A Tale of Two Story Forms
We’re celebrating the release of Anita Mae Draper’s short story “Here We Come A-Wassailing,” available as part of Guidepost Books’ A Cup ofChristmas Cheer collection. Despite its compact size, HWCA-W packs two story forms into its pages: the road story (or road trip story) with the cabin (often called “closed circle” in mysteries) story. In honor of Anita’s new story, I thought I’d look at the structure of these two fiction types.
Road stories chronicle a character’s journey from one point to another. It sounds simple enough, but in true story fashion, there are obstacles along the way that impede the journey. Fortunately the character will frequently gather allies who assist him (or her) in overcoming the obstacles. These allies and obstacles cause the main character to grow, so that the character has changed in some fundamental way by the time he reaches his destination.
Take for example, The Wizard of Oz. Protagonist Dorothy (along with her dog Toto) lives a rather dull and boring life on her aunt and uncle’s Kansas farm. But when she is suddenly whisked away to the magical land of Oz, she needs to figure out how to travel home. The journey is both concrete (Dorothy has to physically walk down the yellow brick road) and symbolic (Dorothy is also on a journey of self-discovery). She makes allies (Lion, Scarecrow, Tin Man) and encounters obstacles (the Wicked Witch of the West and a wizard who isn’t really a wizard). The story ends when Dorothy returns to Kansas, newly appreciative of her life and family.
Some other famous road stories are Voyage of the Dawn Treader (C.S. Lewis), Journey to the Center of the Earth (Jules Verne), and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour starred in a series of road story movies, conveniently named Road to ___. (In short, if the book or movie has “voyage,” or “journey,” or “road” in the title, there’s a good chance it’s a road story!)
The cabin or closed circle story seems to be the opposite of a road story. Two or more people find themselves trapped together by circumstances. They may be detained in a hotel during a storm or trapped on a deserted island without a way of returning to civilization. While the setting of a road story is ever-changing, these cabin/closed circle stories take place in a single setting. The fun (or danger) comes from the unlikely combination of characters.
For instance, the famous TV show Gilligan’s Island has seven very different people stuck on an island together: the bossy Skipper, goofy Gilligan, rich and aloof Mr. and Mrs. Howell, elegant Ginger, brainy Professor and girl-next-doorish Mary Ann. Despite their disparate backgrounds and personalities, they have to find ways to work together.
What happens in the cabin (or hotel or country house or train or space ship) depends on who is stranded there. When the story is a closed circle mystery, it’s quite possible one of the characters is a murderer. The other characters need to figure out the identity of the murderer before they, too, fall victim. In a cabin romance, the forced proximity offers an unlikely couple the chance to get to know each other. Many survival movies (and countless Star Trek episodes) also utilize the concept of people (or people and aliens) stranded in a single location where they are forced to work together in order to survive.
For example, Beauty and the Beast is at heart a cabin romance. The beast confines himself to the castle because of his hideous appearance and Belle is trapped because of her promise to remain. Alone with only singing household furnishings for company, a peculiar pair forms a unique bond. Some other examples of this type of story are Murder on the Orient Express (set on a train), Key Largo (set on the island of Key Largo during a hurricane), and Apollo 13 (set in a space ship).
(Since we're beginning our Christmas celebrations early here on Inkwell, I suppose I might as well confess that after years and years of annual It's a Wonderful Life watching, I have trouble picturing Lionel Barrymore as anyone other than the meanest, richest man in Bedford Falls.)
As to how Anita’s story combines elements of both these story forms…well, for that, you’ll have to read it yourself. Just leave a comment with a “safe” version of your email addy (i.e., name at provider dot com/net) by 11:59 Monday, October 20 for your chance to win a free copy.
And be sure to share your favorite road stories, cabin romances, or closed circle mysteries.
After leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children, C.J. Chase quickly learned she did not possess the housekeeping gene. She decided writing might provide the perfect excuse for letting the dust bunnies accumulate under the furniture. Her procrastination, er, hard work paid off in 2010 when she won the Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Manuscript and sold the novel to Love Inspired Historicals. You can visit C.J.'s cyber-home (where the floors are always clean) at www.cjchasebooks.com