[Ads-l] Adage: Only two possible stories: you go on a journey, or a stranger comes to town

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed May 6 22:59:53 UTC 2015


Charlie very kindly helped me with the citations for the saying in the
subject line. Now there is an entry on this topic on the website:


There Are Only Two Plots: (1) A Person Goes on a Journey (2) A Stranger
Comes to Town

http://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/05/06/two-plots/


Garson

On Fri, May 1, 2015 at 1:27 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com
> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Adage: Only two possible stories: you go on a journey, or a
>               stranger comes to town
>
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>
> An adage about literature has been attributed to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo
> Tolstoy, and John Gardner. Here are three versions:
>
> 1) There are only two plots in all of literature: you go on a journey, or
> the stranger comes to town.
>
> 2) All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a
> stranger comes to town
>
> 3) There are only two possible stories: a man goes on a journey, or a
> stranger comes to town.
>
> I've been asked to trace the expression. Current hypothesis: The saying was
> derived from a writing exercise John Gardner presented in: The Art of
> Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers (1984). Details are given further
> below.
>
> Any help with early citations and information would be greatly appreciated.
>
> Below is the partial data for two citations I am attempting to learn about
> and verify.
>
> The metadata for the first citation is based on extracted text and
> guesswork. Google Books did not specify the article title that I list.
> Also, Google Books ambiguously listed number 1 or 2 of volume 14.
>
> Year: 1986
> Volume 14, Number: 1
> Periodical: Coda: Poets & Writers Newsletter
> Article title: Notes from a Contest Judge
> Article subtitle: David Long reports on his experiences
> Article Subsection Number: 7
> Page Number: Unknown
>
> [Begin excerpt]
> 7. John Gardner once observed that there are only two plots: A stranger
> rides into town, and A man goes on a journey. I think he's right: there's
> no such thing as a new plot, and I don't expect to find one in the stack of
> manuscripts.
> [End excerpt]
>
>
> Year: 1987 to 1989
> Periodical: Literary Magazine Review
> Volumes 6-7
> Quote Page 11
> Database: Google Books Snippet View; data may be inaccurate
>
> [Begin extracted text]
> John Gardner once said (I am told) that there are really only two plots: "A
> stranger rides into town" and "A man goes on a journey." Both of these
> plots examine a man or woman's ability to deal with an unfamiliar culture
> (and the culture's ability to deal with an unfamiliar man or woman).
> [End extracted text]
>
> Back in 1984 John Gardner did not make any grandiose claims about all great
> literature or all possible stories in "The Art of Fiction". But he did
> refer to the "usual novel beginning" while presenting an exercise.
>
> [ref] 1984, The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John
> Gardner, Section: Exercises, Quote Page 203, Published by Alfred A. Knopf,
> New York. (Verified on paper)[/ref]
>
> [Begin excerpt]
> II. Individual Exercises for the Development of Technique  . . .
>
> 5. Write the opening of a novel using the authorial-omniscient voice,
> making the authorial omniscience clear by going into the thoughts of one or
> more characters after establishing the voice. As subject, use either a trip
> or the arrival of a stranger (some disruption of order--the usual novel
> beginning).
> [End excerpt]
>
> Some of Gardner's exercises were reprinted in "Harper's Magazine" in March
> 1984 including the text for exercise 5 given above.
>
> [ref] 1984 March, Harper's Magazine, Volume 268, Section: Readings,
> Exercises: For the Young Writer, (Excerpt from "The Art of Fiction" by John
> Gardner), Quote Page 39, Column 1 and 2, Published by Harper's Magazine
> Foundation, New York. (Verified on paper)[/ref]
>
> "The New York Times" was an important locus for the dissemination of the
> adage, I believe.
>
> [ref] 1987 April 30, New York Times, Hers by Mary Morris, (Hers was a
> regular column; Mary Morris was the guest writer for a few weeks; Morris
> was described as the author of "Nothing to Declare" to be published by
> Houghton Mifflin), Quote Page C2, New York. (ProQuest)[/ref]
>
> [Begin excerpt]
> John Gardner once said that there are only two plots in all of literature:
> you go on a journey, or the stranger comes to town.
>
> Since women, for so many years, were denied the journey, we were left with
> only one plot to our lives - to await the stranger. Indeed, there is no
> picaresque tradition among women who are novelists. Women's literature,
> from Austen to Woolf, is mostly about waiting, usually for love. Denied the
> freedom to roam outside themselves, women turned inward, into their
> emotions.
> [End excerpt]
>
> In 1989 a writer in "The Miami Herald" reprinted the assertion made by Mary
> Morris about John Gardner.
>
> [ref] 1989 June 18, The Miami Herald, Article: A Young Woman's Escape from
> Life on Hold, Author: Debbie Sontag (Herald Staff), Quote Page 9C, Miami,
> Florida. (NewsBank Access World News)[/ref]
>
> [Begin excerpt]
> Morris is fascinated with journeys, internal and round-the-world. In her
> last book, Nothing to Declare, she offered a frank, gripping narration of
> her own travels in Mexico and Central America. And in a column that ran in
> The New York Times in 1987, she wrote:
>
> "John Gardner once said that there are only two plots in all of literature:
> You go on a journey, or the stranger comes to town. Since women, for so
> many years, were denied the journey, we were left with only one plot in our
> lives -- to await the stranger." Always, the stranger is a man.
> [End excerpt]
>
> Apple Computer executive John Sculley included the saying in his 1987 book
> about his experiences in business:
>
> [ref] 1987, Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple - A Journey of Adventure, Ideas, and
> the Future by John Sculley with John A. Byrne, Section: About the Book,
> Quote Page 423, Published by Harper & Row, New York, (Verified on
> paper)[/ref]
>
> [Begin excerpt]
> Novelist John Gardner once said there were only two themes in all of
> literature: someone goes on a journey, and the stranger comes to town.
> Perhaps publishers sensed both themes in my experience.
> [End excerpt]
>
> In 2007 an article in "The New York Times" noted that several names were
> attached to the saying:
>
> [ref] 2007 November 4, New York Times, Town Without Pity by Stephen
> Metcalf, New York. (Accessed nytimes.com on May 1, 2015)[/ref]
>
> http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/books/review/Metcalf2-t.html
>
> [Begin excerpt]
> Someone -- it's been attributed to everyone from Dostoyevsky to John
> Gardner
> -- once said there are only two possible stories: a man goes on a journey,
> or a stranger comes to town.
> [End excerpt]
>
> Garson
>
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>

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