Tag Archives: storytelling

Book Jacketing

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Creative Writers compose stories that begin in one place and end in another. But this is not done in a vacuum. It is done within the lives of people, albeit completely fictional. Why do we start here and end there? The lives of the characters begin long before the book starts, and unless they die on the page, their lives go on. Why we seemingly pick two arbitrary boundaries is not a real problem with readers, but subconsciously it’s prickly. A good way to psychologically handle this problem is with a technique called book jacketing.

Just like a good, old fashioned book jacket, sometimes called a dust cover, the book jacket wraps around the front cover and around the back cover. In a literary sense, book jacketing is when the author references something at the beginning of the story that we bring back at the end. It provides a satisfactory sense of closure to the story as a whole. It sort of makes sense of why we begin here and end there.

Prince

I’ll give a few examples from my own novels, since I am more familiar with them than anything else. In my third novel, Prince, the main character, Charlie, proposes marriage to his sweetie, Lizzie, in chapter one. After she says yes, they talk about their future. Charlie thinks it’ll all be bluebirds and sunshine and Lizzie is worried things may go poorly just because life does at times. They leave chapter one with a wager, if it isn’t happily ever after then I’ll owe you a coke.

I don’t have to tell you things went south quickly. They never got married. As they are saying their good byes at the end, Lizzie reaches into a brown paper bag and pulls out a six pack of Coca-Cola. Charlie refuses them and insists that they will someday have their own happily ever after, just not at that time and not in that world. It’s such an incidental thing, a can of soda, just it ties the story in a bow for the reader.

Prince is available of Amazon and Kindle. You can click here to find it.

Pietas

My fifth novel, Pietas, begins with a nuthouse burning and patience running free while being chased by doctors and attendants. Two of these escapees are my main character, Darl, and his best friend, Benjy. Darl set the fire in order for the two of them to escape, which suits him since he was put in the asylum for burning down a barn. As they run away from the inferno, Darl says that the first thought that ran through his head was that he had no more excuse and had to visit his mother’s grave.

Darl and Benjy, followed by others from the asylum, have adventures all over Mississippi during the Great Depression before settling down in Panther Burn. The citizens are slow to include these people, but with Darl’s help, they end up on big happy town. But Darl kills a man and has to leave. As he rides off, he thinks about heading towards Jackson where his mother us buried. Here the book jacket is not an item but a thought. It functions just as effectively in summing up all the action of all these people into a single story.

Pietas is available of Amazon and Kindle. You can click here to find it.

Entanglement

Entanglement is my seventh and last novel. It begins with Rex shooting a mouse in the corner of his living room. His cousin, Axel, runs into the room and takes the gun from him. The gun belonged to Axel’s dead father and he didn’t like Rex playing with the gun. Later, Rex and Axel fight in public and neither are willing to let it go for reasons of their own pride. About halfway through the novel, Rex takes the same gun and kills Axel on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Rex flees to Cuba and settles in Havana. But after a decade there, he has the need once more to leave in haste for killing another man, so he returns the St Petersburg. His plantation is in ruins and the mansion is abandoned except of the butler. He used Rex’s so it still worked, and he took it to go to the Governor’s New Year’s Ball that night. Things go badly for Rex, and driving away he almost has a wreck from being distracted. When he stops suddenly, the gun slides out from under the passenger seat. A policeman pulls Rex over for his erratic driving and Rex, a crack shot, unloads his gun on the cop, who ends up unharmed. The policeman returns fire and Rex dies. Here the book jacket item is important to the telling of the story.

Entanglement is available of Amazon and Kindle. You can click here to find it.

Not all of my novels are book jacketed, but it is a device available to writers. It can be something the story centers around, like a gun. It could be a thought like I need to visit my mother’s grave. Or it may be something as innocuous as a can of Coke. Anything can be used as a book jacket.

 

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“Of All The Gin Joints In All The World:” The Power Of Coincidence In Fiction

rick

One of the most beloved and best quoted movies in the 1942 classic Casablanca. It’s set in the costal Moroccan town during the Second World War. Our hero, Rick Blaine, is an American expat who for runs a nightclub and casino. A Czech leader of the Resistance, Victor Lazlo, comes to Casablanca and to Rick’s place with a woman, Elsa Lund, one with whom Rick shared a romantic past in Paris. They decide to leave when the German Occupation is upon them, but she abandons him at the train station with only a note of goodbye.

The Germans are trying to keep Victor from leaving for America. In the end, Rick helps them escape, even though he sticks out his neck for nobody. He is strongly tempted to disappear with Elsa and leave Victor with the enemy. He nobly sacrifices his happiness for the greater good, the fight against Nazism. One of the most familiar lines comes the night Rick sees Elsa again after the club is closed. He says, “Of all the gin joints in all the world, she had to come into mine.”

It Just So Happens

It is the greatest of coincidences that she had just happened to come with her husband to the club ran by her ex-boyfriend. But the movie would be nothing without that coincidence. It’s not just the arrival of Elsa. There are a series of coincidences that make the story possible. It just so happens that letters of transit were stolen from German couriers, and it just so happens that the thief asks Rick to watch over the letters. Another coincidence is that the thief is shot. Now Rick is in a place to help Victor or himself or no one. The string of coincidences begins long before all of this. It’s coincidence that some time before Victor was a prisoner of the Germans and Elsa thought he was dead, that as a grieving widow she happens to meet and fall for Rick, and finds out Victor is both alive and free just as she is supposed to leave Paris with Rick.

Great storytelling relies on the wonderful power of coincidence and how it connects the dots of the plot. Coincidence arranges for Jay Gatsby to live across the bay from his former girlfriend, Daisy Faye, now Daisy Buchannan. This same coincidence just happens to arrange for her cousin to move in next door to Gatsby, and he uses this to arrange a reacquaintance that steers the rest of the story. Sometimes the coincidence helps with the plot twist. Pip just happens across an escaped prisoner and helps him, and coincidentally he grows rich and becomes Pip’s benefactor. Pip and the reader assume this will help him win Estella, but it doesn’t. She is such a manhater like Mrs. Havisham that Pip is better off without her. And the twist is the help of the benefactor places Pip in a better world with class and status.

Suspension Of Disbelief

The British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge popularized the idea of the need for a willing suspension of disbelief on the part of any reader of fiction. Without this, the reader constantly exclaims, “That’ll never happen,” and never get around to enjoying the story. Try reading and enjoying “Oedipus Rex” with your skepticism barking as a guard dog at every fantastic occurrence. In genre like Fantasy and Science Fiction, it is clear how the suspension of disbelief is indispensable. But even in more mainstream stories with realistic settings, a willing suspension of disbelief is needful. One place this works is in the story’s reliance upon a heavy use of coincidence to make sure everything happens just as it should.

The Creative Writer needs to be aware that coincidence is necessary for fiction and not be afraid to use it. We can hope that the reader will do their job and chain up the dog. Still, we need to be careful in how we apply the use of circumstance to suit the story. If it’s done in a ham-handed manner it will be a weight to the suspension and help the skepticism poke through. We need to take care to apply the coincidental in a manner that is still believable, something that makes the reader say, “I could see it happening like that.” It needs to resemble the time and chance that happens to us all. If coincidence does not look like the regular occurrence of life that happens to everyone, it’ll be hard to swallow. So when our characters have their own “of all the gin joints” moment in our stories, the reader consoles the character, and says, “I’ve been there before, too, buddy!”

 

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