story craft #8 Tapestry Narratives

Mike GristStories, Story Craft 4 Comments

I`m a fan of convoluted narrative styles. I like stories that are chopped up and remixed, especially those chopped and remixed on the basis of character. LOST did this over 6 seasons, Magnolia did it in a 3-hour movie, Orson Scott Card did it between Ender`s Game and Ender`s shadow, David Gemmell did it across fantasy eras.

The effect is always epic. We begin to see the threads that make up not just one person`s life, but the whole tapestry. We glimpse the arc of the world of these characters, and while we`re with them we get to see the whole in a way we never can in life.

Here`s a breakdown of how it`s been done.


The underpinnings of LOST are simple. It took only a few flashback episodes at the end of season 6 to answer all of our most important questions. With the emotional character-centred finale it became clear that while those questions were the things that sucked us into the story, they were only the coat-hooks upon which the whole cloth of the LOST epic were written.

They were the skeleton. The real story was in the characters, their histories, presents, and futures, and if they could ever overcome the greatest challenges of their lives. For most of them that involved getting over their issues with their parents, in one form or another. Ben had to not kill his dad, Locke ditto, Jack had to forgive and understand his dad, Kate had to learn what motherhood meant, Sun (and Jin) had to get out from under her father`s shadow, and so on.

These threads made a dense tapestry, themed with the sins of the father.


Magnolia is bizarre, and only held together as a narrative by its bizarreness.The weight of it comes from each character; the lonely cop, the lonely gay guy, the savant kid, the abused girl, the chat show host, the pick-up coach, reaching the peak of their respective arcs at the same outlandish moment. In that it is genius, and we have to forgive it its moments of serendipity. What takes hours to build comes to belt us in the face as they all reach crescendo like a line of roman candles going off.

Through all these mini-stories we are given a glimpse of a world of serendipity, of abuse and salvation, punishment and redemption. It`s an incredibly cathartic movie, and built solely out of character, and the sheer number of characters is what gives it its epic feel. While the lonely cop is coming home from a horrible date he meets the lonely gay guy and helps him, steers him right.

In this the theme is human inter-relations, and how we can hurt but also heal, and even people who are hurt can also heal.


Ender`s Game stood alone brilliantly, as we follow Ender`s course through Battle School and onto the Bugger War. When Orson Scott Card added Ender`s Shadow the story became genius. We see all of the events of the first novel from a whole new and unique vantage point. We learnt back story we never knew about. We see ways to navigate the same world Ender existed in that show us deeper levels to everything. The story becomes epic.

The themes are really self-reliance. Both Bean and Ender are self-reliant in different ways- Ender re-rigs the computer desks and fights his way to survival. Bean crawls the secret spaces of the Battle School and entraps his enemies. Between them they build out the world and the story.


David Gemmell is one of my favorite authors. Legend was his first book, and probably remained his best. An aging Druss the Legend stands on the battlements of Dros Delnoch surveying the Nadir horde. It is impossible. But he, along with a range of other unlikely heroes scrumped from the Drenai lands, stay on to fight. In that sense the first book is epic in itself. We see the lovable cowardly rogue Rek, the first Gan out-of-his-depth Orrin, the Robin Hood figure Bowman, and through them all we get a picture of the world.

The cleverer dimension is in offering us glimpses of a deeper world. Regiments are named after ancient heroes like Karnak the One-Eyed, heroes that Gemmell later goes on to write the stories of. We can know who they are as people, care about them, so if we re-read Legend and come across the reference to Karnak, it has a powerful resonance for us. The world has been built out through character.

Tolkien was probably the first at this, but I don`t know that he did it as well as Gemmell. Tolkien`s characters never seemed to be driven, or to want, or to be real. We didn`t get to see their inner lives. When he tells us a history of Middle Earth, it FEELS like a history. It doesn`t feel real, present, in the now.

Gemmell did that. He also did it in his stories of the Rigante, with Waylander, in the Jon Shannow novels. We get to know the wider epic world through its heroes.


So this is what I want from my Dawn Cycle books. All of it, if I can have it. The epic multi-threading of LOST, the coinciding character climaxes of Magnolia, the alternate views of the same world in Ender, and the heroes of different eras aspect of Gemmell`s writing.

To that end I`m making good progress on the third draft of Book One, currently titled Sharachus. Characters that were tacked on before are now getting interwoven. Climaxes are being set up to ignite off like firecrackers in a line. It`s getting to a state where I feel like I have a real product, something I can package and be proud of. If editors or publishers won`t in the end buy it, I`ll likely self-publish.

Dawn Cycle 1 – Sharachus: current word count– 151,000

Comments 4

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  1. Well, I’m impressed. I came for the ruins, stayed for the writing. From your haikyo work you seem to be an active individual with a strong visual orientation, I’m surprised you can sit and write let alone rewrite. All the best, I’ll keep reading.

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      Thanks Michael, that was one of the original aims of this site actually- hook with the ruins and hope some people like the writing. I’m glad you’re sticking around!

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