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. 

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