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The Three-Cornered Plot.
Here is an example of “the three-cornered plot,” sometimes called “the three-leaved clover plot.” There are only three persons in this sort of plot; two are usually men, the other
Mr. A falls in love with Miss B, and she with him; but, because he is poor, she will not marry him. She moves to a new country, and, after many years, meets again her lover. No reference is made to what happened years ago; but he has grown rich in the meantime and, when he proposes again, she instantly accepts him. She now tells him that she has always regretted her treatment of him years ago. He is astonished. “I do not know to what you refer,” says he. It turns out that he is not her first lover at all: he is her first lover's twin brother. The first lover himself appears, but she has lost the love of both.
Many stories have been built on this model, and there is no reason why you should not build another. You will have to name and describe the three characters and also the two countries. Of course instead of two countries you may substitute two states or two cities that you know or know something about. But the main requirement of a story, of a narrative of any sort, is that you handle your incidents interestingly and naturally.
How to Narrate.
The examples given have already suggested the secret of the art of narration. Tell it straight, — there is no other rule. Whether you are telling a story, or writing a novel or biography or history, let the incidents and events be carefully chosen and let them follow one another in the order of their occurrence. Do not omit something and then have to stop and say, “By the way, I neglected to say that the heroine,” etc. That isn't fair to the heroine or to your hearers. Narration is a wonderful art, and everybody can learn its principles. You may never write a famous story; but, if you tell the little incidents of everyday life in a direct and entertaining way, you will have your reward. But, above all, think through your narration from beginning to end before you begin to write or talk.
Exposition, or explanation, is the channel through which we get information and through which we give out information. This book as a whole is, from beginning to end, an attempt at exposition. Whenever anyone says, “I don't understand it. I wish you would explain it to me,” there is a call sent out for exposition. Kipling says:
I keep six honest serving-men;
(They taught me all I knew)
And How and Why and Who.
I send them east and west;
I give them all a rest.
These six honest serving-men bring back all sorts of information, but is not most of it in the form of exposition? Or, if it is in the form of description or narration, does it not serve the purpose of exposition? As long as there is a single mystery remaining in the world there will be need of exposition. Like description and narration, it can best be learned by practical examples :
What is a Bolshevik ?
This question might be answered by an elaborate definition of Bolshevik or Bolshevism, but the following exposition is far better :
A Bolshevik is a boy who believes there should be no teachers in school and that he should be allowed to study what he wants when he wants to. He believes that the way to get his friend's jack-knife is just to take it when his friend isn't looking, and that maybe the best plan isn't to have a school at all but to burn down the building so he can watch a bonfire. He believes that football should be played without a captain or rules and that he ought to be allowed to use a tennis ball if he wants to. This is exactly the way the Russian Bolsheviki are acting with grown-up affairs. do
you not want to have America run that way?
- The American Boy, Detroit, April, 1919.
you or do
After this effective exposition I am sure that there will be but one answer to the question with which the selection closes.
The Prize Is Always at the End of the Trail.
What does this heading mean? It can hardly be explained by a definition, but a story will make it plain. It is in fact the last sentence in a story called The Ten Trails, by Ernest Thompson Seton. He calls it the “Moral” of his story. The story follows:
Once there were two Indians who went out together to hunt. Hapeda was very strong and swift and a wonderful bowman. Chatun was much weaker and carried a weaker bow; but he was very patient.
As they went through the hills they came on the fresh track of a small deer. Chatun said: "My brother, I shall follow that." But Hapeda said: “You may if you like, but a mighty hunter like me wants bigger game.” So they parted.
Hapeda went on for an hour or more and found the track of ten large elk going different ways. He took the trail of the largest and followed for a long way, but not coming up with it, he said: “That one is evidently traveling. I should have taken one of the others.” So he went back to the place where he first found it, and took up the trail of another. After a hunt of over an hour in which he failed to get a shot, he said: “I have followed another traveler. I'll go back and take up the trail of one that is feeding." But again, after a short pursuit, he gave up that one to go back and try another that seemed more promising.
Thus he spent a whole day trying each of the trails for a short time, and at night came back to camp with nothing, to find that Chatun, though his inferior in all other ways, had proved wiser. He had stuck doggedly to the trail of the one little deer, and now had its carcass safely in camp.
Mr. Seton has here followed the method of exposition found in the fable and the parable. It is one of the oldest and most effective kinds of exposition.
How Is Cloth Made from Cotton ?
Neither a story nor a definition would help us here. The question calls for straightforward exposition with only a slight mixture of description. In his Geographical Reader, devoted to North America, Mr. Frank G. Carpenter answers the question thus:
Suppose we follow a bale as it passes through one room after another, until the fleecy white lint is turned into cloth.
We first take up some raw cotton out of the bale and pull it apart. What queer stuff it is! It is composed of thousands of little white hairs, so fine that several of them twisted together would not equal the thickness of a hair of your head. These little cotton hairs are called fibers. They are not so long as your finger. There are millions of them in a few pounds of cotton, and in our big bale more perhaps than there are people in the United States. Still, of these tiny hairs the strongest of thread and cloth are to be made. Our bale is first taken apart, and the cotton is then thrown upon huge cylinders or rollers called openers. These pull at the fibers, separating each as far as possible from the others. After this, the cotton thus loosened is passed through other rollers the sharp teeth of which pick out the fibers, leaving the dirt, so that when the cotton comes from them not a stick, a leaf, or a grain of sand is left in it. It now feels soft and is whiter than it was in the bale.
The next process is carding. Here the cotton is run through rollers covered with wire teeth so fine that there are more than a score of them on a space as small as one's finger nail. These little teeth brush and comb the cotton much as we comb our hair. As the cotton passes through them, they pull the tangled fibers apart and make them lie almost altogether one way, so that when they come out at the other end of the roller, they form a soft rope of cotton yarn. It is of this rope that the thread is to be made.
The rope is as big around as a broomstick. It seems enough for a dozen threads, but it is not enough to make one. It is as soft as down. It is doubled again and again as it goes through other machines which twist it finer and finer until at last it is not thicker