truth and the Armor of Light and the Helm of Hope and the Shoes of A Good Night's Sleep because, well, that's how we get enough plot for a whole book, you have to hunt the Jabberwock and gather the Peaches of Immortality and fetch water from the Fountain of Youth so you can make some delicious Jabberwock steaks with peach chutney to save the world.
Hey, if you're going to have a grocery list of things to gather, it might as well be an actual grocery list.
Edited at 2010-07-02 09:14 pm (UTC)
Oh yes. Things that work well structurally on series level don't always work well on short story level, and vice versa.
I have nothing useful to add, except that I would gladly give you thundering lessons if you needed them, which you don't. Even if you did, you have a +1 Walking Stick of Authority!
Anyway. If anyone wishes to write the tea-shop book, I promise to buy two.
Debra Doyle and James Macdonald's The Long Hunt had a pair of retired dispensers of mayhem who were running a tea shop.
One that I've wanted to use for a while is based on the following badly rendered shape: ---/ \---
The key is the gap. Everything leads up to the gap, and then everything refers back to the gap, but the events that happen in the gap are never explicitly described, although at the end you have a very good idea of them. And the gap happens in the middle of the book, not before the beginning. The classic examples of this kind of thing have 'Book I' and 'Book II' in blackletter pages at a specified interval and ten years have passed between Books I and II, but the thing is if you do this really well it can be extremely effective, especially if the different character arcs mean that somebody not the protagonist did something major, unexpected, or nasty in the gap. I don't mean just a time-jump, either; the real trick is having the absence be more present because it isn't shown.
Currently I am writing a spiral. The protagonist has literally been dumped back at the beginning of the novel four times now and is starting to develop a very black sense of humor about it.
Have you read Use of Weapons yet ?
I like that. I think it's related (at least in the shape of the ASCII diagram) to what I think of as the Into the Woods structure. In that case, everything dovetails on a eucatastrophe in the middle, rather than a negative space gap.
I've long had the ambition -- and have a few times warily attempted -- to use a mandelbrot structure. So you've got the overarching plot. And it's made up of sub-plots or events which each reflect that greater plot. And people refer to histories/legends/gossip/rumours which reflect the same kind of thing in miniature. Likewise the metaphors used in descriptive passages; and the extra-story allusions; and the very vocabulary.
At this latter end of things I think it's inevitably more thematic than plot. Eg in a novel about lies and other deceptions, I had a throwaway moment where the snow seems to have frozen over until they step on it and the crust gives way. (Huh, and that also echoes a more important event where the lake seems to have frozen over until they're walking across it and you guessed it.) And in the one I'm revising now, which is all about the consequences of an artefact breaking (which consequences include: family breaks apart, war breaks out, main character breaks down, etc), I want to make sure there's some variation on "break/broken" in every scene, whether it's someone breaking open a walnut or the dawn breaking or a speaker suddenly breaking off or whatever.
Hrm. I think what I wrote down as escalating structure is a bit like what you put down as Spiral, if not the same thing seen through a different lens. Basically keep bringing back the same idea, but kick it up a few notches or so each time, either in magnitude, refinement, or emotional impact.
Then there's cyclical structure, where you set up a repetitive pattern, either explicitly or by inference. This is really easy to do badly, viz the openings of the Wheel of Time books after the first couple, and much harder to get right - it generally seems more effective when the repetition is inferred or implied rather than shoved in the reader's face, though extreme explicitness (i.e. Groundhog Day) can work well too.
Mandelbrot/fractal structure is another repeat.
Kaleidoscope structure - e.g. Rashomon. Show the same events or parallel events from differing points of view that produce incompatible or progressively more complex interpretations of the facts in evidence.
Kaleidoscope, yes! I knew I was missing a solid one, thanks. Well--shifty, not so much solid. But yes.
And cyclical structure, you're right--I'm not sure why we keep circling back to talking about David Eddings the last few weeks*, but I think that's one of the things he claimed he was doing, and...yah. I think it can be done better than that, is what I want to say about that one.
