Pumpkin Coach And A Glass Slipper

To get a better idea of how narrative structure works, let's apply it to a familiar tale—a Disneyesque version of Cinderella.

You remember Cindy. She's the sad drudge who is forced by her evil stepsisters to dress in rags and do the household scut work while they preen in silken finery and indulge themselves in pleasures. The central issue of the story is: Will Cinderella break away from the family's clutches and find happiness?

The inciting incident occurs when the household receives an invitation to a ball at the royal palace. The stepsisters are atwitter with excitement, and not only at the prospect of enjoying all that glitter and glamour. Here is their chance to beguile the Prince with their beauty, perhaps even to snag him as a husband for one stepsister or the other.

Cindy, of course, would like to go to the ball also. This is her desire as the tale begins. But if she were simply to attend the party with the others, there would be no story. Happily, her relatives create complications. They forbid her to go. They make her help stitch up their gorgeous gowns while they mock her dowdy work dress. They set her to sweeping ashes out of the hearth while they dress for an evening of dancing. Finally they step into their fine coach and ride off, leaving a tearful Cindy behind. End of story.

Hold on... it's not the end after all. Here we have the first crisis, a moment at which the story heads in a new direction. The fairy godmother appears.

This is the answer Cinderella has been hoping for. The fairy godmother, a resourceful type, restyles Cindy's rags into a gown of gold and gossamer, converts a pumpkin from the garden into a coach, and changes the house mice into high-stepping horses to pull it. When Cindy arrives at the palace, the Prince is enchanted by the beauty she has finally revealed. He falls madly in love with this mysterious, unknown woman—surely a princess—and decides he must marry her. End of story.

Except... there are further complications. The magic that transformed Cinderella came with strings attached. At the stroke of midnight, everything will revert to its original state—coach to pumpkin, horses to mice, ball gown to tattered dress, and Cinderella to, well, Cinderella again. But Cindy—enjoying the fes-tivities,thrilled by the attentions of the Prince, smugly satisfied by her stepsisters' envy and dismay—loses track of the time.

When the clock strikes twelve Cindy panics and flees, leaving the bewildered Prince behind. The magic ends, and her life returns to the way it was before the fairy godmother appeared. End of story.

But wait...we have another crisis, a second turning point. As Cinderella dashes away from the ball, one of her glass slippers falls from her foot. The Prince finds it on the palace steps and sets out on a quest, determined to have every young woman in the land try it on. He will marry the one whose foot fits the tiny, delicate shoe, for she must be his beloved, mysterious princess.

Naturally his search leads him to Cinderella's house, where the evil stepsisters have been working poor Cindy harder than ever. The moment of confrontation and climax is at hand.

The stepsisters, thrilled by the Prince's arrival, are determined to cram their feet into the slipper. Alas, try as they might, their feet are too big. (An early version of this tale has them chopping off their own toes in an effort to make the shoe fit.) The Prince is about to leave the house in despair when he spots Cindy with her tattered dress and old broom. Despite the stepsisters' protests, he invites her to try on the glass slipper. Of course it slides easily onto her foot.

Finally we have the denouement. The stepsisters, with their greed and ambition and cruelty, are vanquished. Arm in arm with her Prince, Cinderella returns in triumph to the palace, where they live happily ever after.

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