Month: May 2005

Beginnings.

I’m having problems coming up with a good beginning. I’m going to have to think it out for a while.

Note that beginnings are often a combination of things.

Opening Stasis: Shows things as they are before something significant changes. (As common as boy-meets-girl. LOTR. The Hobbit. Star Wars. If the characters are happy with their setting, the goal of the story is to return to the opening stasis (which may or may not happen). If the characters are not happy with their setting, the goal of the story is to escape the opening stasis and achieve transformation.)

In media res: Shows things in the middle of the action and events.
–Orientation: Shows action that introduces the characters and action. (James Bond movies. The goals are similar to that of the opening stasis beginning.)
–Disorientation: Shows action that introduces the mood. The characters and action are not explained. (Serenity. The goal of the story is to come to grips with reality. Either the reality is as complex for the characters as it is to the audience, or something about the assumed reality is not what it seems. The characters either accept or reject reality.)

Frame Story: Surrounds the main story with a second story.
–Inside: The main story and the frame story are in the same reality. (Harry Potter series. The main story undercuts the assumptions of the frame story.)
–Outside: The main story and the frame story are in two different realities. Story within a story. (The Princess Bride. The main story reinforces or enriches the assumptions of the frame story.)

Simple Story: The story begins with a simple plot which is undercut, reversed, or complicated. (The Dark Tower series. The Sixth Sense. Stories with a twist. The simple plot may or may not have anything to do with the main plot.)

Story-Pattern: The pattern of the introduction shows the pattern of the story as a whole.
–Self-similar: The beginning of the story takes a pattern repeated by the story as a whole. (Scooby-Doo, TV and movies. Spirited Away. Two approaches. In one, the audience loves the familiarity of the story. Often used in TV shows. The story before the first commerical break is something the main characters do all the time, with variations. In the other, a lesson is presented to the characters, which they do not learn. The rest of the story is the repetition of the lesson, with higher stakes.)
–Cyclic: The beginning of the story ties to the end. (The Lion King. American Beauty. The beginning reveals the end of the story, either directly or indirectly. The story often feels mythic.)

Backstory: The story is introduced by a past event. (X-men. An easy way to focus the story on the action of the plot rather than the idea of discovery of the truth. Can be a self-similar story.)

Squishy Intro: The story is introduced by an event that happens to a minor character. (Horror movies. Works in the same type of way as the backstory, but focuses on events where the backstory focuses more on character.)

Flash Forward: The story is introduced by an event that happens in the middle or end of the story but is not the ending of the story itself. (Fight Club. Swordfish. Clever action movies. Challenges the audience to try to guess the plot. Differs from a cyclic plot in that the events do not feel inevitable, and unpredictable things often happen after the story catches up to the first scene again.)

Things Which Will Be Revealed to the POV Characters Later: The story is introduced by an event that will not be revealed to the main characters until later. (Murder mysteries. Sometimes unusual events are disguised with normalcy. Easy way to introduce “mystery” to the audience. Often combined with a lie.)

Lie: The events in the beginning of the story are a lie or red herring.

Metafiction: The story is introduced by commentary on the story itself. (The Princess Bride. A Series of Unfortunate Events. A story about stories. Metafiction is like a frame story, but one in which the audience is to consider the events of the story other than they otherwise would.)

Cosmological: The story begins with an introduction to the universe itself. Discworld. Dune. Either I barely notice this kind of beginning or I hate it.)

Insight.

Insight is when the obvious becomes the really obvious.

Song.

I don’t know the name of the song. I have no idea what any of the lyrics are. The part that got stuck in my head was the piano in the beginning, a mountain-stream waterfall of piano. There’s a backbeat in there somewhere. The singer sounds like someone I should know, but not really. Like a song you imagined in your dreams, woke up, and forgot.

David Sedaris:

“My father has always placed a great deal of importance on his daughters’ physical beauty. It is, to him, their greatest asset, and he monitors their appearance with the intensity of a pimp. What can I say? He was born a long time ago and is convinced that marriage is a woman’s only real shot at happiness. Because it was always assumed that we would lead professional lives, my brother and I were free to grow as plump and ugly as we liked. Our bodies were viewed as mere vehicles, pasty, potbellied machines designed to transport our thoughts from one place to another. I might wander freely through the house drinking pancake batter from a plastic bucket, but the moment one of my sisters overspilled her bikini, my father was right there to mix his metaphors. ‘Jesus, Flossie, what are we running here, a dairy farm? Look at you, you’re the size of a house. Two more pounds, and you won’t be able to cross state lines without a trucking license.'”

–From Me Talk Pretty One Day.

Heh.

From Jackie:

“She has more issues that Mad magazine.”

I am easily amused.

No.

Yes.

Lee started a blog. It’s called Thoughtful Gibberish.

The Dark Tower.

I finished reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series on the way back from South Dakota. He’s said he’s going to retire, at least from writing fiction, and now I understand. Maybe he won’t be able to do it this time, but I can hope for him.

