Monday, February 19, 2018

Story without Structure/Costello without Abbott

    
“Story without structure is like . . . Abbott without Costello,” says James Scott Bell in his book Story Structure: The Key to Understanding the Power of Story.   
          Who didn’t love the famous vaudevillian comedy duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello where Abbott played the straight man and Costello played the comic foil?  I suggest story without structure is more likely Costello without Abbott. Without the straight man feeding jokes to Costello, they would not be the team we remember.
A good story is nothing without good structure.
          Extending the analogy of their memorable skit of Who’s on First, let’s look at what Mr. Bell says about story and structure.
·      Who’s on first?
The writer starts with an idea so meaty it merits a story, but the writer needs a playbook - work out a plan, a strategy, a smattering of ideas - before taking the field. 
·      What’s on second?
Next, the writer brainstorms scenes, fleshes out characters, studies emotions, and lists problems with possible solutions.
·      I don’t know is on third.
While watching first and second, third base keeps a keen eye on plays, possible tangents, and the opposite team on base.  He covers for second, knowing he is the stop closest to home. In plain speak, third base explores and extend ideas and tangents, studies obstacles, makes connections between characters. 
·      Why is left field.
“. . . there are three kinds of death: physical, professional, psychological.” Who doesn’t jump to their feet when the batter hits it out into left field?  It adds excitement to the game. The person playing this position has to be quick and have a good arm. When a ball is hit into this zone, the game is reduced into its simplest form: a three-act play: an action, a battle, and its result.
·      Because is centerfield.
What’s at stake? What must the character overcome? What’s the quest? Centerfield covers most of the outfield, including first and second base.  The author does the same, delving into the emotions of the main character, the antagonist, the secondary characters, the whole reason for the story – the conflict, the tension, and the theme.
·      I don’t care is the short stop.
Without a well developed main character, one with whom the reader identifies, there is no story. There is no investment.  When Costello died and the duo was no more, Abbott’s career ended as well. The short stop covers first and second base – the who and the what of the story.
·      Tomorrow is the pitcher (and so is the catcher).
“Creating magic takes work, not just play.” The pitcher and the catcher are the two most important players because all action depends on them. The catcher faces the players and advises the pitcher.  Together they read the game and the players and decide what to play.  From this perspective, the author does the same with each chapter as the story is structured into its final form.

I read that as their popularity waned in Hollywood, Abbott and Costello went their separate ways.  They tried working comedy on their own but were not as successful, so they reunited off and on when the opportunity arose until Costello’s death.  Just like Mr. Bell’s analogy, they did their best work together.      

Monday, February 12, 2018

Forming Something from Nothing


My father tucked us into bed at night when we were children with stories – memories of his childhood, both funny or poignant; fairy tales passed down from parent to child; or fables he created to teach us life lessons. We never tired of the stories he repeated night after night, but sometimes he would beg us to let him come up with something new. 
He would ask us to name a main character, choose a problem to be faced, and call out whether the story should be funny or serious. Within minutes, he would have us entranced with a new nighttime favorite.
His credited his mother for his skill as a storyteller. He said he looked forward to bedtime as a child after a long, hard day eking a living on the “rancho” in deep south Texas, because she would regale him and his siblings with the most wonderful, pleasurable “cuentos” and “fantasias.” She would sweep him away from the hard life they lived into fabulous places where everything always ended happily.

Maybe that is where I get my intrinsic need to create stories.  Maybe it is not only genetic but hereditary.  There is something magical about birthing a story where none existed before.  I love plucking ideas out of thin air and breathing life into them.  I love forming something viable where nothing existed before. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

In the Movie of my Life


          If my life were a movie, I would be the quirky sidekick, the nerdy friend, the sage mentor in the background who offers a shoulder, advice, and a mug of cocoa or a glass of wine to the lead character.  I am Ally Sheedy, Mary Stuart Masterson, or Lee Sobieski in every movie they ever made before fading into obscurity.
          The roles they played made them seen more clumsy than cool, more pokey than popular, more bookish than beautiful, but without them the lead would never find herself.  They stood firm and sure of themselves while the lead floundered and struggled and got top billing.  Without them there would not be a movie.
          In retrospection, they are the true heroes of the movie.  Without them, the lead would continue to whine and lose or allow herself to be bullied. 
          In the movie of my life, I push my way to the front and make the camera focus on me; after all, it is My movie and not theirs.
          We carefully nourish our bodies with healthy foods, so why not nourish our souls as well?  Why surround ourselves with the harmful, the pessimistic, the bullies who want to tear us down?  I prefer to love myself, give myself top billing, and advocate for what is healthy and productive.


