STORYBOARD

Now to the storyboard.  The best way to explain a storyboard is to describe how it’s used.  Let’s say we were going to do a TV commercial about a particular hotel.  We are standing in front of the building ready to shoot, when the actor who is going to recite his lines positioned in front of the hotel says: “Wait a minute.  I did a spot something like this a couple months ago, and instead of my just talking to the camera with the hotel in the background, after a few sentences the camera went inside and showed the viewer the swimming pool, restaurant and conference rooms I was describing.”  The  cameraman pipes up, “Are you saying I have to drag my equipment from room to room in that place, it’s not what I budgeted for.”  The lighting specialist is  complaining he didn’t bring the right kind of gels for indoors, and the sound engineer is yelling (he has earphones on), “Do you only want the talent’s voice or also ambient sound in each of those rooms, or what?”  It’s anarchy…with everyone being paid a couple hundred dollars per hour, besides.  To alleviate this, before going on the shoot, the director creates something that looks like a comic script, called a “storyboard.”  It is a way of thinking through the creative decisions on paper–figuring out how the visuals and the words fit–before involving the expensive technicians in its execution.        

               

As a writer, you’re also in the pictures and words business, even if your pictures are verbal ones.  And a storyboard, as we’re going to do it, gives you a chance to make some of the creative choices before investing the time in writing them out.  Have you ever agonized over something for hours only to discover when it was too late that another approach would have worked better?  This saves you that frustration.  Should you write without a structure or should you plot out the story and then write?  The answer is you have to do a little of both (and get practice in both), but always be more willing to go where the characters take you than to try making them to conform to a preconceived plan. Don’t be firmly locked into a structure too early, no matter how inspired. 

 

I’m going to give you an example, then ask you to select one of your own. We’ll work through the different stages of the storyboard step-by-step together. My example is based on a couple I knew when I was managing a restaurant years ago. Tim, a cook, and his girl friend were expecting a child. I often wonder what happened to them; however this turned into a story idea when I imagined the couple, not in Madison, Wisconsin, but stranded in a country like Puerto Rico–a twist on people from a poorer country trying to survive here.  

 

As you see, the example under Part A says, “a Midwest couple stranded without any money in Puerto Rico are expecting a child.”  That is followed by three choices, one of which you are welcome to alter and use for this exercise: A. boy rebelling against his invalid mother who is raising him; B. middle-aged man is jealous of his wife’s relationship with her associates at the office where she works, C. woman entering a retirement home after years of being very independent.  D, E and F are for three story ideas of your own.  Whether or not you use one of them, for the sake of the exercise, write down three of your own examples.  These can be based on the first and second writing exercises we did or on some other experience or person you’d like to spend some time writing about. Story ideas, like scenes are everywhere.  We don’t have to use our imaginations, only observe our surroundings. Here are two more story ideas I’ve recently been thinking about.  I worked at a small ad agency in which I, at fifty-three, was the youngest male employee.  A senior copy writer and senior designer and myself were sitting at a meeting reviewing a new ad for a client.  The copywriter turned to me and said, “Is it me or does this type look too small and hard to read.”  The miffed art director then commented, “What is it with this guy, whenever he talks he mumbles; I can’t hear him.”  I thought what a funny story idea: an ad agency of all senior citizens who are working on hip commercials for young consumers–sort of a Thirty Something meets Golden Girls. 

               

Here’s another story idea. At the end of March, I was looking for a new used car.  The weather was incredibly nice for Wisconsin.  I bought a Mustang convertible.  As luck would have it, when I picked it up a few days later it was snowing.  I called my daughter in New York to tell her that I got a new convertible in the snow.  She wasn’t home so I left a message on her machine.  At midnight she called back and said that that was the greatest April Fools Day joke (I hadn’t realized it was April 1st).  She  was so inspired by my “prank” that she called her mother and left a  message on her machine that she was eloping and going to live in Nashville.  Meanwhile my son had become really frustrated with his job and his live.  He and my ex-wife were involved in an intense discussion on how he might leave town right away and start all over in Cape Cod.  What is true? what is false? and what is false that becomes true all on April 1st, April Fool’s Day?

