Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Story Hiding Behind The Dumpster

My story guru Brian McDonald talks about the feral story.  Like the flea-pocked, matted and snarling kitten behind the dumpster, the feral story is pure; it comes out of human mouths spontaneously and with no consciousness of the fact that it is a story.  It has not been edited or cleaned up and it's not comfortable.  It has no home.  It is story sprung from and operating on pure story instinct.

I stalk feral stories.  Coffeehouse conversations are great for that.  Almost every exchange in a coffeehouse or a break room is a story. I love to deconstruct feral stories, because they almost always follow the rules of story; there's almost always a beginning, a middle and an end, and usually other great components as well.  I heard this one in a coffee house down the street from the station:

Chick 1: "How's work?"

That's the beginning.  We're at a known time and place.

Chick 2: "You know that new skank I told you about in accounting?"

That's the end of the beginning.  It's the first question that launches us into the first act conflict.

Chick 1: "Yeah?"
Chick 2: "You should have seen the shoes today.  And in the snow.  I mean..."

The conflict is jacked up by the shoes. This takes us into act 2.

Chick 1:  "Desperate."
Chick 2: "Oh, my God.  So desperate,"

But the skank and the shoes were not the nutrient.  Here comes the nutrient:

Chick 1:  "She'll get promoted,"

That's the crisis point at the end of act 2- that the skank will get promoted.

Chick 2:  "Yup.  But when the new management comes in-"

That's the climax, which hinges on the crisis but takes it to a new level. Now the reader or listener knows we're in hot water.  Now what?

Chick 2:  "-well...that will be the fun part,"

And there's the denouement and the resolve.  Things will be OK again.  Aristotle would have approved of that ending, too, because as he said, "A great ending is both surprising and inevitable,"

In addition to the nutrient (don't be a skank in desperate shoes or it won't end well for you) there was tragedy, foreshadowing and even a cliffhanger.  The "fun part" is coming in a future episode.

I can't get enough of these.  It's like feeding feral cats.  But greedier, because I can use them on the air.

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