The Elements Of Literature In Only Fifty Words
July 12, 2011
Most readers occasionally fantasize about becoming writers themselves, only to drop the notion once confronted with a blank sheet of paper or flashing computer cursor. Writing fiction seems especially daunting. After all, it seems like you have to make it ALL up from scratch. Actually, you don’t have to make it all up. You can use the elements of literature like building blocks to create your own story.
To illustrate these elements, I will select an iconic piece of fiction: world-famous author Theodore Geisel's critically-acclaimed, best-selling story of an epic struggle between two strong-willed individuals. I am referring, of course, to "Green Eggs and Ham." This book contains everything you need to know about writing fiction. Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, does this using just fifty individual words, only one of which (anywhere) has more than one syllable! Through this book, we can see that when the elements are used properly, even the simplest story composed of the simplest vocabulary can be compelling.
First, we need some characters. We are introduced to Sam-I-Am first. We can infer from Sam-I-Am's entrance, riding in standing on the back of an animal, that he is a free spirit. In contrast, the nameless protagonist is introduced as a stolid character, content to sit and read his newspaper. The protagonist informs us via exposition that he does not like Sam-I-Am. Sam-I-Am is his antagonist. The stage is set.
Now that we have characters, we need a plot. Sam-I-Am asks the protagonist if he likes green eggs and ham. The protagonist informs Sam-I-Am that he does not like green eggs and ham. We now have a conflict between the characters that will drive the plot. Sam-I-Am complicates the plot by repeatedly asking the protagonist if he would like green eggs and ham in a series of increasingly far-fetched scenarios. The protagonist remains steadfast in his dislike of green eggs and ham. But Sam-I-Am will not take no for an answer!
Pushed to the breaking point by Sam-I-Am’s hard sell, the protagonist breaks down and agrees to try green eggs and ham if Sam-I-Am will promise to leave him alone. The plot has reached its climax. The action pauses here for a moment. Then, to our surprise, the protagonist finds that he actually LIKES green eggs and ham. We find that the protagonist is a dynamic (round) character rather than the static (flat) character we believed him to be at the beginning of the story. The conflict has come to an end in this resolution. In the denouement, the protagonist agrees that he would like green eggs and ham in all of the situations that Sam-I-Am presented. Even more, far from disliking Sam-I-Am, the protagonist thanks Sam-I-Am profusely for introducing him to the joys of green eggs and ham.
The setting plays an integral role in the story as well. When we first encounter our characters, it is in the comfortable confines of a house. Once the conflict starts, the action moves outdoors, ending up with a car on a train, on a boat, and in the ocean! It is here in the vast open ocean, far from the familiar confines of home, that the protagonist makes his fateful decision to try something new; to try green eggs and ham. The protagonist needed to break free of his usual surroundings in order to discover something new about himself.
The overall theme of the story is that people often judge things or people without having any actual experience of said things or people. Once that experience has been gained, one will find that one’s judgment was likely wrong. You may need to go way outside your comfort zone to do so, but if you try it you just might like it!