  

I’ve been giving you time to think. Now it’s your turn. Before you turn to the next part write three story idas of your own.  

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ANALYZING VITAL ELEMENTS

WHAT’S SHE PLOTTING?

           

This example illustrates how vantage point can be shifted from one scene to the next and the effect of altering the sequence of scenes.  As you read it see if you can identify each scene.

 

Example 10

                                            NEWSPAPER WARS

 

Teresa stepped gingerly onto the steps, damp with the morning dew.  A light dusting of fine hail covered the  ground.  The blue, plastic wrapped New York Times rested just feet away.  She took one step off the stoop, reached with her arm and lost her footing.  She gathered herself, too embarrassed to hurt, and looked around to see if anyone had seen her.

           

Back upstairs, she walked into the bathroom to rub vaseline on her scraped elbow and arm.  “I slipped and fell on my back trying to bring in your paper.”

           

Tom slid open the mirrored shower door and peered through the cloud of steam.  “Did you say something?”

           

“I went out to get your newspaper and slipped and fell on my back.”

           

“What shoes were you wearing?”

           

“My slippers.”

           

“That’s the worst traction you can have,” he said and went back to his shower.

           

“It was very undignified.  My legs flew out.  I flashed everyone driving on Odana Road.  My robe pulled up behind me.  I scraped my back.  I’ve got grains of ice on my underwear.  My hip hurts.  I was trying to bring in your paper.”

 

                                                                             #

 

Two weeks earlier after a heavier snow, she had gone out to bring in the morning papers.  The Wisconsin State Journal sat in its usual spot inside the screen door.  She looked from the door and through the windows but the New York Times was nowhere on the front yard.  If it’s there it’s buried under six inches of snow.  He can’t expect me to go out in this to get it, she thought and went back upstairs with only her paper.  It was Saturday morning and she allowed herself the luxury of reading the paper under the covers and maybe dozing back to sleep.

           

“It’s not out there,” Tom said, disappointed after going out in the morning snow.  He wore his boots with no socks, his bare legs exposed below the striped, terry robe.  It finally arrived, but only after Tom had driven to the nearby grocery store to buy the Times off the rack.

           

“Teresa, I’m going out to do errands.  I’ll be gone several hours.”  He was curt, his face inexpressive.

           

“What’s eating him, the papers?” she thought as she heard the back door shut firmly, a restrained slam.

           

 Hours later he returned, still not saying much.  He placed two full grocery bags on the kitchen table.  Quietly, he peeled and sliced apples, strawberries and bananas placing them on the trays, spacing them evenly, meticulously.

           

“You’re drying strawberries:”

           

“Do you disapprove?”

           

“No.  I bought the food dehydrator for your birthday, remember?”

           

 “That’s only because I told you I wanted it.  You never would have gotten it on your own.”

           

“I can see drying fruit when it’s in season and there’s too much to eat fresh, but in February….”

           

“Well, it’s my new toy and I want to see how it works.”

           

Teresa dropped that conversation and looked at the full grocery bags.

           

“You don’t get it, do you?”  Tom charged, moving the argument to a different level.  “Who do you think takes the other more for granted, you or me?”

           

Teresa sighed impatiently.  “I suppose you think I do.”

           

“That’s what this is about.  It’s not about the newspapers.”

           

“Tom, the paper wasn’t there.  I couldn’t have brought it in for you even if I had gone out in the snow.”

           

“It doesn’t matter.  You didn’t even try.  I always bring in your paper when I get up first, which is every week day.  I turn up the heat in the morning so that when you get out of bed the house is warm.  I make muffins for you for breakfast.  You haven’t even apologized.”

           

“No reason to.  The paper wasn’t there.”

           

Tom walked over to the grocery bags on the table.  “Did you see what I bought to send the girls in their care packages?”

