Narrative Device, or the Russian Dolls

The groundwork for Beam Me Home, Scotty!:  How Star Trek Can Help Us Make Sense of the Brain, PTSD, & Combat Trauma continues.

Another big shtik of The Story Grid’s Shawn Coyne and of his business partner, Stephen Pressfield, the author of such well-known novels as The Legend of Bagger Vance and Gates of Fire, is “narrative device,” i.e., “just how are you planning on keeping this story moving?’

For all of you who still remember Senior English, narrative device is essentially the set-up and management of point-of-view. Pressfield’s Bagger Vance is a story told by an older man looking back on his past, for example, while Gates of Fire is  a survivor’s recounting  of the Spartans’ last stand at Thermopylae, as told to the scribe of the king who defeated them—but who, in the end, did not.

So here’s how I’m going to try to manage this:

I’m going to do “story within a story,”  Russian-doll style, i.e., in this case, with three separate stories, one contained within another.

In Shawn’s advice on using Story Grid principles to guide the writing of a non-fiction work, he does stress the need to get the theme/point of the book out before the reader as quickly as possible. Thus, the top layer of the book will be—me, speaking directly to combat vets about what I hope they might gain from using Star Trek characters and settings to understand what has happened to many of them after war.

An important part of that introduction will be a request: that the reader-vets consider the possibility that by using their imagination, they might be able to learn more about themselves than they otherwise might have thought possible. Thus, I will quickly ask them then to imagine that they are watching a film with me, a film the opening sequence of which shows me looking out onto Boston Harbor in Massachusetts, USA, eventually pointing the reader’s “gaze” toward Logan Airport, across the water.

From there, we move into Story Two, as the reader and I watch “Doc” board a plan in San Francisco for an overnight flight to Boston. On the flight, he happens to sit between two combat-vet friends, GI Jane, a nurse from Atlanta, Georgia, USA, and a former medic in Operation Iraqi Freedom; and GI Joe, an English teacher in a community college near Columbus, Ohio, USA, and a former language/military intelligence specialist in the Vietnam War.

After Jane and Joe discover that Doc is a psychiatrist who has worked for the Veterans Health Administration in the US, they cannot help but ask him his thoughts about PTSD and then share with him their questions about the challenges of returning home from war. Consequently, Doc asks them if they would be willing to use their imaginations to enter a world where the answers to those questions might more easily be understood.  Jane willingly—and Joe less-so—agree to do just that.

And thus Story Three, in which Jane and Joe find themselves standing at first by themselves on the Bridge of the USS Enterprise, only to be welcomed soon after by none other than Colonel (not Captain) James T. Kirk.

And we’re off.

Story Three will come to its end with quite different results for Jane and Joe, but as it does so, the reader and I will find ourselves looking at them after the plane has arrived in Boston. There, they come to grips with what they have learned on the journey, showing the reader and me a couple of ways that the ideas of the Story Three can be used, thus bringing Story Two to its end.

And then finally, we come back to me, still standing at Boston Harbor. As you’ll find, though, Story One is not quite the usual “bird’s-eye-view” of the standard non-fiction book.  If you’ll allow me a quick move into the postmodern, it will turn out that Doc learns or, perhaps better, re-learns a lesson or two from the combat vets’ journeys as well.

So there you have it.

Before we get to the genres of the various stories (and what I’ve learned from considering them), let’s get to the book’s Big Idea itself, i.e., what’s going to be the point of all this?

See you next time.


One response

  1. The fundamental fiction genres are the Big Three: “Boy Meets Girl,” “The Little Tailor” (the hero’s journey), and “Gains the World but Loses His Own Soul.” The most effective fiction (even if it’s not the most successful) is that which crosses genre lines. Fictionalized factual works (such as most memoirs and even much of what passes for history) make better reading than dry recitations of facts. I see no reason why your approach would not achieve your goals. As a retired clinician who is committed to the therapeutic effectiveness of writing, reading, and the personal performance of storytelling, I’m looking forward to seeing how you develop your theme.

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