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This is my first post here, and I thought I would post a short story of mine. I've posted this elsewhere, but I want a fresh opinion on it. Criticism is welcome and appreciated. Also, I know there are a few spelling and grammar errors in it; I didn't want to change it from the copy I posted elsewhere.

The Puppy Parable

The first streaks of light raced across the early morning sky. The empty streets, however, were still covered in a murky haze.

John yawned lazily, reflecting on the night before, “Damn, what a night” he murmured. He gave his surroundings a quick look-over, seeing only empty streets, he continued walking. After a short-while, he heard a faint rustling sound. He closed in on the sound and ended up at the entrance of an alleyway. An open cardboard box is positioned in the alleyway and it appeared to be …. moving. John cautiously entered the alley and peers into the box only to be greeted by the sight of a litter of puppies, happily playing inside it. Suddenly, an old man appeared in front of him. John, astonished, jumped back, fearing that he is about to be mugged. The old man raised his hands to show that he was unarmed.

John had never seen a man, let alone an old man, like this before. He looked … odd. He wasn’t crouched and lurching; he moved with a brisk gait and stood tall and proud. His blue eyes glimmered with wisdom, his wrinkled skin, not showcasing weariness, but experience. He smiled at John. A grandfatherly smile, John thought.

“Who are you?” John asked.

The old man continued to smile. He bent down, reaching into the box, to delicately retrieve a pup.

“Do you want one?” The old man queried.

John, still somewhat shocked by his appearance, stammered “What?”

“Do you want a puppy? I know he doesn’t look like much now, but if you care for him, feed him, and train him, he will grow to love you. He will be your guardian and protect you from those who wish to do you harm.”

John, finally recovered from his initial shock, considered the proposal.

“I guess I could use some protection.”

The old man handed him the puppy.

“Before you go, I must warn you” The old man’s voice growing stern, but still kind. “Only use this pup to fend off aggressors, never use it to act out your own aggression.”

John nodded and, hurriedly, walked out of the alley.

Over time, the puppy grew. Its limbs became strong, its teeth, sharp, yet it only possessed a rudimentary intelligence. It needed John to guide it to its proper function.

One warm morning, John decided to take a stroll with his dog. While walking past an alley, he was attacked by two knife-wielding thugs. John, paralyzed by fear, froze. His dog, however, sprang into action, and made quick work of the thugs.

A few others had heard the commotion and went to investigate. They were greeted with the sight of a triumphant beast and a shaken owner.

It was time to use the dog for its proper purpose, as a safeguard of human life against its destroyers. Those who had witnessed the dog’s prowess also gathered around John and his guardian for protection.

John, along with his new companions, built a flourishing city. Every man and woman worked without fear that the fruits of their labor would be stolen by thugs, and they all prospered. Word spread of a safe and prosperous city, and more people came seeking a life free from tyranny in this burgeoning city. But this prosperity brought another kind of creature.

One afternoon, a group of citizens went to John with a few concerns. They suggested he use the dog to obtain goods by force. John, severely offended, immediately refused, but eventually gave in to their pressuring. They assured him that he was embarking on a great social good. He was uncertain, but accepted their demands.

As the goods were seized, the demands grew larger and larger. Soon there was more demand for goods than there were goods. John decided to put a stop to this but the group would not have it.

The dog was seized, and John was left helpless.

The sun was setting on the once prosperous city.

In the darkening gloom, John heard the dog snarling and saw the smiling faces of the group. They were talking too him, but he didn’t hear a word. His last thoughts were of the old man, he pictured the old man smiling, though the smile wasn’t joyful.

The old man said:

“The dog is under new ownership. You fed the dog, and loosened its leash, and now you are its next meal.”

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Good work, Kyle.

The unfettered state; imagine what good we could do. Imagine what progress we could make with implementing Jesus' mission here on earth, if only we unleashed the guns of government.

Imagine the Social Democrats in 20's Germany, the enabling cheerleaders for "Ein Reich, Ein Volk,..." being brushed aside by the meateaters, saying this is not what we intended on the way to those camps. They thought they were unleashing the Great Volksgemeinschaft. ("People's Community.") What they were unleashing was The Shaft. For everybody and then some.