           

Teresa looked closely through the bags and saw two sets of treats: jelly bellies, cheese balls, peanuts, microwave popcorn, almonds….

           

“You went out without me to get care package treats for my daughter?  I thought we said yesterday we were going together.”

           

“I got treats for our daughters.”

           

Now she was angry, hurt.  How dare he go out and buy treats to send my daughter based on what his daughter likes, she thought.  And he excluded me.

           

Not wanting to be left out entirely, Teresa quietly packaged the snacks and took them to the post office for shipping.  After her return the silence continued.

           

“I’ll apologize to you if you apologize to me.” Tom stated.  “Then maybe we can start the day over.”  By then Teresa’s mind was plotting.  She did not answer.  Tom’s face tightened.

           

Later that evening, surrounded by friends, they accepted toasts and good wishes with raised champagne glasses, “Salud!”

           

“What is the first fight you’ve had since you’ve been married?  To this day I remember the first argument Ellen and I had.”

           

It was Tom’s brother, Steve, talking.  Was that a rhetorical question?  Silence followed.  All eyes focused on Tom, then on Teresa.  They expected an answer.

           

Teresa looked quickly at Tom.  “Oh, it was about his not picking up after himself.”

           

“But she’ll never make the mistake of not bringing in my newspaper again,” Tom added.

           

Naturally, they demanded more details.  Soon Tom was in the middle of that morning’s newspaper fiasco.

           

“During the week, I always bring in both papers.  The yellow rag of a newspaper she gets is always placed inside the door.  My New York Times that I pay $90 a quarter for barely makes it within the property line.  This morning, Teresa got up first and brought in her paper but didn’t bring in mine.”

           

“You forgot to tell them that your newspaper wasn’t even there.”

           

“That’s irrelevant.  I didn’t see your footprints on the snow.”  turning to Sally, Tom finished: “So, what do you say, is she guilty?”

           

“Hm,” Sally paused giving herself time to think of something diplomatic. “I think you should cancel your subscription to the New York Times.”  The entire room laughed.  So did Tom.  Steve added,”Tom, you need to give a generous tip to your delivery boy so that he’ll land the paper closer to the door.”

 

                                                                             #

 

Tom stepped out of the shower as Teresa was still dressing the scrapes on her arm.  “Are you OK?”

           

“I’ll live.”

           

“Did you bring in my paper?”

           

“Of course, after all that effort, I wasn’t about to come back empty-handed.”

                                                                                                                              Teresa

           

Reading this you might feel you don’t know if you’d put up with Tom for long.  Teresa falls down getting his newspaper and all he can say is, “What shoes were you wearing?”  It is through his reaction that we immediately get an impression of him.  It doesn’t take much.  Just a few insensitive words and we conclude he’s stubborn and self-centered.  What about her?  She seems reasonable, yet why would she tolerate this?

           

Notice how the writer brings in opposing characteristics for each person.  He can laugh at himself at the party.  She, on the other hand, really doesn’t want to bring in his newspaper.  She admits she would rather just take hers and snuggle up in bed.  She’s technically innocent of his accusation since the paper isn’t there, but in her heart she may be guilty. 

           

It sounds like this is a second marriage for both and the honeymoon is over.       At first the newspapers seem to be a trivial subject to fight over.  But, the newspapers are symbols.  Hers is more folksy, closer to home; his New York Times is arrogant, cold, distant…like he is.

           

The characters handle the conflict in different ways.  He brings it to a climax at the party, trying to gain allies by making his case in public like a trial lawyer (much as we would in Box D with the sister and friend in our example of the two lawyers).  How does she handle it?  There’s an ominous statement after Tom says “I’ll apologize to you if you apologize to me.  Then maybe we can start the day over.”  The line is: “By then Teresa’s mind was plotting.”   What’s she plotting? 

           

We want to be carried away by the story, but to understand how this writing process works, it’s worth going back into this piece and identifying the different scenes.  The story starts with her falling down on her steps.  How is the scene conveyed to us: through the characters thoughts, words, or actions?  Through her actions, right?