“The light of the body is the eye; if then your eye is true, all your body will be full of light.”  Matthew 6:22

Monday, January 29, 2018

A Few of my Favorite Things


Raindrops on roses . . .
I love getting presents, but I love giving them more.  While shopping if I see something that reminds me of someone, I buy it and give it to them the next time I see them.  I seldom wait for a birthday or any other special day.
With ten grandchildren, I am on the constant look out for things they might enjoy – books, toys, clothing.  I love to shower them with presents, but come September, as much as it hurts, I stop doling out goodies and start hoarding for their Christmas stash.
Brown paper packages tied up with string. . .
My blog turns seven years old this April.  It needs a revamp, a rebrand, a rejuvenation, so I decided to celebrate its anniversary with my followers, those dedicated few who have stuck it out with me throughout the journey finding my “voice” and all.  Hey, we celebrate birthdays with presents and cake, right?
But there will be no cake. Sorry.
To be eligible to win the end-of-the-month giveaway, a reader has to follow on my blog page (and, sorry again, be a member who lives within the contiguous United States because of the postage).
For January, I have chosen to giveaway my favorite thesaurus The Synonym Finder by J. I. Rodale.  I found my first copy years ago at a Borders bookstore and have since owned five copies of this book.  The original one sits on my book shelf, tape and glue holding its binder together, but I have a second copy on my desk.  Two were gifts, and the fifth copy sits inside a “If it fits, it ships” postal box, waiting for its new owner.
I have also chosen a movie whose story made such a huge impression on me that I scoured the Internet for years until I found it for purchase.  Made in Ireland, and originally a four-part series on the BBC, Falling for a Dancer didn’t make it to the US (and Amazon) until recently.  I own the DVD and the original book by its author, and I watch all three hours and twenty minutes of this treasure once a year.
The reader/writer giveaway would not be complete without including a swanky new journal and some writing implements, so I added some of those in there too.
I simply remember my favorite things. . .
I keep hoarding things for future giveaways and have to restrain myself from doling them all out at once, so favorite readers. . .  
Join as a follower. Get in on the fun.  I promise you will enjoy the gifts.

 And thank you for sticking with me all these years. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

My Most Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World



          My father taught me to read long before I went to school.  There were few children’s books in our house, so he opted for the encyclopedia set displayed in the living room. 
          Volume 1: Aa-Az.
          He loved nonfiction and probably wanted a return on his investment since the set was so expensive.  He thought it was a good place to start.
          I know everything there is to know about aardvarks.
          I have been in love with reading and writing all my life. I remember playing in my mother’s flowerbeds and scratching letters into the dirt with a stick when I was barely out of diapers. I spent seven years in a Catholic elementary school with a library so small that all the books were my friends. By the time I graduated, I had read every book twice, sometimes three times.
          At home, my mother bought provocative, pulp, best sellers, and my father collected graphic, historical, nonfiction, but both were strictly off limits to us kids. Since they both worked full time jobs, I snuck and read my parents’ books whenever they would not be home for long stretches of time.  My grandmother took care of us, but she was too busy reading her own “Mexican novellas” written in Spanish to notice what I was doing, reading from the “adult” section of our book collection.
          I have read thousands of books in my lifetime.  Many are memorable and many weren’t, so not one stands out as my favorite.
          Sure, I could name the Bible or some classic.  Maybe a book on social change or an eye-opening best seller.  How about a sleeper that no one else has stumbled across?  I could impress you with my superior knowledge, pretend to be cool and cosmopolitan, but the truth is – I am a book nerd and nothing else. I am in love with books, hundreds of them, and it all started when I mastered the encyclopedia entry on aardvarks. 

Thanks, Dad. Your investment paid off.