Monday, July 29, 2013

It was a setup (Part 3)

Today, I'm in happy teacher mode to continue discussing setup.

Part 1 is HERE.

Part 2 is HERE.

To recap:

The setup answers the following questions:
  • Who are the main characters?
  • Where does the story take place?
  • When does the story take place?
  • And the most important question of all: What is the story about?
Let’s take a look at one more example of setup from another experienced writer: Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Here is the opening of Shiloh:

The day Shiloh come, we’re having us a big Sunday dinner. Dara Lynn’s dipping bread in her glass of cold tea, the way she likes, and Becky pushes her beans up over the edge of her plate in her rush to get ‘em down.

Ma gives us her scolding look. “Just once in my life,” she says, “I’d like to see a bit of food go direct from the dish into somebody’s mouth without a detour of any kind.”

She’s looking at me when she says it, tough. It isn’t that I don’t like fried rabbit. Like it fine. I just don’t want to bite down on buckshot, is all, and I’m checking each piece.

“I looked that rabbit over good, Marty, and you won’t find any buckshot in that thigh,” Dad says, buttering his bread. “I shot him in the neck.”

Somehow I wish he hadn’t said that. I push the meat from one side of my plate to the other, through the sweet potatoes and back again.

“Did it die right off?” I ask, knowing I can’t eat at all unless it had.

“Soon enough.”

“You shoot its head clean off?” Dara Lynn asks. She’s like that.

Dad chews real slow before he answers. “Not quite,” he says, and goes on eating.

Which is when I leave the table.

We know right away that the story takes place in a country, backwoods setting. 

Our clues? 

1. The grammar (“The day Shiloh come, we’re having us a big Sunday dinner”); 

2. The menu (fried rabbit); and 

3. The fact that Dad has shot the rabbit himself and that this seems to be a regular occurrence.

We know who the main character is (the narrator, Marty) and his family members.

We also know that Marty is a softhearted boy, i.e. character development

He doesn’t like hearing that his Dad shot the rabbit in the neck and it’s important to him that the rabbit died “right off.”

The story continues:

The best thing about Sundays is we eat our big meal at noon. Once you get your belly full, you can walk all over West Virginia before you’re hungry again. Any other day, you start out after dinner, you’ve got to come back when it’s dark.

I take the .22 rifle Dad had given me in March on my eleventh birthday and set out up the road to see what I can shoot. Like to find me an apple hanging way out o a branch, see if I can bring it dow. Line up a few cans on a rail fence and shoot ‘em off. Never shoot at anything moving, though. Never had the slightest wish.

We live high up in the hills over Friendly, but hardly anybody knows where that is. Friendly’s near sistersville, which is halfway between Wheeling and Parkersburg. Use to be, my daddy told me, Sistersville was one of the best places you could live in the whole state. You ask me the best place to live, I’d say right where we are, a little four-room house with hills on three sides.

Now we know that Marty is eleven years old. 

His softhearted nature is reinforced here when he tells us that he never shoots at anything moving.

Naylor also reveals where the story takes place: the small town of Friendly, West Virginia. 

We know Marty lives in a “little four-room house with hills on three sides” but more importantly, we know that he loves it there - he considers it “the best place to live.”

Two paragraphs later:

And this particular afternoon, I’m about halfway up the road along the river when I see something out of the corner of my eye.

Something moves. I look, and about fifteen yards off, there’s this shorthaired dog - white with brown and black spots - not making any kind of noise, just slinking along with his head down, watching me, tail between his legs like he’s hardly got the right to breath. A beagle, maybe a year or two old.

The reader is now getting a sense of what the story is about with the introduction of a beagle. This is a dog story.

On the next three pages, the beagle follows Marty home. Marty’s father asks about where the dog came from:

“On the road by the river? Bet that’s Judd Travers’s beagle,” says Dad. “He got himself another hunting dog a few weeks back.”

“Judd got him a hunting dog, how come he don’t treat him right?” I ask.

“How you know he don’t?”

“Way the dog acts. Scared to pee, almost,” I say.

Ma gives me a look.

“Don’t seem to me he’s got any marks on him,” Dad says, studying him from our window.

Don’t have to mark a dog to hurt him, I’m thinking. 

Now we are grounded in the story. 

We know that this is a story about a softhearted, backwoods boy who finds a dog that he thinks has been abused by its owner.
Seven pages into Shiloh - SEVEN PAGES, PEOPLE! - Naylor has completed the setup. 

Now the reader can move forward into the story armed with all the necessary information.

Class dismissed.

1 comment:

Marilyn Hollinshead said...

Thanks, Barbara. Revision coming up.