The meateaters(the Nazis/Commies)brushed aside the polite enablers, barely said 'thank-you' for unleashing the unfettered state, and then proceeded with their little Totalitarian Turf War, the Nazi Crips against the Commie Bloods.

Which ones weren't the Totalitarian street thugs?

Meanwhile, our newly re-elected POTUS is over in Cambodia/Kampuchea breaking bread with the former generals who ran the Khmer Rouge; those wascally Agrarian Marxists who brought us The Killing Fields on the way to "fundamental change" in their version of a People's Paradise.

This was right after paying tribute to the strong-armed socialist generals running amok in Burma and murdering their citizens.

I guess he wants to learn how it's really done.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Kyle,

I promised you something by today and I am still in the middle of writing like mad for a project, so here is a makeshift. Below is a post I made to another OL member yesterday, which I did thinking of doubling over some of the information from there to here.

David,

I went to the site you linked and something looked awfully familiar. Then I saw the title. Of course. I have Christopher Vogler's book The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.

I haven't read it yet because I have been going through Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces first. I'm only in the first third and I find it pretty hard going so far. There is a lot I have to look up as I go along, especially the arcane references and words like autochthonous (fer Keriiiisakes!!! :smile: ).

But there's an interesting thing I noticed. Everybody talks about Campbell because of Star Wars. Well, if you go to the Amazon link I provided and look at the Table of Contents, you can almost see the first movie laid out, step-by-step. When I first saw that, I wondered if George Lucas actually read the book, or if he just copied the TOC (just Part 1) and used each item as a story beat. :smile:

The Hiltunen book I mentioned above is highly interesting, albeit a slog of a read. This is because Hiltunen is a Finn and he makes some irritating errors in English, especially when he constantly writes "the audience are." For some reason, that kind of error throws my concentration off and I start daydreaming. So I had to police myself as I read the book and it made my brain hurt. :smile: But Hiltunen's approach is one of the most useful I have found in explaining what universal story pleasure is (he calls it the "proper pleasure" and derives it from Aristotle's Poetics).

He also talks about Vladimir Propp's fairy-tale structure (see here and here), which, I was surprised to learn, is just as important to the mythic tradition as the Hero's Journey. Think Cinderella. Propp's typical cast of characters (given in the Wikipedia link) is also just as useful as Campbell's Jungian-based archetypes. And he lays all this down with references to Hollywood movies, TV series, fiction books on the bestseller list, video games, etc.

The reason Hiltunen wrote Aristotle in Hollywood is that he is friends with Christopher Volger. They have had many long discussions over meals during seminars and Volger encouraged him to write it. Frankly, the only reason I read it was because I came across this story. I'm really, really glad I did. And, if Campbell keeps irritating me with all the slogging I have to do just to keep up, I might set him aside, go through Volger's book first, then pick him back up. That'll teach him! :smile:

Incidentally, Hiltunen's "proper pleasure," which is basically a 4-pronged pressure build-up--intellectual, emotional, moral and symbolic--that resolves through release in catharsis (or climax), is being borne out by neuroscience. You can get a great layman's guide to what is going on in a recent book, Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron. It's an easy and fun read.

I have also read twice (so far) Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future by Jonah Sachs. I highly recommend this one, even for trial lawyering. At least, I can easily imagine where Sachs's approach would be effective. The only thing is he's a flaming progressive and you have to stomach his gushes about combating global warming and other items from the progressive menu as if they were absolute fact. But it's well worth it. Besides, Sachs seems more like a craftsman than an ideologue.

Incidentally, once I get to a point in reading this stuff where the ideas start repeating and I judge myself to be competent enough (which I feel I am getting close), I intend to take Rand's The Romantic Manifesto and The Art of Fiction and run them through the mill. Not to bash them, but to make them more useful for writing students. There are some hidden traps in those books that will paralyze your writing for years, but there is a lot of good stuff, too. At least, I believe showing where there are widely used different approaches on a confusing point, how to sidestep a creativity-throttling trap, or where an idea is universal, but couched in her sui generis jargon, and things like that would be very useful to a budding writer who wants to follow in her footsteps, but gets stuck and isolated and almost afraid to speak up.

