Open Book Blog Hop – Storylines

Every story starts with a stranger in town or a journey. “Pa, we’re takin’ the wagon to Virginian City,” every story ends with “Golly gee, Wally. I thought we were goners.” True or False?

Tolstoy Said

“All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.”

Leo Tolstoy

I love Tolstoy’s stories, but do I agree with his observation?

I must be honest, when I first saw this prompt I had no idea what it was about. It was only after I visited Lela Markham’s post that I understood what the prompt was about. I copied the Tolstoy quote above out of Lela’s post which you can read here: https://aurorawatcherak.wordpress.com/2020/11/30/bring-on-the-tropes/

I realised the other day that all three of my books for older children and adults are about war and conflict of some kind or another. While the Bombs Fell is about a young child growing up in the small town of Bungay, East Anglia in the UK during WWII, Through the Nethergate is about a possible third world war incited through the use of targeted technology and the murder of leadership figures to stir up the masses, and my forthcoming book, A Ghost and His Gold, is about the Second Anglo Boer War in South Africa. I have recently started writing After the Bombs Fell, the sequel to While the Bombs Fell and this is about the end of WW2 and the aftermath of the war in Britain.

Hmmm! I definitely like reading, researching, and writing about war. When presented with the topic for this prompt, I gave it some thought, and realised that most war books fit into the ‘a stranger comes to town’ concept. In the case of a war, however, its not one stranger who comes knocking on the country’s door, but a whole army of them.

While the Bombs Fell features the German pilots and their bombing of London and other major cities in the UK, including Norwich, which is the closest city to Bungay. The little girl in the story [my mother] imagined Hitler as a wicked witch dressed all in black and knew that the German’s ate black bread. This made them strange and unfamiliar and increased her fear of them.

After the Bombs Fell continues to feature the German’s as invaders, but the strangers have evolved into faceless machines called Doodlebugs and V2 rockets. This book will also feature the Italian prisoners of war who occupied a camp at Flixton. Many of them worked on farms in East Anglia. The Italians were also ‘strangers’ in the eyes of the little English girl. They ate different foods, spoke differently, and had different customs. My mother remembers the Italian POW as being kindly and friendly.

Through the Nethergate has the stranger comes to town theme in the form of firstly, Hugh Bigod’s evil ghost, and then Lucifer coming into the lives of a variety of different characters in the book. This book also includes the concept of a man goes on a journey, as Margaret goes to a number of places, including hell, in this supernatural fantasy.

A Ghost and His Gold features both concepts too. Robert is the English soldier who is stationed in Mafeking in the Cape Colony when the war breaks out. He is a stranger to South Africa and an invader of the two Boer Republics. The other two ghosts, Pieter and Estelle, are both Afrikaners who were born in South Africa. As a result of the war, these two characters both end up going on journeys. The three ghosts are also strangers who enter the lives of the modern main characters, Michelle and Tom. The modern couple embark on a strange and horrifying journey to defeat the poltergeist, Estelle, and regain their normal lives.

Having analysed my stories in terms of these two concepts, I can see they both feature strongly in my books. They are not, however, the only types of stories I have read. I read a huge array of books and genres and there are a lot of stories that don’t fit into these two storylines. Romeo and Juliet, for example, doesn’t involve a stranger coming to town, all the characters know each other. I also doesn’t involve anyone going on a journey in the literal sense of the word. Unless one views first love as a journey. Memoirs and comedies also may, or may not, include these two storylines.

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43 thoughts on “Open Book Blog Hop – Storylines

  1. I don’t think Anna Karenina involves a man really doing anything but being either a jerk or a prude. ; ) I think that could have been an off-the-cuff after having too much vodka comment that has been taken too literally. But it can make for interesting analysis of the core of why we write.

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  2. Fascinating! Storytelling is such a fine art – can you change the course of a story to avoid going down the same path as Authors before you – and should you?

