Tuesday, March 8

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, March 08, 2011 11 comments
Twice a year, my spiritual tradition gives me the opportunity to live inside a story arc in anticipation of our major holidays: the Advent/Christmas season and the Lent/Easter season.

Plenty of practicing Christians don't participate in Advent or Lent. I didn't grow up doing so. I wish I had, because these seasons of waiting, struggles, and anticipation make the holiday's arrival much sweeter.

As I've reflected on this, I realized there's something archetypal about the Easter preparation cycle. Much of its story arc fits the standard fiction plot structure--the call to enter a period of testing (Ash Wednesday) leads to a period of trials (Lent), an ultimate test (Good Friday) and climaxes at the resurrection on Easter. Before the season begins, the calendar is in "ordinary time," which would correspond with the hero's normal world as introduced in a novel's opening. In this schema, that leaves Mardi Gras as...the inciting incident? Hmm.

Hero's normal world-- Ordinary time
Inciting incident -- [Mardi Gras?]
Call to adventure / first doorway -- Ash Wednesday
Rising action / tests and trials --Lent
Ultimate trial -- Good Friday
Darkest hour -- Holy Saturday
Climax /final reversal -- Easter
Denouement -- Pentecost

Conceptually, that rejiggers my notion of what Mardi Gras is about, and what an inciting incident might possibly look like. If inciting incidents are about disturbance of the ordinary, then Mardi Gras had better be not be an ordinary Tuesday with some donuts thrown in. And if an inciting incident is like Mardi Gras, then it's not partying for the sake of partying. It's a recognition of what's about to be lost, an anticipation of hard things to come, and the first seeds of hope that evil will be definitively defeated in the end. If we're honest, we can see that our craziest Mardi Gras excesses make clearer the need for lasting change in ourselves and in our world. To throw oneself into the celebration wholeheartedly is to anticipate change to come.

What are your thoughts on my structure comparison? Helpful or not and why? How does anticipation play into your story arcs?
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  1. I love your comparison of the different holidays as a plot structure. It helps me realize that transformation is an important part of a story. This is such a creative, enlightening idea. If we can keep our eyes on the climax while realizing that Jesus is with us throughout it all, I think the anticipation is easier to handle!

  2. It's fascinating to me how much reality can mirror the fictional worlds we so often try to escape to. I always wonder what makes the fantasies so much better if reality is made of similar stuff. I think the answer is that one we can control and the other, not so much.

    Sorry, that was a little off of the topic, but it was just the thoughts that came as I read yours. Our own traditions really do make excellent stories.

    I'm not so sure about the partying in anticipation of change. Sometimes I think it's more the act of trying to hold on, or to stave off change.

  3. Jade: death and resurrection are at least metaphorically part of most story climaxes. That got me pondering how the other parts of the holiday story might parse onto plot structure.

    Nisa: C.S.Lewis argued that fantasy stories that mirror "the great story" help us better understand it and make it more real for us. To what degree we can connect the dots between the two stories--that's a question I've been wondering about. I'm not entirely convinced mardi gras to fits in the schema at all. You may be right that it better fits as part of the "ordinary world" the hero must leave.

  4. That's fantastic, Laurel - I have never thought to compare story structure with holidays, but ti makes sense how you've done it!

  5. "And if an inciting incident is like Mardi Gras, then it's not partying for the sake of partying."

    Exactly. The thing that gives Mardi Gras its wildness is the period of trial and abstention that will follow.

    I never thought of the holiday cycle this way before, but it works!

  6. I don't think this would ever have crossed my mind - but I like your comparisions. Great food for thought.

  7. Interesting - never thought about it like this. I need to remember this and apply it to other things too! Thanks! :)

  8. i think anticipation is a huge part in hooking readers and sometimes can be very subtle. I'll keep turning for secretive backstory every time! God sure knew what he was doing - the bible is filled with terrific well structured stories! He knew how to go big with the conflict. Donald Maass would approve.

  9. Talli: the holidays themselves are built around stories--it was interesting to look more deeply at the structure.

    Jenn: I'd been asking myself "what's the big deal about Mardi Gras? Why bother?" This was my meditation on that.

    Jemi: I think the Easter story helps me understand story climax pieces better--especially the "ultimate trial," "darkest hour" and "reversal."

  10. Karen: One might say that the Easter story of death and resurrection lies at the heart of all narratives in the West.

    Laura: Building anticipation and periods of testing into our stories--like advent and lent do--makes the celebration of victory at a story's end more powerful. There's plenty of biblical precedence for waiting times in the Exodus, the Exile and in Jesus' ministry, too.

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