To Build a Story
The mere mention of ‘identifying structural problems’ in the description of the pre-conference (Jackson Hole Writers Conference) workshop ‘Truly Richly Deeply’ made me quiver. Yup, definitely something I thought about as I set up my present story, but I’m not sure how well I stuck to my original thoughts on the matter.
So when I stumbled across the book How to Build a House (Dana Reinhardt), it struck me as a great lesson in structural ideas. The story is set during a 12-week summer break before the protagonist’s senior year. She is engaged in a volunteer house-building project in Tennessee, far from home in Los Angeles.
Rather than chapters, the breaks are laid out as Step One, etc., in the fashion of a non-fiction instructional piece. Within each Step, the scenes vary back and forth between pre-story pieces labeled Home and present-time pieces labeled Here.
And yes, the past does catch up to the present in the end. Doesn’t it usually?
Being of a metaphorical mind, I loved that the Step titles steep themselves in double entendre. ‘Put Up Walls’ is a classic building term and a cliché of psychoanalysis, and ‘Insulate Yourself’ as well. Slightly more obscure is the ‘Windows and Doors’ step, but perfectly apropos of the scenes the author chooses: in the Here sections, new experiences that open the protagonist’s mind; in the Home sections, those moments that slammed doors on how her life used to be. The ‘Roof’ pieces show the story’s main characters grappling with their central dilemmas and reaching out for the successes that form their coming of age.