ATTACHMENT II: Discovering Story Structure

ATTACHMENT II – Discovering Story Structure

From Henry James, “Preface to The American.”

It had come to me, this happy, halting view of an interesting case, abruptly enough, some years before: I recall sharply the felicity of the first glimpse, though I forget the accident of thought that produced it. I recall that I was seated in an American “horse-car” when I found myself, of a sudden, considering with enthusiasm, as the theme of the “story,” the situation, in another country and an aristocratic society, of some robust but insidiously beguiled and betrayed, some cruelly wronged [1], compatriot: the point being in especial that he should suffer at the hands of persons pretending to represent the highest possible civilization and to be of an order in every way superior to his own [2]. What would he “do” in that predicament, how would he right himself, or how, failing a remedy, would he conduct himself under his wrong? This would be the question involved, and I remember well how, having entered the horse-car without a dream of it, I was presently to leave that vehicle in full possession of my answer. He would behave in the most interesting manner—it would all depend on that: stricken, smarting, sore, he would arrive at his just vindication and then would fail of all triumphantly and all vulgarly enjoying it [3]. He would hold his revenge and cherish it and feel its sweetness, and then in the very act of forcing it home would sacrifice it in disgust. He would let them go [4], in short, his haughty contemners, even while feeling them, with joy, in his power, and he would obey, in so doing, one of the large and easy impulses generally characteristic of his type. He wouldn’t “forgive”—that would have, in the case, no application; he would simply turn, at the supreme moment, away, the bitterness of his personal loss yielding to the very force of his aversion [5]. All he would have at the end would be therefore just the moral convenience, indeed the moral necessity, of his practical, but quite unappreciated, magnanimity [6]; and one’s last view of him would be that of a strong man indifferent to his strength and too wrapped in fine, too wrapped above all in other and intenser, reflections for the assertion of his “rights.” This last point was of the essence and constituted in fact the subject: there would be no subject at all, obviously,—or simply the commonest of the common,—if my gentleman should enjoy his advantage.

[1] First Plot Point
[2] Beginning, the conflict locked
[3] Mid Novel Reversal
[4] Second Plot Point
[5] Ending
[6] Premise: Magnanimity overcomes cruelty.

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