           

Next scene, we’re up in the bathroom with her and Tom.  This scene is conveyed through their talk–their dialogue.  The third scene is two weeks earlier, Teresa is looking out at the snow.  For the first time we have Teresa’s thoughts.  We find out she doesn’t want to get the paper–the very thing Tom will later accuse her of.  Tom’s going to the store to buy a Times is not a fully developed scene.  It is a narrative summary—often a necessary transition to get the reader from one scene to the next.  The same is true about her going to the post office.  The scene following this is their conversation about the food dehydrator and the care package snacks in the kitchen.  Do we get anything new here?   This is mostly dialogue, but it is through this conversation that we learn Tom’s thoughts.  There’s a logical sequence from action to dialogue, from her thoughts to his thoughts, then to their friends at the party–apparently a gathering to celebrate the marriage after the fact.  In the last scene, we’re back in the bathroom.  Back to the man and woman as in our the example of the lawyers.

           

Teresa’s last line is loaded with irony.  “Of course, after all that effort, I wasn’t about to come back empty handed.”  She doesn’t mean the effort of falling down, she also means the argument of the last two weeks.

           

But what is she plotting?  What do writer’s plot?  What they write.  Notice that the name of the author at the end of the story is the same first name as the character in the story, even though she is using third person. Tom brings the dispute to a group of their friends for judgment; through her writing Teresa takes her case to us, a much larger audience.  Because these are real people she has to be fair in her presentation–show strengths and weaknesses of each.  On the other hand, she has the option of how to present the material.  She does what each of us would, and tries to be truthful, yet predispose the reader in her favor.  I identified six scenes.  In a book or a movie the audience usually associates with a character we meet early–we’re eager to identify with someone who will show us how to react to events of the plot.  The first half of this story contains Teresa’s actions, her words (and Tom’s too, but that’s detrimental), and her thoughts.  It’s only by scene four that we get Tom’s side, why he thinks this quarrel over newspapers has deeper significance.  By then we are closely identifying with Teresa and see his words through her perspective.        

           

The scenes are not in chronological order.  This favors her.  For example, he says, “What shoes were you wearing?” and thirty seconds later, “Are you OK?”  The reader doesn’t get that, “Are you OK?” thirty seconds later.  We get it after going back and forth in time for two weeks.

           

Is this manipulation of the scenes to evoke the support of the reader a conscious process?  I doubt it.  Teresa has a problem.  Given what she recounts it doesn’t seem she is having much luck working it out in real life.  She turns to writing to make some sense of it, and the re-creation of the events and empathy of an audience help her to put things back in balance.

           

This is the same woman who wrote about buying a dress for her daughter to attend the funeral of her ex-husband.  She is determined not to “come back empty-handed.”  And the odd thing is, often the reality is forgotten and the written word, though it is slanted, takes its place.  As friends, relatives, her husband, her children, others she doesn’t know…read Newspaper Wars, the story as it’s presented will become reality, not the factual events.

           

The guideline for shifting perspective within a point of view is that it must be consistent within a scene.  When Charles Dickens wrote it was perfectly acceptable to have the first chapter be in the 3rd person, the second in the 1st person, even, on rare occasion, to use the 2nd person.  Audiences accepted this as the way novels were written.  Modern audiences don’t allow this.  Yet in Newspaper Wars we see changes within the 3rd person point of view from scene to scene.  You can think of these like “distant,” “medium,” and “close-up” camera shots.  The audience in a movie theater is always the same distance from the screen, but the different camera shots create the illusion that the audience is closer or more distant from the subject.  With these shifts from scene to scene you are pulling in your reader (having the reader see events as a particular character does) or keeping the reader at more of an objective, God-like distance.  When movies first began, they were filmed plays–the camera was stationary on a tripod.  Modern movies audiences expect movement.  Even though less may be happening, it is more interesting to view it from a vantage point that does change.

