Monday, March 12, 2018

Living our Life Story/ Autobiographical Writing Prompts

Among the many preparations for my mother’s funeral last week, I was responsible for collecting and scanning photos to create a video of her life.  I also volunteered to deliver her eulogy, a presentation and a farewell for a long life well lived. 
Not everything I collected was used.  Both the video and the eulogy were heavily edited by me, not because my mother lived a scandalous life, but because some things were private. 
Some folks sent pictures that out of context were no longer funny.  Some things that happened in her ninety years on earth were not for display.
All of this makes me aware of how I have lived my own life.  Some things were not of my choosing and also not for public display.
My maternal grandmother once told me one should have no regrets at the end of the journey on this earth.  I asked her how one accomplishes that, and she said, “Forgiveness.”  Forgive yourself and the other person. Life is full of mistakes, but instead of dwelling on them, forgive yourself, learn from it, and move on.
Wise woman.
Here are some autobiographical writing prompts.  They dwell on the positives in our lives.  Use them as a guide as you move toward a life with no regrets.
1.    Who did you love most and why?
2.    What are your best accomplishments and why?
3.    What are your best characteristics/the best things about you?
4.    What were the best days of your life and why?
5.    Who were your best and truest friends and why?
6.    Who are/were the people who made the most difference in your life?
7.    For what would you like to be remembered?
8.    Make a list of “firsts,” firsts that shaped you into the person you are today:
first kiss, first car, first love, first encounter with death, first moment you realized you were now an adult, first heart break, first disappointment, first . . ..

Monday, March 5, 2018

Be the Hero of Your Own Story

Half a lifetime ago, an acquaintance walked up to me and handed me a worn paperback book.  She thrust it at me in passing and said the book reminded her of me.  I was caught off guard.  We were nothing more than fellow employees so I was intrigued by what she meant by that.  I looked at the book and noticed its imprint.  It was a romance novel. 
She took off, back to work before I could ask more from her, but she did yell over her shoulder that she wanted me to return the book once I read it. Since it was Friday and the weekend loomed ahead, I decided to read the book and return it the following Monday.
It was long ago but I remember the plot and the author’s name.  It was about a single mother of three who falls for the hunky neighbor next door.  Since both my neighbors were happily married and only one kind of fell into the hunky description, I figured that was not the part that reminded my fellow worker about me, besides there was no way she would know either of these two men unless she stalked my neighborhood.
I must have reminded her of the lead character – a single mother of three and her sad sack life:  divorced from an abusive, freeloader of a husband, one who abandoned all responsibility onto the ex-wife.
How this woman knew my personal life is the bane of all small, tight working communities.  Everyone knows the other person’s business and feels it is their right to interfere and offer counsel. Either this woman was offering me hope – I would one day find a hunky handyman and live happily ever after, or she wanted me to stop with the hangdog frump and get my act together.
I pasted a smile on my face when I returned her book and thanked her, not for the comparison to the protagonist, but for introducing me to Nora Roberts. She looked surprised, probably thinking I had missed her not-so-subtle hint, but unless she came out and voiced her insulting opinion of me, I wasn’t going to let her off the hook.
I now own about half of everything Ms. Roberts has ever written but that is because it does not include her J.D. Robbs’ books. My library includes first-hand and second-hand purchases.  I even own an original copy of her very first romance novel that I found at a used book store. As a true fan, it means more to me that owning a diamond ring.
I have forgotten the name of the lady who handed me her worn out paperback, but that day is etched in my mind forever. I decided I would not wait for some handsome hunk to save me from my distress. I would save myself, thank you very much. Ms. Roberts would expect that from me. 
And if I ever met a handsome handyman (shout out to HoneyBunch), he would love me for being the hero of my own story.  

Monday, February 26, 2018

Once Upon a Time . . . There Lived . . .

          I love movies with well-told stories, interesting characters, and realistic endings. 
          When Rhett Butler walks away from Scarlett in the last scene of Gone with the Wind, my heart breaks for her but I go with him.  Though his character changes in the story, hers doesn’t.  She will continue to be who she is, while he learned, though painfully, from their experience together.
          In Something’s Gotta Give, an aging playboy, who has always dated young women barely old enough to vote, wonders if he can settle down with one woman, especially one more his age, one eligible for AARP benefits.  Harry Sanborn spends the better part of Act II facing and atoning for his past before trying to reunite with Erica Barry.  As the credits roll, I wonder how long before his eyes start roaming again, but more importantly, what happens to Dr. Julian Mercer?  
I suggest a sequel.  Since he seems to go for older women, I picture the following: he treats me for the H3N2 flu and sees past my runny nose, watery eyes, and commanding cowlick.  My inner beauty erases the heartache and memory of the fickle Erica and we live happily ever after.  (At least, I would. What?  I know I said I like realistic endings, but this could happen.)
Another favorite movie is Sabrina.  I own both the 1954 and 1995 versions but prefer the more recent edition better.  The Humphrey Bogart/Audrey Hepburn age difference always makes me cringe, while the Harrison Ford/Julia Ormond version is not only more believable, but the actors are also more likeable on screen.  When the viewer is given the backstory of all the times Linus Larrabee noticed Sabrina Fairchild before her ugly-duckling-into-swan transformation, I agree she should chose him over the flighty playboy David who has always been more concerned about looks.
There are many other favorites, but you get the picture:  good story line, identifiable characters, sensible ending. You might have noticed these three examples depend on the male lead’s transformation more than the female’s but I am saving those for a future blog, so I leave you with this. . . once upon a time. . .   

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.