Michael

I have some very specific things I want to tell you about your parable (through-lines, specificity, character-enhancement, etc.), and some other material--in addition to the above--for you to look at and chew on that should be a lot of fun. But for now, take a look at the Propp stuff, that is if you wish, of course.

(btw - All the works I listed are first rate, insightful, highly informative, and inspiring.)

Since you wrote a parable and might want to write more along those lines, you should at least become familiar with classic parable form. The trick is not to take any of it too literally--to get an understanding of the essence of each stage and each standard character type, then decide how you want to vary it (or add to it, or leave certain things out, etc.). This is the symbolic world, so, as you know, things, people, animals, etc., can all represent ideas, parts of the human psyche, parts of experience, or anything else metaphors can represent.

(Jung's archetypes are very useful here, too, but he is not all.)

And don't forget that ancient story forms that have been handed down from the oral tradition have been polished bazillions of times by retelling. Just think of the telephone hand-off line. You call a dude and tell him something. He calls a girl and tell it to her. She passes it on to another person and so on. By the time you get to the last person, the thing has morphed all out of shape.

This is what happened with myths, parables, etc. But here's the good part. The details constantly morphed and changed (and usually magic or fantasy started creeping in), but the parts that refer to human universals got polished. This is because people who retell a tale usually emphasize the universal aspects they find important--in addition to changing the details. Since universals apply to all humans (like the hero's journey, for example, which can apply to a literal voyage just as much as symbolically to each stage of human growth, or even to learning a new skill), but the details vary from human to human, especially from culture to culture, the details get bent all over the place with retelling, while the universals get strengthened.

Now do this for thousands and thousands of years. You get really powerful universal stuff (and yes, Ayn Rand's writing is chock full of these universal forms). That's one of the reasons she is still going strong in book sales, which bewilders the progressives to no end.

(btw - She didn't teach this stuff correctly, which is why I believe it is a good idea to get writing instruction from those who do. Also, you just can't allow your self-talk to adopt Rand's condemnatory moralizing tone against yourself when you are brainstorming without sucking your creativity dry. That's one of the reasons I believe Objectivist-inspired fiction is generally weak. But I come here to praise Rand, not bury her. :) )

Also, if you haven't read Aristotle's Poetics yet, go through it. The link above is a free html version. It's a pretty short work. (I believe it's only about 40-50 pages in print form.) Even if old style does get boring, just slog on through. It's well worth it. Once you read the thing, you will be able to see where a lot of Ayn Rand's literary technique came from.

I believe Hiltunen encapsulated the essence of Aristotle's ideas in a highly usable form, so, in addition to my comments above, I will give a brief summary in my next post. I was already using this in my own writing without being aware of it. But my attempts have been hit and miss and, on good days, by the seat of my pants. Now that I know what I did right and wrong, writing fiction for me is a lot easier. (Or maybe harder, since I try to keep raising the bar for myself. :) )

I believe you have the talent to make use of all this stuff (or not--and in your own manner, of course). I don't need to tell you how rich Rand's originality was in coming up with new slants on human universals. You showed you know what I am talking about with your puppy thing. If you keep going in that direction, getting her versions of universals into forms with your own charming details, but in forms that bear universal structures, I believe you are on the way to writing good, important works. (But why stop there, adding to Rand's deep stuff? Go for it with your own effective slants on universals if you can come up with some. Rand certainly does not have a monopoly on doing that. :) )

More coming.

Michael

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You kept your word, thank you for that. I'll have to read Aristotle's Poetics and your other listed material soon. I have a winter break coming up which will give me plenty of time to work on my parables and other stories.

It's easy to see that my parable was influenced by Rand; I found her work to be persuasive and powerful. She is probably the most influential writer I have ever read (so I guess it's to be expected that my work reflects her style). In fact, my next parable (which is nearing completion) has even more Randian inspired themes (with my own added charm, of course). There will be a good amount of universality in my next parable too.

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