           

Years ago I went through a divorce.  It was strange to date after twenty years.  One person I happened to meet on a blind date was Teresa.  A couple years later she showed up for one of the classes I was teaching.  Neither of us recognized the other until that first class.  It was awkward, but she decided to stay.  Later she turned in this story.    I tell this (with her permission) not to embarrass her—I admire her both as a person and as a writer—but to show that just as through her writing I had a chance to see what life with her might have been like, so your readers have a chance to see what the world might be like through the different perspectives you provide.  And that’s intriguing.  It’s like traveling to some exotic location and imagining what it’s like to live there day-by-day, instead of just being a visitor.  And when you drive home from the airport after the plane ride back, you also get a clearer perspective on the life you do live.  

 

 

  

INTUITIVE KNOWLEDGE

How can we put two characters together in a scene, if it never happened?  Or even if it did happen in real life and we weren’t there how can there be any truth to what we write about it? I have a cousin I was close to when I was very young. She’s sixteen years older than I am.  I remember one summer, when I was about eight or nine, we were together at the beach.  I asked her if she wanted to go in swimming.  She was sitting by the water, looking out toward the distance.  She said, no she just wanted to sit there and think.  It was three weeks before she was going to get married.  Yet, even at my young age, I knew she wasn’t lost in thought about wedding arrangements or decorating the apartment she was going to move into.  She was considering her decision, weighing her options.  Forty some years later, as I sat in a conference room in Seattle, the city where she lives, I wondered why I didn’t want to visit her.  I knew it has something to do with the person she married and the decision she had made.  I’d have given anything to know what she was thinking that summer day.  That was the key.  But, how could I find this out?  If I called her she probably wouldn’t remember, or wouldn’t want to remember.  Then I started to do the first exercise, the one you did in which you meet someone unexpectedly. 

          

I chose a building in Bellevue for the location; and because my cousin’s  grown daughter worked in the area she appeared as the unexpected person I met.  In real life it had been almost a year since I’d talked to this daughter.  She is a successful professional in the pharmaceutical field.  Here is what was startling.  Through this interaction I was writing, I came to realize that this daughter represented the alternative choice her mother was considering for herself years ago.  She is the embodiment of that dream deferred.  Through writing I discovered what my cousin had been thinking, and realized that my cousin probably regretted her choice. 

           

This is an example of how writing is an access to truth through the intuitive level.  Intuition can be as certain as direct observation.   

           

Could you write about an historic encounter hundreds of years ago in the same way?  I wouldn’t think so–remember I had real, extended contact with both mother and daughter. But, the next morning after I did the exercise I read an article on Amy Tan that makes me wonder.  Here’s part of what it said: 

 

Writing  The Joy Luck Club helped Tan to better understand her relationship with her mother.“I could go back to any point in my childhood or even my mother’s childhood and imagine how I would have reacted and how my mother would have reacted.  These scenes are not necessarily what we went through.  They are my imaginings, what we would have said to each other…or not said.”

Though Tan invented details of her Joy Luck Club’s stories as she went along, her mother was shocked at how accurately some of them depicted incidents in the family’s history, particularly in regard to the death of Tan’s grandmother.

“She said, ‘How did you know my mother was really the fourth wife, not the first; that it wasn’t an accident, that she killed herself; that it happened on a certain day?’  It gave me the chills,” Tan says.  “It made my mother believe that all of my fiction comes from the other world.”

That other world isn’t necessarily spiritual.  It exists below the surface of things, right where our real subjects dwell, right where our intuition, released through writing, is free to explore.

 

 

OLD BUSINESS  

 

It’s this quality of discovery that makes writing exciting for both writer and reader. In the first half of this book I introduced the first three principle of a writing method based on acting and film editing.   What pulls us into a piece of writing is that we identify with someone in it who is reacting with genuine emotion to events in the narration.  Under the guise of characters we can confront difficult subjects and conflicting aspects of our own personalities.  And, when we project parts of our inner self, and see them in contexts of unlimited possibilities, we free our emotions to take us where they will.  Testing their limits helps us understand who we are.  Through a release of these feelings we are–at least temporarily–more fully ourselves.             

