Thursday, February 21, 2013

Something's Rotten in Storytown


Shakespeare is the inspiration for that title and it applies to the max to storytelling today. Actor/director/smart guy Jon Favreau calls this the heart of every strong story. I heartily agree.

“The world is broken,” he says. From this seed at the start springs the plot which proceeds apace until the break is mended – or not. Favreau uses his own life as example.

He was a kid in Queens NY growing up in a relatively ordinary life. Then his mom died. “She was suddenly just gone.”

With no warning he was plucked out of the life he had known. That was where everything began. The struggle to survive a broken world. The struggle to regain a semblance of wholeness.

Unfortunately a version of this scenario happens to most of us in our lives. The struggle follows. If we are blessed that struggle does not destroy us.

Fortunately for us as storytellers this scenario is also the template for strong storytelling. Stories we know in our bones because our bones have been shattered by the likes of them at one time or another.

We set our main character onto the earth of her story at the moment when the scent of something rotten has just wafted into sniffing range.

The struggle then commences. The object of that struggle is to banish the stink. The outcome will be that our character either succeeds or goes down gasping.

The disgust level of the stench varies according to story type or genre. Softened in a romance by tincture of roses. Heightened in a thriller to send the reader strangling for cover.

Still the eau de essence remains the same. Something’s rotten. The world of the story is broken. The struggle toward wholeness proceeds. The outcome happens.

Meanwhile all of it – as my friend Herma once said – is for the porpoises of the plot.

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