Life Outside the Storyline #amwriting

I’m currently reading BEATRIX POTTER’S GARDENING LIFE: THE PLANTS AND PLACES THAT INSPIRED THE CLASSIC CHILDREN’S TALES. In it, author Marta McDowell first outlines the life of “Miss Potter” and then goes through a year of plants and flowers. She illustrates both sections with photographs of the actual gardens and “Miss Potter”‘s art, and with quotations from her letters.

I say “Miss Potter” in quotation marks, because Beatrix preferred her married name, Mrs. Heelis. The book leaves the impression that Beatrix Potter, author, was much more Beatrix Heelis, gardener.

When my grandfather went into the hospital and then into a nursing home, I found that his treatment shifted slightly but discernibly when I brought in a picture of him as a young man. Life outside the storyline of “an elderly man needing care” changed him into “THIS man who is now elderly.”

And that made me think about genre v literary writing. Everybody says, “Know your characters inside and out — and then leave most of it out of the book.” I think that’s more true of genre writing than literary. I think genre books focus nearly exclusively on the storyline, with peripherals coming in as subplots. I think literary books focus on life outside the storyline, with the storyline simply being the thread through the beads.

What do you think?

A WRITING PROMPT BASED ON MY POST: Think of someone you know in a certain capacity. Write about something they do, are, or were outside of your point of contact.



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

You may also like...

One thought on “Life Outside the Storyline #amwriting

  1. Dan Antion

    November 27, 2017 at 7:58am

    That’s a interesting distinction. I’ll have to give that some thought. Wait a minute, I have tons of books to read, no time to rethink what I already read ?

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      November 27, 2017 at 8:05am

      LOL! I sure hear that! I got a Kindle because I have too many physical books to physically wade through, and now I have even MORE physical books PLUS eleventy bazillion ones and zeroes!

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  2. joey

    November 27, 2017 at 7:02pm

    I think you’re right and I’ve recently read as much. I think it was on Carrie Rubin’s site, but I wouldn’t swear to it. Literature is character development and internal struggle, even when the externals are a plot. Popular fiction is all about plot without as much character development. That was basically the whole gist of it, and it rang true to me. Bestsellers are almost always plot-driven.
    I love to see pictures of people from when they were younger. A picture can capture essence so well. Like, I just know what kind of woman she was by the cut of her dress, her choice in handbags and lipsticks, the set of her curls. Something about being elderly seems to cloud any possibility of what was there before age took it. Elderly people don’t have the same amount of choices, and those choices can be brutal to personality and style. The frustrated gardener whose knees won’t allow. The man who always wore a cuffed pant, permanently resigned to overalls. I’ve seen it. The spirit is willing, but the body… what’s that phrase?
    Ooh, I did ramble, but I’m recently touched by some of this loss of choice. It makes me sad, hot tears sad.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      November 29, 2017 at 4:04pm

      I’m so sorry for your sorrow, Joey! I love pictures of people at all their ages, too. It fascinates me to see who they were and hear how they grew into who they are now. It’s a great writing exercise, too. You know what’s a great show for that? Frasier. They’re always bringing who Frasier and Niles were as boys into who they are as men, and they never forget that their father was young once, too. And he deals with having been an active cop who now has to walk with a cane because of being shot in the line of duty. Silly show, with a lot of good, deep thought behind the writing.

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
      • joey

        November 29, 2017 at 4:21pm

        I do know! I watch Frasier from start to finish at least twice a year. It never gets old. 🙂

        Permalink  ⋅ Reply

Leave a Reply, If You Ple-az

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.