Characters are rooted in scenes.  A scene is a subdivision of a dramatic presentation in which location is fixed and time is continuous.  Scenes are important for three reasons.  First, they ground the reader.  The reader knows where he or she is and who is there.  Second, because scenes are complete in themselves they can be taken out of chronological order–to create more suspense, for example.  (This does not change the order of the events, but changes the order in which those events are presented to the reader.) Third, vantage point (within a fixed point of view) can be shifted subtly from one scene to another. If you once thought in terms of words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, etc…, now think in terms of scenes—the building blocks between paragraphs and chapters.

John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, John Gardner may not plan  their writing the same way I’m going to suggest that you do, but they do think in terms of scenes.  A story idea or plot twist isn’t enough, there have to be characters to dramatize the piece and memorable scenes in which they interact.  At first it may seem like a strain to come up with scenes, but after a while you’ll be like a photographer without a camera, seeing the world in terms of scenes, primarily (in terms of plot, character, and theme… secondarily).

           

The art of writing is in creating structure, yet having the ability to break out of that structure to follow where a subject leads.  Structure is important for you and equally important for your reader.  But too rigid an outline is suffocating; besides outlines emphasize ideas, and as a contemporary writer you’re interested in scenes. I have borrowed a tool from television production that helps you accomplish this.  It’s called a “storyboard.”  Shortly we’ll see how it works.        

The story ideas that become finished pieces are ones that involve the most interesting scenes.  They are fun for us to work out.  You should always have four or five story ideas in the back of your mind when you sit down to write.  After you spend some time with one, you may want to switch to something else but with a ready supply of story ideas you’ll never be forced to stare at an empty screen or blank piece of paper.  To do that is to ask the impossible of yourself.  Always have something ready to blossom or something to fall back on when what you’re writing is not working.  It’s how commercial writers work, with more to do than there is time.  This forces an efficiency which is creatively healthy. 

STRUCTURE AND INTUITION

At this point you may be asking: “Are some of the authors you cite, John Grishom and Robert James Waller, plus the idea of looking at soap operas and B-movies, the best models to emulate for people who want to write?” It’s because these works are less sublime that it’s easier to see the techniques they are using.  Once you grasp how these pieces work, go to more literary writers if you want to see applications that are more intricate and subtle. However, we are talking about a difference of degree and not a difference in kind.  What makes an artist great is beyond his or her effort. Such a writer speaks to his or her times, and has some special significance to those times. That decision is in the hands of the audience, and the vote is being taken continually by which books are purchased and which are not selling and are consequently discontinued. I prefer Scott Turrow to John Grishom, myself, but there is no denying that Grishom, Stephen King, Danielle Steele, Waller, and other best-selling authors, have a genius for giving the public what it wants, as did Nathaniel Hawthorne, Stephen Crane, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway—best selling authors of their times.  True these latter names also have had a significance for subsequent generations; but it will be future generations who will read or not read the current crop as well.  About a century and a half ago some teacher was harping on a student to put away that crap by Nathaniel Hawthorne and read his assignment in Voltaire. A hundred years from now, who knows. We are tremendously sophisticated visually thanks to movies, magazines, television, computers.  Learn to analyze what works in those media and apply it to writing. It’s not only more easily accessible, it’s also where today’s audiences are. The latest techniques aren’t in classics or in text books based on them. The tools are all around us, recognize them and use them.

 

Here are a variety of literary examples to help define the terms in Principle #3  “Selection” means the amount of detail you include. James Michener and Edna Ferber are good examples. Most Michener novels give an historic picture interspersed with individual experiences that are a microcosm of larger socio-economic changes. In Alaska he talks about the gold rush in general terms, then we see lives of individual characters caught up in the fever for wealth. He outlines political factors leading to the United States’ annexation of the territory and shows in real terms what that means to a family living in the wilderness.  Then there’s the rise of fishing industries and a picture of a group of Indians whose way of life is being threatened. The reader is shifted back and forth. Whether the book would be strong enough as history alone, or the segments of human conflict could be taken out of context and made into a novel by themselves, is questionable.  We have the significance of history, the detailed drama of humans living it, and a certain rhythm that pulls audiences through both.

