More than just a simple tale.

The writer must include three things in his tale if he hopes to hook the reader into the narrative: believability, heart and tension. Believability could mean simply to ensure the actions have realistic motivations, heart allows for the reader to become emotionally drawn to the characters and to their journey, and tension holds the reader on the edge of his seat wondering what will happen next- will the protagonist reach her goal, get the boy, rescue her loved one, save the world?

This premise applies to all stories, ranging from children’s picture books to young adult stories and on through to adult fiction.  Yet, there is another important element writers should include, something of particular importance and appeal to me as a reader (after all -we writers are also readers..):  and that is the story’s message, lesson or moral.

Because I am continuing my Children’s Story theme for 2017, I will present this idea through one of Aesop’s famous fables, although the objective to include a message in addition to believability ,emotion and conflict should be present in all works of fiction.  A fable is a fictitious story- often with animals as the characters, that conveys a lesson of some sort by the end. 

For instance, in Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare,  the moral with which we grew up taking away from this tale has been;  “Slow and Steady wins the race”.  Although there are many versions of this fable- the typical rendering portrays the tortoise as a smart and determined character who ultimately wins the race by remaining persistent, never giving up.  On the other hand, the hare is over- confident, and even bordering cocky, positive he will win because he has more talent and skill than his adversary. 

Seemingly, in the version written by children’s author Janet Stevens, Tortoise is described as friendly and quiet, and slow, whereas Hare is flashy, rude and quick.  Hare is so positive he will win that he stops several times along the way over the span of the 6 mile course to get a drink, visit with a friend and nap.  Incredibly, despite witnessing Tortoise pass him at each of the stops, Hare continues to believe Tortoise has no chance of beating him.  However, as we all know, by the end of the story Tortoise wins the race because he worked harder than Hare and never gave up.  On the other hand, Hare’s arrogant belief that an “inferior” individual, such as Tortoise could never beat him causes him to lose a race he could have and should have won.

While most critics claim the moral of the tale points toward the Tortoise; Hard work and perseverance always brings rewards, some could profess the story is actually about Hare and his mistake rather than about Tortoise and what he did right. In a blog I read recently about the “true moral of The Tortoise and the Hare”, Jacob Davenport claims it is Hare upon whom readers should focus, as that character proves overconfidence that leads to a lackadaisical attitude will often be punished by embarrassing failure, evident by the Hare’s loss.  And therefore, Davenport claims the message in this story is that  success depends on using your talents, not just on having them. 

However, regardless of which character or action upon which the moral is based, in the end both viewpoints are essentially the same- only two different perceptions that teach the same lesson: continued hard work will reap rewards while failing to work hard or use one’s capability, talent, intelligence, or inner strength waiting to be realized, will likely result in failure.     I can’t tell you how often I have heard a teacher encourage one of my sons not to waste his potential. It is not only recognizing one’s ability and strength that contributes to success but to apply it and never to take it for granted that ultimately becomes essential.

The important point here is that in addition to those three essential components a writer needs- it is including a lesson, message or moral- or something that helps to relate the reader to the character and his goal- seeking journey that must also be present in order to grab, hold and preserve the reader’s attention.

How wonderful is it that this classic tale has succeeded in both entertaining children while teaching a valuable life lesson through the behaviors and attitudes of a determined and friendly turtle and a sly, overconfident hare. To this day we hear individuals often refer to the Tortoise and the Hare when issuing a warning or introducing an idea or important point. While there are certainly other ways to drive a point home or to pass along an insightful message,  there is nothing quite as brilliant and magical as an imaginative story to brand its mark upon an individual as vividly and effectively as a creatively developed tale.  To a young reader it is believable (a motivational action and goal) that a tortoise in red sneakers and a hare in bright blue running shorts might race side by side along a 6 mile course- each desperate to attain victory.

Just as Aesop showed us in The Tortoise and the Hare, the writer must include believability, emotion and conflict in order to draw in his audience and hold them there. This compels the audience to keep turning pages- in order to find out what happens next to the characters for whom the reader cares, fears, or comes to love. In addition, it will be the story’s message or lesson and its impact upon not only the characters, but on the readers themselves, that will transform what began in the writer’s mind as only an idea into a narrative universally and personally relatable and meaningful -and ultimately for the reader -far more than just a simple tale.

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