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  3. Romeo and Juliet. The journey is path of the love story, the paths of the characters’ growth and choices, the stranger that comes to town is the inconvenience of the love story on everyone’s lives. The stranger can be a concept, a monster, an ideal, a messiah, a gunfighter or a dead man in the front yard, etc. I’ve said elsewhere that all you guys on this hop would overthink a grocery list sometimes. Genre, style, content, plot devices are an entirely different discussion. Three act, diamond, SOC, POV, post modernist, that’s all the spokes, the chassis to hang the story on. We follow some one or some thing through an event, it’s a journey. Stranger is the the story OR the inciting event. In your own stories think of this. The real stranger that comes to town inciting and enabling every other event in the stories is War. Stranger as concept that comes to everyone involved’s “town.” Everything else is/are plot device(s) hung on that concept. It’s not characters knocking on the door, it’s a global conflict driving everything. Big, huh? And simple.

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  4. I really enjoyed your discussion of how each of your books fits the stranger-comes-to-town storyline. I seem to recall reading somewhere that there are seven basic stories? That’s a great picture of you and your two boys.

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    1. Thank you, Liz. I have also read that there are seven basic storylines. I never really gave it much though until I understood this prompt. I then realised that my works do fit in with these two storylines and possibly others too.

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  5. Interesting perspective! I enjoyed reading how they apply to your work. As a pacifist, I’m surprised at how much I’m now intrigued by researching war, particularly as I write about my father’s journey as marine who fought in Vietnam. Then there’s his journey of healing from the experience which took a lot longer.

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    1. HI JoAnna, I too, don’t believe in war as a solution. Most wars are about greed although some are about religion, which is an oxymoron to me. I am intrigued by the psychology of war and that is the aspect I try to capture in my writing. How do people feel who are sent out to gun down their fellow man? How does war impact individuals, communities, women and children?

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      1. These are important questions to ask. What I’ve gathered from my father’s words, in person and in his letters, is that he took an oath when he joined the Marine Corps. I think he was 17 at the time and pretty brash. When he was sent to war (twice), he felt an obligation to honor that oath. I think, at the time, he believed he was protecting his country, at least indirectly. At the same time, he was a spiritual and religious man – even more so as he got older when the conflicts within him grew along with his guilt. It was hard for him to live with.

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      2. I am so sorry to hear that. The reality of war is a huge shock for many young men who see it through the rose tinted lenses of glamour preached by leadership. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crave is all about this particular theme. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

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  6. Robbie, when I took the Logic class, I learned that “generalization is not equal to specifics and specifics are not equal to generalization.” If I say women are loving, it doesn’t mean Mrs. Z is loving. In the same way, if I say Autumn loves to play puzzles, it doesn’t mean all the toddlers love to play puzzles. This is why we have so many genres in literature. Not all genres fall into the stories of “all great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” I think that statement is an overgeneralization that tries to wrap the literature in a small bag.

    The books you’ve written are perfect examples of a genre that doesn’t fall into Tolstoy’s category. 🙂

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    1. Hi Miriam, thank you for adding your thoughts. I always find your comments very interesting. I agree that you have to look at story telling in a very broad way to get everything to fall into these two categories. How is your children’s book coming along.

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  7. I like how you broke your books down in comparison with Tolstoy’s idea, but I agree that not every story fits exactly into his categories. But I do think all good stories involve some kind of discovery or confrontation and maybe that’s what he was really talking about. Either the protagonist makes something happen, or something happens to the protagonist. (K l

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  8. For a book to be interesting there has got to be a journey of some sort. This journey could be about whether the protagonist ‘finds’ him/herself along the way or not, or whether it’s a physical journey through the perils of war for example. Each author has a different take on it, and thank goodness they do!

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  9. So true Robbie. Thanks for bringing Tolstoy’s theory to reality. I love that you’re writing a sequel to When the Bombs Fell! And what a lovely family photo. ❤

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    1. HI Debby, thanks for visiting. I am loving the research for After the Bombs Fell. I am surprised that some parts of this history are so difficult to research, like the Italian and German POW camps in Britain. Not well documented at all.

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