Illusory- The Yellow Brick Road

Quick- what’s the major conflict in “The Wizard of Oz”?

It’s not to meet the wizard.

“The Wizard of Oz” is an interesting piece of plotting because the major conflict of the story is possible to resolve within its first few pages.

Dorothy wants to go home, back to Kansas from the Land of Oz.

Within her first few minutes of arriving in Oz she is given the power to do so, but doesn’t realize this power until the end of the story.

The entire plot of “The Wizard of Oz” is one giant red herring.

Yet, when we talk about Oz or Dorothy, our most powerful image, our most firm grasp of what the tale is about is that long yellow brick road leading to a wizard both horrible and powerful.

An illusion.

Like so much else in the story.

Normally we have a hard time forgiving this kind of high-level red herring.

It is not often as a reader that we are pleased to be stalled so heavily in the pursuit of the story’s goal.

But this ignores a fundamental truth of both fantasy and ourselves.

The truth is, neither we nor Dorothy are there to return to Kansas.

Kansas is an inevitable destination, but it is not the path we are truly seeking.

We search for connection, for adventure, for the things that we miss within ourselves.

Kansas, grey and miserable and unforgiving, is a side note to the magic of walking.

Of traveling a path of gold to an unforeseeable future.


 Sometimes the journey is the destination

This is a week about the role of illusions, plot, and puzzles in stories. Today’s entry brought to you by The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The Kansas described in the entry is purely metaphorical and not at all representative of existing Kansases.

If you want to see my own take on fantastical journeys, my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, is available here.


Illusory- Chekhov’s Gun

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

Anton Chekhov

Do not write a gun you do not intend to fire.

Do not write a gun you are not using to distract from the true gun you mean to fire.

Do not write a gun that is not a distraction from the gun that is meant to be thought of as the true gun when you intend to fire a smaller gun off-stage.

Do not write a gun.

There is a choice when writing.

Is the focus to be on lush background, grounding but ultimately meaningless?

Is the story stripped to the core, every piece of toast, every opening door an integral piece of the plot?

Of course it is possible to use both, but it is every bit as important to remember the reader as it is to remember the gun above the mantle.

It is easy enough to read details as background.

There are many stories where it is possible to happily read the tale on the surface, never noticing when the guns fire, one by one.

It takes a different state of mind to look around the room, note the guns, note the lamps, note the half-chewed toy on the carpet and say, “I will remember these because they might be important.”

We need cues to realize that we are meant to do so, to not treat description as set decoration, but rather as the key to later events.

It is also possible in these cases to seed false cues, false points of distraction from the guns that are meant to fire.

This is where the styles of writing intersect. Whether or not cues are important, they should interlock. They should build a stable and understandable foundation and support structure for the story they illustrate.

Too many guns and fake-guns and fake-fake-guns and reading becomes a headache rather than a pleasure.

Guns that are propped obviously in front of the readers’ feet also distract from the building story.

Fire your gun.

Or don’t fire your gun.

But make sure that the gun builds a world or a story before the viewpoint shifts to the trajectory of a bullet.

IMG_0487Building the supporting structure of the story is as important as a fired bullet

This is a week about the role of illusions, plot, and puzzles in stories. Today’s entry brought to you by Chekhov’s Gun.

If you want to see how I apply Chekhov’s gun (note: no actual guns involved), my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, is available here.



Illusory- The Dog That Did Nothing

The first puzzle was a series of rings and wood and strings, meant to be detached from one another.

When someone showed me how it worked, it was the closest I had come to witnessing magic.

I’ve always wanted to capture some of that magic myself, in music, in art, in writing.

But something that has been deeply ingrained in my head, much like the careful explanation of removing those rings, is that a clever puzzle needs to also have a full set of clever clues.

It is not enough to reach the end of the story and announce the lengthy and fantastic path to the solution if we have not had the chance to witness that path ourselves.

There were many stories I read that had a brilliant climax but somehow all those clever turns and twists never made it to the page for me to try and solve as well.

It is my greatest regret with the tales of Sherlock Holmes.

We hear that Sherlock is clever.

We witness him saying clever things.


We find out at the end the fabulous solution that he has found using fiendishly obscure clues methodically pieced together.

But we never have a chance to pit ourselves against him. We know that the dog did nothing in the night time, but we do not get the chance to observe those other pieces of evidence, those other careful movements towards a grander whole.

I loved my complete collection of those tales, but there was always a disconnect reading them. They were the stories I could hear at the fireside, not the stories that forced me into the center of the tale.

The more a plot relies on clever twists and conclusions, the greater the responsibility to share those steps, no matter how obscured.

Whether it is a mystery or a romance or a dissertation on the existential dissatisfaction of small marine sea squirts, the smoke and mirrors should always be penetrable by a careful reader.

The dog may do nothing, but the story must always provide something to lead us towards the exquisite murder of a man by the horse he tried to lame.

IMG_0579The view may be distorted, but the dog must be recognizable.

This is a week about the role of illusions, plot, and puzzles in stories. Today’s referenced story is Silver Blaze by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

For animals who do something, you can read my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor. It is available here.