What Can We Steal From Jen Knox’s “After the Gazebo”?

Title of Work and its Form: “After the Gazebo,” short story
Author: Jen Knox (on Twitter @JenKnox2)
Date of Work: 2013
Where the Work Can Be Found: The story debuted in issue 2 of ARDOR Literary Magazine.  You can read the issue for free right here.

Bonuses: Here is an excellent The Smoking Poet interview with Ms. Knox in which she talks about what it’s like to share very personal writing with a crowd.  Why not spend a little time at Ms. Knox’s Amazon pageHere is a short story Ms. Knox published in Monkeybicycle, a very cool online journal.

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Narrative Continuity

Discussion:
He and she had a beautiful life.  They were joggers who met in a park and subsequently fell in love.  They adopted a pug with dermatitis and planned a small but beautiful wedding.  Then fate intervened.  I don’t want to discuss the last page yet; here’s your last chance to read the very short story.

You know what?  This story is not actually about the man and woman.  Sure, they’re the ones who get married and they’re the ones who get into a car accident.  But Ms. Knox’s story is, in a way, about the pug the couple adopts.  Look at the second and third paragraphs…they’re all about the pug.  Prince, as the dog comes to be called, goes for walks with the couple.  Prince wears a bow tie at the wedding.  Prince, at the end of the story, spends his time wondering where his real owners are.  The love story (and death) of this man and wife are examined through Prince’s lens.

One reason this was a good idea is because it may be odd to continue a story after the death of the focal character or characters.  Think of The Wizard of Oz.  The whole story is told from Dorothy’s perspective.  Had she died in the middle of the story, the audience may have had trouble adjusting to a completely new narrator or protagonist.  The dog provides continuity that would otherwise be erased.  George Lucas uses the same technique in the Star Wars movies.

R2-D2 and C-3PO are not really protagonists in the films.  They’re great tangential characters, but Han Solo and Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia and Darth Vader are much more central to the overall plot.  But there they are; R2-D2 and C-3PO are always around; Lucas uses the characters to provide continuity.  Vader dies…Luke will die at some point…but those robots will always be around to tell the story of the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker.  Just like Prince the pug, R2-D2 and C-3PO will be welcomed into new families in the future and may never love anyone as much as they do Luke and Han and Chewie.

Ms. Knox also makes use of one of the great advantages possessed by those who write fiction.  Your narrator can, at any time, zoom ahead in a story.  Some folks (including myself) feel a need to explain far more than is necessary.  Look what Ms. Knox’s narrator does with the beginnings of these paragraphs.  Instead of accounting for every moment in the lives of the couple, she simply zooms along and offers the necessary information…all the while holding the reader’s hand.

They took the pug to the dog park Saturday mornings. A month passed and they were still not sure about a name.

They enjoyed taking Prince on lazy walks after work.

She gained five pounds. He gained ten. They joined a gym a few months before the wedding.

The day of the wedding, they awoke five hours and twenty minutes before they had to be at the meeting center by the gazebo.

Ms. Knox wastes no time; the narrator asserts firm control over the reader’s experience.  Such control is necessary in this kind of story.  The plot itself isn’t very complicated.  Instead, Ms. Knox seems to have been trying to evoke emotion over the sad state in which Prince finds himself.  The author likely knew the story wouldn’t be very long and employed a justifiably controlling narrator who could match the length of the story to the nature of the plot.

What Should We Steal?

  • Establish continuity by examining your doomed protagonists from the perspective of another character.  Long after everyone else in Star Wars is dead, C-3PO and R2-D2 will be roaming the galaxy, the story of the saga in their heads.
  • Empower your narrator to be particularly controlling.  Friend, you have a story to tell and you need to hire the narrator who will get that story to your audience in the most efficient and appropriate way possible.

Some stories need a John Moschitta:

Others need a Gunnery Sergeant Hartman:

Still other stories need a calm and kind narrator:

Which does your work demand?

 

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