Rate and Logic in Revealing Story information in Literary Fiction

All writing conveys information and, in fiction stories, how and when information is revealed impacts the understanding of the story as well as shapes points of expectation and installs suspense and credibility. Little Red Riding Hood is essentially a story about predators of children, about how children must: obey their parents, know the dangers of world, and never speak to strangers. The story has many forms, all have persisted for more than a century because crucial dramatic information is revealed that delivers meaning with impact, an essential element in this story’s longevity. Compare these two examples.

(1) Little red Riding Hood is determined to take a basket of goodies through the woods to grandma’s house. (2) Her mother warns her of the danger, not to talk to strangers, and not to dilly-dally. (3) In the woods she meets a wolf and tells him about her journey. (4) The wolf runs ahead and devours Granny. (5) Red finally gets to Granny’s;  the wolf, now dressed in Granny’s nightgown, eats her.

Okay. Basic essentials and the story is there: a desire, parental warning, telling stranger of grandmother, wolf eating grandma because Red disobeys and ignores truths, Red punished for her errant ways.

Now look at a different rate and positioning of information revelation.

(4) Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother was killed. (3) Red met a wolf in the woods on her journey to grandma’s house and told him about grandma even though (2) Red’s mother warned her of the danger of speaking to strangers and the dangers lurking in the woods. (5) So when Red finally gets to Granny’s, the wolf, now dressed in Granny’s nightgown, eats her. (4) The wolf had run ahead of Red to devour Granny.

A story is still there but not as effective. Information revelation is not prioritized and many ideas are followed by what seem to be non-sequiturs, a consequence in the second story of the story timeline disrupted by events being told that happen at different times in story time–Granny died and then we’re told the wolf ran ahead of Red, for example.  (Inattention to a timeline and rate of revelation of story information is a very common writer’s error that often weakens the potential of a story’s effect.)

MESSAGE

In creating effective stories, the author must be aware of ideas and how their logical positioning and delivery makes or breaks the story for readers. Compare these processes of (1) positioning scrabble tiles on a board to find winning combinations, or (2) sifting through jigsaw-puzzle pieces to join them for a complete, understandable, and meaningful image.

Thanks for reading.

Illustrations by William H. Coles.

4 thoughts on “Rate and Logic in Revealing Story information in Literary Fiction”

  1. I have a different take.
    The original story works for kids. The second version is actually better for an unknown writer. The action of the wolf eating grandmother may entice some casual readers to buy the book whereas, in the first version, that does not happen.
    As an editor, I would suggest the wolf eating section might be better as a preface. Chapter one would start earlier and maintain the time line, but a reader might be more enticed.

  2. Why would RRH be going to Grandma’s if she is already dead? Her death in the original story is a consequence of RRH’s disobedience. In the second version, we cannot tie the warning and the disobedience into the story as neatly because Grandma’s death is not in the story. Please set me straight otherwise. I was very intrigued by the topic.

    • Thanks for comment. In the second story, the idea is to show that the information presented in the first story is the same but in the second story, the same information is not prioritized and is released at wrong times making the story ineffective and confusing. For good stories, each item of information is released with considered story-wise positioning to contribute to the effective whole of the story. Best, WHC

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