 

“Juxtaposition” links together unexpected elements. John Steinbeck in Grapes of Wrath, In Dubious Battle and Cannery Row compares the struggles of people with intermittent descriptions of the struggles going on among lesser creatures in nature. Hemingway does the same using war (and hunting). In Madame Bovary the ironic Flaubert alternates between his illicit lovers  and descriptions of animal husbandry. The first part of the film, The Godfather, juxtaposes opposite emotions. If there’s a scene of tenderness between Diane Keaton and Al Pacino, the next shows family members being gunned down on the street.  Marlon Brando’s playing with his grandson is followed by someone waking up with a horse’s head in his bed.  Real life happens more gradually. Alternating a scene of predominantly one emotion with a scene of a contrasting emotion, heightens both emotions. The Godfather, Part II employs a similar technique drawing parallels between the present and the past—Pacino becoming the Godfather and DeNiro avenging his neighbors a generation earlier. For the DeNiro character the ascension of power gains him support and respect. For Pacino power brings isolation and desertion by those he loves.  The Godfather, Part III didn’t use juxtaposition and it floundered despite having the same story elements.

 

For me Grishom’s The Firm and Pelican Brief both pit ambition against traditional values.  The Firm’s immense popularity has to do in some part with the public’s distrust of lawyers.  But, watch how the story is developed. The Tom Cruise character has graduated and now his wife is looking forward to their enjoying a life together.  He agrees, but the reader feels his ambition showing through. Just as we’re wondering what the resolution of this domestic conflict will be, we are whisked away into the workings of the firm. Again we become involved because things are too good to be true, though the protagonist is blinded to what we realize.  Then it’s back to his wife who through her contact with other firm wives is having her fears confirmed regarding the paternalism of her husband’s employer. In the book these two strands (power and success vs. leading a good life) converge for a satisfying conclusion; in the movie…the mob is brought in deus ex machina and we’re left wondering more about Hollywood, than about either ambition or traditional values.  (See what can happen if you don’t plot out your story with diagram boxes?) 

 

“Inversion” means reversing the order of scenes. It’s the basis of the detective genre.  A version of this, let’s call it “behind the scenes,” is also popular with media people, such as Rush Limbaugh. “Let me tell you why things are in the terrible shape they’re in today” followed by a reverse chronology of causes supposedly leading to the deplorable results he bemoans in the present. 

 

What if someone built a progression of scenes up to a key scene and then left that scene out? That use of “omission” is often what happens in novels by Henry James and William Faulkner. It takes supreme self-confidence to pique the reader this way, and it seems to me, these authors are saying that life is anticipation and reaction, not present events. A contemporary example of this is Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides. There is one scene which he withholds from us for the whole book. He finally does deliver, but only after he has led his readers through every possible tale. It’s wonderful storytelling, and interesting to see what he trimmed when he did the screenplay for the movie.  The movie, by the way, is a good example of “acting as reaction.” Barbara Stresiand–who I like–produced, directed, and starred in the film. Nick Nolte–who I don’t care for–stole every scene out from under her by simply being the audience stand-in (showing us how to respond to someone like Streisand who always seems bigger than life).

 

I mentioned Bridges of Madison County for an example of shifts in time–using different lengths of time for scenes and shifting their sequences. Another original example of switches in time and perspective occurs in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and Lastat, The Body Snatchers.  Think of the possibilities.  Her vampire hero has lived for centuries so in his memories can skip back and forth hundreds of years. Because he can take different forms, he can easily go to different parts of the world in hours, plus he has the ability to read his victims’ minds which lets the reader know what other characters are thinking. James Joyce’s and William Faulkner’s use of stream of consciousness bends our notions of time and space, but my favorite example of switching perspective among characters is The Joy Luck Club.  It’s a fantastic inspiration aspiring writers.