Tag Archive | cat’s cradle

Structure is Structure – The Long and Short of Stories

Cat's Cradle

Cool Gus Publishing is bringing out my Regency novellas, starting with Cat’s Cradle and that started me thinking about story structure. I’m a believer that structure is structure–it doesn’t matter if the story is long or short, it still has the same structure. And there is a little more to this than a story having a beginning, middle, and end.

The first thing a story needs is a character (who is the story about)? and a setting. To me, the setting is vital. It influences everything about the story, from the mood to the story arc. And that arc–the main spine of the story–is vital. The story arc is very much like any spine–without it, you have a shapeless mass. The story arc has to address the question–what is the story about?

It’s never enough to just say the story is about a romance, or the glib answer that the story’s about 100 pages. At some point, you have to figure out why are you writing this story? And why should anyone read, or remember, this story?

I’ve read many a manuscript where the story starts off rambling and keeps rambling–this is because the story arc is not yet in place. The story arc gives you an opening (the kick off of that arc), the middle (what needs to happen to make stuff worse), and the end (what’s the resolution that give you the answer to what the story is about).

As an example of this, in Cat’s Cradle, the story is really the hero’s story–it’s about a gambler who has never really staked anything of value. He’s a man in search of something, only he doesn’t know what. It’s a story about assumptions and how sometimes we need to let go of old ideas. It’s a romance, but it’s also a story of finding your place by finding the right person to give you that sense of place. And, of course, it’s about cats and how pets often push us into things that we don’t want to do.

With a spine in place–a story arc–the other bones can fit onto that spine. (A good article on story arc is also posted here.) Then comes the muscle (the meat), and the fun stuff (the fat and the skin and the little things that make the story look good). But it’s the spine that gives the structure, the arc, that carries the story. It’s where theme fits into the story to make sure the story resonates and stand tall.

So next time you’re reading a story–or a book–take it apart and look for the spine and the bones. That will help you learn how to put these elements into your own stories.

Cat’s Cradle – Behind the Story

Cat's Cradle There’s a story behind every story–this one is about Cat’s Cradle, which is now available at Amazon for Kindle, BN.com for Nook, and at Smashwords. And I have to start this off by saying I’m partial to this story–ridiculously so, for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is this is the first Regency novella that I wrote. That’s not to say this is the first short fiction I’d written. I’d actually cut my writing teeth on shorter works before I went after novels–in fact, I wasn’t sure I could write anything longer than fifty pages or so until I’d written a longer work. But I’m a believer that structure is structure. Meaning if you can structure a story, you can structure a story. The nice thing about starting off working in shorter form is that there’s no room for wandering. In a novel, you can put in side bits, you can mess around a bit, you can basically add fluff. You can get lost. In a novella or short story, every word counts, so they all have to be right. You have to keep your focus. And I love working within the restrictions that applied.

The second reason this story holds a special place in my heart is that when I was asked if I’d like to do a kitten story, I knew I wanted the cats/kittens to be integral to the plot–they could not be stuck in there for window dressing (I hate that kind of story). With that in mind, I applied my theory of idea hunting–I went mining my past.

Now, I’ve heard it said that some writer write about their own lives and some steal other people’s lives for their source. I’m not sure which group I fit into–I’ve done both. But I do find that mining my own past tends to make for stronger stories. And I’d had this cat.

Stripey showed up one summer day when my brother and I were eating lunch on the back patio. She was–as she was named–a grey-striped cat with white patches. She was also hungry. And I was not about to eat the baloney in my sandwich. (I have never liked baloney and still do not eat the stuff.) Stripey was happy to help out with the sandwich, and since she hung around for more handouts, she became my cat. (I seem to recall there was also shameless begging on my part, but the end result is that Stripey stayed long enough to give us three litters of kittens.)

Most of time Stripey was the most timid of cats. She was the cat other cats chased–the weakling into whose face all felines kicked metaphorical sand. Until she had kittens. Then she became Stripey the Tiger, capital GRR. No one messed with her kittens–or her when she had kittens to look after. She also had one other habit. Her idea of the proper place to raise the kittens was in the garage.

We had an old dresser in the garage and my dad stored his tools and bits and pieces there. Stripey also insisted on having her kittens in the bottom drawer, which wouldn’t close. No matter what kind of beautiful kitten basket we made her, the kittens came into the world in that dresser. We’d try putting the kittens into the basket for her. Soon, she’d be trotting back to the garage, one kitten at a time dangling from the hold she had on the scruff of their necks. Eventually, we gave way to her demand that the kittens spend their first few weeks in the garage–as I said, she was more than decisive with kittens in her charge.

Stripey’s story became the story of “Bea” who insists on having her kittens in one place, even if that place proves inconvenient for her owner. And that became the catalyst (sorry about the pun) for the romance in the story.

Of course, a cat alone a romance does not make. Meaning I needed a hero and heroine to go with the cat. Obviously, such a protective mother as Stripey needed an owner with the same inclination–like cat, like owner. And so the hero would have to pose a threat to my heroine’s offspring (but the husband would have to be out of the scene). Thankfully, my muse presented me with two very good candidates–Ash and Evelyn. This also gave me a chance to do a fresh take on the “proper spinster” (the heroine’s not actually a spinster), and the bad boy (Ash isn’t that bad, either, but he does have a past that’s not all that savory).

One thing I’ve found with short stories or novellas–you have to limit the characters. Too many characters and you either cannot do justice to everyone or the story expands into a novel (that’s a tale for another day about Under the Kissing Bough and how that came to be written). But Evelyn needed boys–two youngsters, because it raised the stakes for her to have kids to look after. And Ash needed someone, too, because it’s no fun having the hero talk to himself or spend all his time brooding and thinking–besides, long-time servants are as good as family and families always cause the best additions of conflicts for characters. So that rounded out the cast to about six (including Bea, the cat–the kittens are a little too young to be more than “spear carrying” kittens). And there’s a couple of walk-ons, but a novella could handle that.

And so Cat’s Cradle was written. It’s one of those blessing stories–it flowed from start to finish, and I loved writing every bit of it. I got to have fun, and to put in those little bits I love in a story. I don’t know that it’s one of my best works, but it’ll always be a special story for me. I’m more than delighted that it’s available again, now as an e-book.