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Column Nine: Analyzing “And the Answer Is . . .”

By Janice Alonso

In column nine of the previous series, “A Solid Foundation Is Important,” we analyzed “And the Answer Is . . .” from a nonfiction structural perspective. We will now revisit this story and apply what we have discussed in terms of the fiction foundation. A reminder, even in creative nonfiction the integrity of the piece must hold up – this story is true and it happened to me just as I have related it to my audience. I only added elements to give the telling more of a “fanciful” feel. This story first appeared in Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul 2. Per an editor’s request, I rewrote the story as a 391word devotion for the June 6, 2004 issue of Evangel.
Fiction Foundation
I. Beginning – The Want – Exposition – A setup that introduces the main character(s), setting, and theme. (Paragraphs 1 – 3)
II. Middle – The Obstacles – Conflicts – The series of events that determine the story’s outcome (Paragraphs 4 – 39) and break down into
1. Rising action – events with challenges, each becoming more difficult to surmount for the main character to obtain his/her want (Paragraphs 4 – 28)
2. Climax – event that is the turning point of the story (Paragraph 29)
3. Falling action – events slow down and the reader begins to see how the main character’s want is going to be achieved (or not). (Paragraphs 30 – 39)
III. Ending – The Culmination – Resolution – the point to which all preceding events were leading. (Paragraphs 40 – 41) Remember, the story doesn’t have to provide a happy ending, but it does need to be a result that is believable and leaves the reader satisfied.
Paragraphs one through three are the setup. We meet our main characters. “I” is the teacher and the protagonist. She wants to teach her toddlers about building their faith. Then there are the eleven three-year olds. They are the antagonists. They are the ones blocking her want. The setting is a classroom in a church or a churchlike environment. The theme is stated clearly: Climbing Faith Mountain. The Point of View is first person limited, and the reader has no reason to doubt this narrator’s ability to relate the event since it was her personal experience.
Paragraphs four through thirty-nine present our conflicts. The reader learns the story will unfold with a day-by-day accounting of story-lessons. The four conflicts are a result of those stories. The teacher asks the students questions to see if she is accomplishing her “want.”
Day One: Who had the faith to move his family and livestock? – wrong answer
Day Two: Who trusted and prayed for his safety and protection while he was away from his father and brothers? – wrong answer
Day Three: Who was strong enough to make the walls of Jericho fall down? – wrong answer
Day Four: Who was a good listener? – wrong answer
By the evening of the fourth day, our main character is quite discouraged. She began the week with the self-assurance that she was capable of teaching the group about strong faith. She now believes she has failed. The story’s climax comes in paragraph twenty-nine, the following morning when she realizes that her want, while she had good intentions, was directed toward the wrong audience. She had placed her faith in herself rather than in God to teach the toddlers about building faith.
In paragraphs thirty through thirty-nine, the falling action, the narrator begins her fifth day with new understanding and insight because of this enlightenment. She rephrases the questions so that the answer to faith building is not in people, but through God himself. Now the three-year-olds have the correct answer.
In the conclusion, paragraphs forty and forty-one, the story has its twist. It is the students who have been the teachers and the teacher who has been the student.
Using personal experiences as bases for creative nonfiction is a good way to practice creating short stories. Many beginning writers have difficulty in developing plotlines and coming up with plausible conflicts. Often thinking of believable solutions for these conflicts is a problem. When writing about an event that happened to you, or someone else, you already know the beginning, middle, and ending of the story. Your Writer Within can spend the majority of time focusing on the colorful recounting. But remember, not every personal experience is material for a story. There must be a want, conflicts, a climax, and a resolution.
Step Nine: Think of a personal experience and identify the parts of the above outline with your details.

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