Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Running a Relay

Many months ago, I read an interesting post that compared methods of story telling to relays and marathons. The idea stuck with me.

In relay storytelling, the inciting incident begins a cascade of conflicts that move one after another, passing the tension of the story like relay runners passing a baton. For example, say, in romance, a twenty something young woman working as a waitress learns that the father she never met was actually a for hire assassin and that the annoying regular at work with whom she fights every day was her father's protegee, who her father asked to protect her. When she learns the truth, she quits her job and plans to move to escape the annoying man who claims she's now the target of a Colombian drug lord. She is attacked by the dug lord's henchmen but saved by the regular. She agrees to help the regular, who tells her that her father is the drug lord's hostage. As the story progresses, the drug lord continues to hunt her and she must go under cover with the man and pose as his wife, which allows the romance to blossom, whilst they attempt to rescue her father.

In marathon story telling, the inciting incident commences a long, hard struggle towards a single goal. While there may be twists and turns along the way, there remains one central conflict. In a thriller, marathon version of the previous story, our young waitress learns that her long absent father is being held hostage in Colombia and that she is now a target of the drug lord holding him. She is forced to team up with the annoying regular from her work, because the main claims he can lead her to her father. The issues of their prior dislike for each other and the fact that they must pretend to be married, in that case, are spice to the original motivations but cannot detract from it.

Usually, I read marathon style books, and when I first read the post, the idea of relay storytelling was new to me. To my view, most people are more familiar with marathons than with relays. It seemed to me that all of my writing would be marathons.

The Thief Book, however, is relay storytelling. The MC runs away from home into the conflict of unemployment and insolvency, which leads to working as a thief with a group of kids, which, oddly enough,leads to living in a thief den with a famous crook, which thrusts her into problems between said crook and the law. My unfortunate MC finds herself handed from one problem situation to another.

I believe that both methods have their uses. It seems to be that relay method lends itself to the romance genre, as well as literary fiction, among others. Marathon, I believe, is good for epics, thrillers, mysteries, among others. Of course, there are books of both method in all genres, though I am sure that some stories are better lent to one method or the other.

One interesting thing I noted from my Alpha reader's reaction (she must be very familiar with the marathon style) is that, since she did not anticipate relaying, my Alpha assumed the first conflict my MC faced would be the central conflict, instead of first in the line of many. The perception of how the story would be told effected her perception of what the story was.

Which method of storytelling do you use? Which do you prefer? Do you think there are other types of storytelling?

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