The Tragedy of Fernando and Rosita: A lesson in story structure

For writers of narrative fiction and nonfiction, a vital element in retaining the interest of the reader is story structure. Indeed, regardless of how well you construct your sentences, or how deep your philosophical musings, the reader will be more likely to keep reading if you structure your story and characters in an enticing manner.

Hence, in a recent class session of the Paris American Academy writing workshop, I had students create collective tales by following a simple story-structure recipe. First, a student wrote a sentence creating a character. A second student then introduced a second character and created a conflict. A third student created a complication to the conflict, preferably involving dialogue. A fourth student created another complication, and a fifth student gave the story a climax. In this way, we were able to create a number of entertaining stories over the course of this 45-minute free-writing exercise.

The following story, which I’ll call “The Tragedy of Fernando and Rosita”, was written by Jeremy Rizik, Alexandra Bockfeldt, Joyce Hardy McDonald, Annette Terkaly, and Deborah Patton, in that order. And, despite the fact that it was authored spontaneously by five people of various backgrounds — differing in age from 17 to 79 — it holds together as a charming and engrossing (if not wildly original) example of how good use of structure can keep you reading until the very last line. [Note that changes of authorship are denoted by an asterisk (*).]

The Tragedy of Fernando and Rosita

Fernando the bullfighter entered the room, pleased by the women’s expressions of infidelity. * Rosita, his favorite, made her way over to him like a serpent, pushing past the throng of other prostitutes. “Twenty dollars,” she whispered in his ear. “Only tonight. Special price for special man.”

Fernando cleared his throat to reject her. After all, it was his son Hernando’s birthday tomorrow, and his wife had sent him out to buy a present. Rosita clawed at his bullfighter uniform, her long red nails gleaming in the candlelight. *

“Quit clawing at my uniform,” said Fernando. “My wife will notice the scratches. Anyway, I have only twenty dollars to spend on my son’s birthday present — and if I don’t, I will be killed.”

“Am I not worth twenty dollars?” said Rosita. “Take your son fishing. Worms are free.”

“I do not want to die; my wife is bigger than me, and stronger. I am afraid of her. She is so cold and you are so warm. I am badly tempted, but I am not that brave.” *

“Well I am not afraid of your wife!” Rosita snatched the twenty-dollar bill out of Fernando’s hand and quickly stuffed it into her bodice. Fernando gasped at her audacity, and — now angered — thrust his hand down the front of her shirt to retrieve the bill.

His fingertips had just felt the money under her left breast when he heard the creak of the door. His stomach suddenly felt full of ice water when he saw his wife enter the room, her eyes widening in shock as she took in the sight before her.

Puta!” she screamed, although it was unclear whom she was referring to, as her eyes were only on Fernando. “I send you to buy a birthday present for your son’s birthday, and this is what you do!” She reached down and pulled a stiletto from a small sheath on her ankle. “Now I will cut off your cojones!” She advanced toward him, the blade pointed menacingly at his crotch. *

Suddenly, she plunged the blade into Rosita, not taking her eyes off her cowardly husband, who never moved an inch. Rosita died in an instant. She slumped at Fernando’s feet. His wife stepped over her lifeless body.

The other prostitutes scattered. They knew there would be no justice for poor Rosita. Fernando’s wife was one of the most important women in the town, because she was the richest.

Raphael Munoz, Seville’s only sheriff, appeared with his men. They had frequented the house many times themselves, but never expected to see their favorite Rosita, dead at only twenty-one.

Posted by | Comments Off on The Tragedy of Fernando and Rosita: A lesson in story structure  | July 14, 2005
Category: Travel Writing

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