My story “Beyond” is now in the Kindle Store! Read it at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006T0Z122
It is my first– and humble– attempt at E-publishing fiction that has, hopefully, a semblance of plot.
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Here’s the cover!
Loosely based on the life of an ex-boyfriend’s father, “Beyond” tells the story of the struggle for economic survival and artisitc fulfillment by the first Cubans to leave the island in the wake of the 1959 revolution.
My tale shows Maximo, a struggling toy store owner and aspiring writer, tormented by desire for his mistress and a longing to live the creative life. On the evening of a small business exposition that celebrates the economic success of Cuban exiles, he fabricates a plan to escape from his humdrum life, pregnant wife and three sons. An unexpected catastrophe, however, forces him to place his plans on hold.
As I battled to construct a plot for my story, I realized how much of an impact the seemingly plot-less early modernist writers had made on my writing style. Virginia Woolf, a member of the literary group that emerged on the heels of plot-driven Victorians such as Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray, had the most influence.
When I encountered Woolf’s work in an undergraduate literature class, I was mesmerized by the stream of consciousness technique she uses in the novel Mrs. Dalloway. James Joyce, another early modernist, employs the same technique in his epic Ulysses. These authors forged a different way of telling a story: they explored emotional and psychological terrains from the inside of a character.
When writing “Beyond,” I decidedly drifted — and stayed – into stream of consciousness mode to tell the story of Maximo. But something wasn’t working: Maximo thought too much.
In Lynne Barrett’s fiction workshop, I encountered the joys—and rigors—of constructing plot. In her class, I struggled with making my characters do something other than think.
Lynne, a much revered creative writing teacher at Florida International University and author of the story collection Magpies, insisted that plot was the most important literary element.
“Plot drives a story. Plot means that characters cause things to happen,” she said. “Then there is an effect from those actions.”
James Hall, another FIU writing teacher, agreed with Lynne.
“Read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee,” he said. “You will see that the main character causes all the action.”
Lynn blamed my inability to construct plot on the English lit major’s obsessive focus on language, theme, imagery, symbolism and setting. Nobody teaches plot, she said. She picked up a copy of The Poetics of Aristotle and handed it to me.
“Every drama has a spectacle, character, plot, language, melody and thought,” Aristotle writes, “but the most important is the organization of events, the plot….For tragedy is not an imitation of men but of actions and of life. It is in action that happiness and unhappiness are found, and the end we aim at is a kind of activity, not a quality.”
Finally, a feeble beam of light pierced the fog.
“I get it,” I said to Lynne. “Plot is the trunk and the branches of a story. Language, theme, imagery, and setting are the leaves.”
Lynne’s eyes widened. Who knew what she was thinking? But the image helped me with my plot creation.
“A principal means by which tragedy exerts its fascination,” Aristotle continues, “are parts of the plot, that is to say reversals and recognitions.”
I sped over to the section entitled “Parts of the Plot: Reversal, Recognition, Suffering” and read: “Reversal is a change from one state of affairs to its exact opposite…..Recognition is a change from ignorance to knowledge, leading either to friendship or to hostility…..A third element is Suffering (pathos)… an action of a destructive or painful description.”
I admit that the protagonist in “Beyond” does a lot of thinking. He goes on a stroll ala Mrs. Dalloway and Stephen Daedalus, and, while he walks, he plots.
Does it work? I don’t know. Few writers are ever satisfied with their writing. Henry James never stopped revising, even after publication.
Without a doubt, plot is a challenging piece of the fiction writing puzzle.
“Beyond” is part of a story collection I am writing entitled Through the Branches of the Guava Tree, showcasing the lives of Cuban exiles.