I love talking to Lee about this kind of stuff. He hasn’t read the books, so I didn’t tell him any of the plot, but I still worked out something by talking to him that I couldn’t have worked out on my own.

The actual books that Stephen King wrote are like a story that Jorge Luis Borges would write about. For instance the one where the guy tries to rewrite Don Quixote, exactly as it already is, without reading the book himself.

Anyway, my thought:

There are two series of books going by the name The Dark Tower and using the same text. The first series of books is the series you read when you read the books the first time. The second series of books is the series you read after you’ve read the ending. These two series are congruent but not equivalent. After you see the ending of The Sixth Sense, the movie isn’t the same. Like that, only better.

I think I’ve figured out the point where the ending didn’t have to come out the way it did. It had to end the way it did–I get that–but I can see where it might have turned.

Here’s to Stephen King’s retirement!

Trip.

We drove back to South Dakota last week to see my brother Matt graduate from college.

We stopped in Vermillion on the way to Sioux Falls and tried to eat lunch at Marge’s, but she’s dead. It sounds like she must have died just after the last time we ate there. The world’s best tater tots have gone west. They’ve put in a bike path by that little river you cross as you come down the big hill. Classy.

We went to the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls, saw work by a neat local artist, Carl Grupp, and the guy that took stop-motion pictures of the bullet going through cards and apples and whatnot, Harold Edgerton. The kids’ science center is well worth the admission. My goodness, how did we get Ray out of there? Lee’s brother Mike drove up from Pierre while we were staying at their mom’s place. It’s always nice to talk to someone who operates on the some of the same basic assumptions that you do. Always thinking, that guy.

Here’s Matt: he got to graduation late, saw his line of people leaving for the floor, tried to join them but was shooed back by someone beaurocrat, ended up somehow in front of his supposed place in line, tripped on a cord in the back of the house, and ended up limping to the stage on a twisted ankle far too early for us to have our cameras out. He went back to his apartment and watched the rest of graduation on TV. Former Senator Tom Daschle spoke. My mother hates the guy. It’s hard to understand hate for someone so…homey. Maybe it’s just protective politician covering. I’m proud of him, anyway: someone from SD was the guy that would have been president if Clinton and Gore had been assassinated, anyway.

I’d met Matt’s girlfriend when they came out for Easter. I still think she’s all that and a bag of chips. I met her parents at the reception, though, and they were interesting, funny, and witty, too. Weird. Maybe they’re all aliens.

After graduation, Lee convinced me that we could ditch everyone (“Face it. You’re not the main attraction.”), leave Ray with my folks, and drive back from Flandreau to Sioux Falls for a night out. We went to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,* which I liked and Lee hated.

The next day, May 1st, my birthday, was the day of the relatives. About 10 too many people showed up for me to handle. I had to leave the room at one point, because my mouth would have otherwise said something beyond the edge of consensus. Can’t have that. It could have been worse. I did get to hear the story of how Matt and Erica met. Did you know that my brother was the Mystery Hottie Guy? I hadn’t laughed so hard for weeks, and I laugh a lot.

On the way back to Colorado, we stopped at the Omaha Zoo. I love zoos. They’ve added stuff since the last time I’ve been there, a geodesic dome with a desert exhibit on top and “Kingdoms of the Night” underneath. (Kingdoms of the Night was cool and spooky. The first thing you see is this open pool, deeper than I am tall, with nothing to stop you from falling in. Lee stuck his foot in to see if there was glass. There wasn’t. And the swamp with the gators and piped-in sound effects. One little girl had to be carried out.) They’d build a gorilla exhibit that looked wonderful, but they were all inside that day. They’re working on an orangutan forest, too, which looks enjoyable. We stayed in Lincoln (HoJo’s not recommended) and went home the next day.

Home. The place with the wonderful bed.

*If the guys had claimed to be from the BBC instead of MTV, people would have reacted better. It’s like Midsummer Night’s Dream. Nobody will make the perfect version.

Serenety.

I saw the screening on Thursday in Denver. Doyce got ten tickets and included Lee and myself on his guest list.

Again, thank you.

No spoilers will follow. I’m going to assume you’ve seen the series.

With a cool eye, this is the best thing Joss Whedon has written. Don’t worry about being disappointed with the movie. It isn’t going to go down in history as one of the Star Trek sequels–something you remember as being good to great, but see later with this sickening feeling of loss.

The beginning doesn’t really bother to be an introduction so much as a disorientation. It’s clever and effective–you understand the basics of what’s going on without the Dune introduction scene. I remember something my mother said when we watched the movie for the first time: “I don’t think I like movies that need an introduction.”

After watching the filmed introduction that Joss Whedon made at the beginning of the screening, I have decided that I’d do him in a heartbeat. Lee says he’ll forgive me for saying that.

“Melancholy Elephants,” though.

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