Lesson 4. How to tell a Story.
There are two kinds of story: Fact and Fiction.
Fact gives an account of an event or an experience that actually happened such as a bank robbery, an earthquake, or more simply, an incident on a railway journey, an accident, or an unexpected meeting. Fiction is a story invented by the writer in which he can make events happen or characters behave as he chooses.
Description, of course, plays an important part in both Fact and Fiction because this is the way in which the writer helps us to imagine the scene that he is creating.
When telling a story, Fact or Fiction, it is necessary to 'balance' it carefully. All good stories should have a Beginning, a Middle and an End. The End does not necessarily have to be a happy one, but the reader must not be left unsatisfied. The reader should not have to ask himself, 'All right, but what happened after that?' He should know, from what he has read, without having to be told. For instance, once the girl who was lost on the mountain has been rescued by helicopter, there is no need to go on to say that she was taken to hospital, that it took six weeks for her broken leg to mend, and that she married the surgeon the following year. If the writer has already established that she's in love with the doctor, the reader can assume that all ended happily. If not, that would be the subject of another story or form part of a novel.
Beginning - Middle - End
|The pattern of a badly written story appears like this:|
The writer has concentrated all the excitement and
interest into the central part of the story, and very
probably no one is interested in reading any further.
|The pattern of a well-written story should be:|
In this way the attention of the reader is held until the last moment. He goes on reading because he must know what happens. A good example of this is the detective story, in which frequently the identity of the murderer is not revealed until the last page.
It is obvious that, for the inexperienced story-teller at least, it is necessary to know how the story is going to end. In a way it is like working backwards. If you know what the end is going to be, you are in control of your story and you will be able to build it up to this point and the reader will not be confused by a lot of unnecessary information.
Past Tenses are normally used for telling a story in English, the basic tense being the Simple Past, with the other Past Tenses built round it. Take the familiar example of a fairy story.
Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who lived in a castle with her father, the King. She was sad and lonely because she had no one to play with, and she was not allowed to talk to the servants. Every day she went down to the lake in the castle grounds and sat there, leaning over the water and combing her long hair till it fell forward over her face and was reflected like the weeds and grasses growing in the lake. One afternoon when she was sitting there as usual, she saw a frog sitting on the bank, sunning himself. 'Good afternoon,' said the frog. 'Good afternoon,' said the princess, surprised, because she had never seen a frog by the lake before ...
Here is an example of the Past Tenses used in a personal story.
I was travelling from London to Chichester, a journey of perhaps an hour and a half, when I fell asleep. I think the train stopped two or three times, but I did not pay any attention for I was very tired. After a while I opened my eyes, and to my surprise a man was sitting opposite me. I had no idea when he had entered the carriage. He looked about fifty years old, had a red, weatherbeaten face and from his clothes, I guessed he was a farmer. He seemed harmless enough, and not wanting to get into conversation, closed my eyes again. He made some sort of movement and I was startled to hear his voice, loud and booming in my ear. 'Right, then,' he said, 'where've you hidden the money?' I opened my eyes to find myself staring at the barrel of a gun ...
Making a plan.
With these points in mind
a. How the story is going to end
b. The use of the Past Tenses
c. The careful choice of descriptive words
It is usually best to make a plan before writing your story.
Here is the suggested plan for a story in which a night watchman is disturbed at night, only to discover that the intruder is his boss come to get some documents out his office safe.
Nightwatchman making tea - hears footsteps - door open and close - watchman goes cautiously upstairs - listens at keyhole - hears strange sounds - light on - goes doun again - fetches other watchman with dog - breaks open door - dog attacks - boss terrified - watchman sacked - dog ate papers.
One way of telling this story would be like this:
The nightwatchman at Harris's factory, was making himself some tea about half past eleven one night when he thought he heard footsteps going upstairs. He was immediately suspicious, because no one except himself and Charlie, who patrolled the grounds with his dog, had any right to be on the premises at that hour of night. He came out of the little office where he usually sat, and went to the bottom of the stairs which led directly to the directors' offices. He listened intently. He could hear the footsteps quite distinctly now. Then they stopped and there was the sound of a door opening and closing. Very cautiously Joe crept upstairs. There was a light on. He could see it shining faintly under the door of the Managing Director's office. Joe put his ear against the keyhole. Inside he could hear someone moving about and the rusde of paper.
Seriously alarmed now, Joe ran downstairs and out into the grounds. Charlie was just passing the gate with his dog. 'Charlie,' called Joe, 'I need help. Someone's broken into the Managing Director's office. Bring the dog.'
The two men and the dog lost no time in getting back to the factory. They raced up the stairs, the dog pulling at his lead. They tried the door, but it seemed to be locked. Charlie, who was a big man, put his shoulder against it and, using all his strength, broke it open. The dog bounded into the room, followed by Charlie and Joe.
'Get him!' Charlie ordered the dog.
The man, standing by the desk with some papers in his hand, turned in alarm as the dog rushed at him. It gripped him by the sleeve with its sharp teeth and the man fell against the desk, cursing 'Call that dog off!' he roared. 'What on earth do you think you're playing at? I'm the Managing Director! Am I to be attacked every time I come back to get some urgent documents?'
'Oh — no, sir - we're sorry, sir,' stammered Joe and Charlie, feeling very foolish.
'You're sacked,' bellowed the Managing Director, red in the face with rage.
'Oh, but sir,' protested Charlie, 'we were only trying to protect the factory from intruders.'
'That's not why I'm sacking you,' spluttered the Managing Director, 'it's your blasted dog. It's eaten my documents!'
Notice some of the expressions used to colour this story.
1. He listened intently 2. He crept upstairs 3. The rustle of paper 4. They raced up the stairs 5. The dog bounded into the room Director 6. It gripped him by the sleeve 7. ...he roared 8. ... stammered Joe and Charlie 9. ... spluttered the Managing 10. It's your blasted dog.
Find other words or phrases to give the meanings of these words as they are used in the text. You will probably find that your explanations do not give such a strong effect as the words used in the passage. This will help you to understand the importance of using the right word in the right place.
Write stories of 120-180 words each based on the following plans.
A. Fisherman - quiet bay - small boat - hooked large fish - struggle - rocking boat - danger capsizing - great effort - near exhaustion - fish finally landed - storm approaching - rough sea - difficult to reach shore - late home - wife irritable - waiting fish for supper - cleaned fish - surprise - wife's ring inside - lost bathing two years earlier.
B. On holiday - small lakeside hotel — mountains - planned walk/climb - weather uncertain - bed early - woken midnight - rumbling sound - alarmed — opened window — rumbling increased - lights/shouting in hotel - violent knocking on door - danger - avalanche - terrified - frantic rush to boats on lake — safe - hotel buried.
C. Returning home - midnight - lonely street - smoke - top floor - old house - cries - children at window - rouse neighbours - ask telephone Fire Brigade - children now desperate - preparing jump from window - decide break into house - handkerchief over mouth - smoke - fumes - reach bedroom - rescue children - drag downstairs - collapse of upper staircase - smell/ crackle burning wood - arrival Fire Brigade.
Write stories on any of the following subjects (120-180 words). Be careful to make a plan before you begin your story.
a. Hidden treasure.
b. A haunted house.
c. Finding a lost wallet.
d. An adventure by moonlight.
e. An accident you have witnessed.
f. An incident that amused you.