What If? 60 – Handling Problems of Time and Space

Traditional rules: episodes that show important behavior in the characters, to make events dramatic as in theatre, or to bring news that changes the situation should be dealt with in scenic, or eyewitness manner. Stretches of time or occurrances that are secondary to the story’s development are handled by means of what is called a narrative bridge.

Dialogue is the direct report of speech; indirect discourse is the summary of what was said.

Scenic: Now they were at the ford, the rain was falling, the river was flooded. He got out of the jeep and stared at the water he needed to cross to get to the place where the road started again.

Narrative summary: The journey took two days and included a flooded out road.

Dialogue: “Now how are we going to cross this flood?” said Lisa. “I’ll get the rope and tie the axle to that tree and pull,” said John.

Indirect discourse: When they got to the flooded section of the road, John said he’d bring the rope around a tree and they’d get across. Lisa wasn’t convinced but it worked.

Ok, this is one of those things that seems really important and I never heard of it before. It’s kind of common sense – important stuff is related in as fine detail as possible, and stuff that just gets things from A to B maybe with some atmosphere can be summarized.

Exercise: Indicate how you’d handle the parts of this story:
In her final year of medical school in the 70’s Ellen fell in love with an intern at the teaching hospital. His name was Gamal and he came from Lebanon. Although Gamal was not political himself, his younger brothers were involved in radical Arab politics.
Ellen’s New England Jewish family had always been liberal.  Her father,  Mark, was a lawyer who’d defended Black Panthers and anti-war activists.  Her mother, Sarah, was also liberal, and they were all ardently pro-Israel.
When Ellen brought Gamal home for the winter holidays, the situation grew very tense as one by one Israel, religion, poliitics, and child-rearing cropped up in conversation. Although Ellen was uncomfortable at times, she felt that love was more important than politics.
Mark and Sarah were polite in Gamal’s compay but worried in private. They’d always supported Ellen’s decisions but now thought she was about to ruin her life.
The wedding was set for June at Ellen’s parents house in Connecticut.  It would be a small affair because relatives on both sides would refulse to come. But Mark and Sarah rationalized a lot and put the best face on it.
The wedding day came. It was going to be a civil ceremony followed by a garden party.
In the morning, Mark heard on the radio there was an attack on a plane and Gamal’s brothers were arrested as suspects.
(resolve the story)

I’d summarize meeting and falling in love, maybe with a brief scene or dialogue snipet;  I’d show a scene where Ellen finds out his brothers are radicals, I’d show at least one scene with the parents and how uncomfy they are with all the topics, maybe summarize several others; I’d show the parents worrying in private, I’d summarize the wedding plans,  I’d show the scene where Mark comes in and tells Ellen what he heard on the radio. For resolving, well, I’d have Gamal run off to help his brothers, and have Ellen offer to go with him but find out he doesn’t want her, and have her realize it’s a good thing this happened before the wedding rather than after since even though love is more important than politics, blood was in this case going to trump all and she’d find herself helpless more often than not. Which is a pretty boring resolution but it’s a pretty trite story. At least it was when it was originally included in this book in 1990. 

I’m working out of the 1990 first edition again since I had to take the second edition back to the library, but I have it on order and it should arrive later this week. I’ll be very interested to see if there are any notes on this exercise or any examples of student work. I get the sense maybe I’m showing too much and should be summarizing more.

I also wonder if I can use this technique (a brief text out line of the story, write what to summarize and what to show) for Mourning Mom.

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