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.)
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.