*I blame you.
To return to cyclical structure, works that use that structure in ways better than Eddings did tend to be rather depressing. Groundhog Day and the variations on that particular trick generally have escaping the (literal) cycle as their objective. I'm sure it's possible to inject grace and redemption into that sort of cycle as well, it's just that so many people think 'cycle' and come back with 'cycle of violence/abuse/other bad thing', so even when they use it well, the implied continuation of the cycle in question is heartbreaking.
I suspect this is very like the "all unhappy families are unhappy differently" thing, where it's not actually more true than all happy families being happy differently, but people feel like it's more true and write like it's more true.
I am clearly a sunshiny happy optimistic sort of person--at least as Scandosotan fabulists go, which is perhaps not the highest bar a person has ever cleared--but I might be willing to believe that there are also cycles of redemption that work just as well.
I suspect you are correct about that, though taking the low road does seem to produce a stronger positive feedback loop than taking the high road does.
I'm trying to think about cycles of redemption in literature and culture that aren't explicitly religious (e.g. "And then Hengest heard the good word of Odin, and passed it on to Thunir and Thorkell and Grim, and then they went out a-viking and smote the heathen monks and brought home much gold and treasure!") and I'm not coming up with much. And what little I am coming up with has less to do with the good word of Odin than with other good words.
Alas, it rarely comes up in stories of the type I've described.
How many mentors actually say, "Um, you know what, kid? This heroing business: not so great actually. Let's go off and open a tea shop in the Boulevard Saint Jacques."
Uncle Iroh? *g*
Thanks for this post. It made, and continues to make, my brain do all sorts of interesting things. I think I tend to use bits and pieces of all different ones to approximate things (although that might be what alecaustin
meant by kaleidoscope), but having a categorization to start from helps me to identify what exactly the bits and pieces are
and what they are doing.
Iroh, right! Forgot about that bit in season 2.
Have you not seen Kurosawa's Rashomon? I recommend it highly if you're interested in classic examples of structural tricks. (I still like Seven Samurai more, but y'know. It's Seven Samurai, and I've been lucky enough to see it on the big screen several times.)
One of the many reasons I loved Avatar: The Last Airbender.
I have not! (Nor have I seen Seven Samurai, for I am Young and Woefully Ignorant of classic examples of many things.) I will look into that.
For real. Uncle Iroh was great.
I do hope you can find and enjoy the Kurosawa films in question. The best thing about ignorance is that it can be remedied.
I have looked into Kurosawa films, and they seem possible to acquire. Yay!
Ignorance can certainly be remedied! And I like hearing about new awesome things, and have a whole summer in which I am only writing a novel and editing another one, so it all works out very well indeed.
A doubting mentor? Will you do that for me, please? How many mentors actually say, "Um, you know what, kid? This heroing business: not so great actually. Let's go off and open a tea shop in the Boulevard Saint Jacques.
If you want to count "mentor picked wrong Destined Hero, started fulfilling prophecies, buggered up things irreparably for actual Destined Hero, was run out of town on a rail when actual Destined Hero showed up, and is now running a bar in a neutral city on the other side of the world while the kid in question goes to college" as an example of a mentor who came to doubt the hard way, then what I'm doing with The Book Formerly Known As Nine Children of the Dragon Before The Dragon's Nine Sons Won The Sidewise Award might count. If I could figure out where to actually go with it.
I would say, "Forward. Go forward," except that you are already going forward on enough other things that one would fear the risk of "forward in all directions."
Quite possibly! But I trust your judgment on FP panels.
What about all the disparate threads which only come together at the last minute? Knot-tying, if you will.
(I'm lookin' at you, William Gibson, but not in a bad way, just to be clear)
That's one that works well when it works, but I think the reason we don't see more of it is that the thread metaphor is a good one: it unravels when it doesn't work. So in the larger mass media (i.e. TV) you mostly see it in a later episode of a very well established show or else from a very well established director, when people are willing to (oh my fiber metaphors) give them enough rope to hang themselves.
William Gibson also is a case in point for being established here.