Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A Storytelling Observed

[In my last post, I alluded to an instantaneously invented bedtime story that Elliot had recently requested, about "Elliot watching a video and eating a snack" -- such an unusual plotline with seemingly little potential for development! Yet stories can and do exist in the most mundane moments of life... And I thought it could be interesting to recreate the experience of instantaneously inventing "The Adventures of Elliot: Episode 28 - A Video and a Snack." Perhaps it's ludicrous -- but I hope you are amused, if not enriched, by the tale below...]

Once upon a time [a classic beginning to any bedtime story], on a fine autumn evening [it's always nice to give the story a sense of immediacy; all three of these words can be adjusted as needed if -- for example, the story were to be told on a "cold winter morning" instead], Elliot was playing in the living room [immediacy and acquaintance are vital tools -- unless you want to go for the opposite effect, of having a story set in a wildly fantasmical setting far, far away from everday experience] when he noticed the onset of two strange and uncomfortable sensations [I, for one, never try to dumb down the language of a story to make it "suitable for children;" rather, to a point I believe that the audience is as ignorant or as informed as you make them]: he was hungry... and he was bored [every good plot thrives on conflict, even if it's internal]... And he didn't know what to do about it.

So he sat down to think about his situation, but he had a very hard time concentrating because, well, he was hungry, and he was bored [repitition is an effective device in any story, particularly as it draws attention to the key struggles and themes]. So he went to find Mommy [perhaps the use of the name "Mommy" seems to contradict my earlier statement about "dumbing down" the language of a story -- but in this case, I think it's more of a proper name for this character in the story], who was in the kitchen washing dishes, and he said, "Mommy, can I have a snack?"

But as it turned out, Elliot hadn't finished all of his supper, so Mommy said that he would have to eat the rest of the food on his plate before he could have any snacks [notice the "rising action" -- with the central conflict being reiterated, and hopes being raised only to be dashed again -- the protagonist gradually journeying to a point of climax]. Seeing that he didn't have much choice in the matter, Elliot asked his mother to heat up the rest of his stew -- which she did -- and then he sat in his chair at the table and ate up the rest of his supper. But even after finishing his supper, he was still hungry and -- of course -- just as bored as he had been before [a good story thrives on the interaction between the protagonist (Elliot) and the antagonist (hunger and boredom); the appeal and excitement of the story are enhanced by a relatively even balance of power, here, as the hunger shows that it is not to be easily outdone].

So momentarily trying to ignore the growling tiger in his belly [figurative language can be very helpful for drawing a word picture, i.e. there is no literal tiger in Elliot's belly, but we get a visceral sense of how vicious and powerful the antagonist in the story truly is], Elliot got down from his chair and went to find his little sister, Olivia, so he could see what she was doing and maybe play together with her [Olivia offers a second episode of rising action, continuing to drive the plot]. Unfortunately at that moment, it just so happened that Daddy was changing Olivia's diaper and putting on her pajamas [rising action is countered with falling action, keeping the plotline dynamic and intriguing]. Elliot tried to make faces at Olivia -- which of course caused her to squeal and squirm with delight, but which caused Daddy to frown as he wrestled with the writhing little girl to get her into her pajamas properly. After Olivia was finished with getting dressed for bed, Elliot said, "Let's play together!" And he grabbed her hands and started to do a silly dance [a secondary rise in action, still in the secondary episode of the narrative; the battle between the protagonist and the antagonist intensifies as the plot progresses -- a figurative dual between evenly-matched swordsmen].

But Daddy said, "Now's not a good time to play, Elliot. Olivia needs to go to bed." So Elliot dutifully gave Olivia a good-night kiss and wandered back out to the living room... where he was again confronted that he was still hungry, and he was still bored [the central conflict is again reiterated in an intensified form; as the peaks of the plotline become increasingly higher, the valleys feel correspondingly deep].

When Daddy came out from Olivia's bedroom, Elliot asked, "Daddy, can I watch a video?" But Daddy said that Elliot needed to clean up his toys first, and then they would see if they could watch a video. But Elliot didn't want to clean up his toys... And he was still hungry, so he asked "Daddy, can I have a snack?" But again Daddy said that Elliot needed to clean up his toys first, and then they would see about a snack [important themes and plot developments often revolve around series of three; following the encounter with Mommy and the encounter with Olivia, the encounter with Daddy represents the third and final episode preceding the climax of the story]. But Elliot still didn't want to clean up his toys. So he sat in the red chair for a moment to think about his situation [the internal conflict in Elliot's own mind parallels the external conflict with trying to overcome hunger and boredom; the climax in imminent]. His stomach growled in hunger. He couldn't think of anything else to do [the story climaxes with a desparate moment of decision]. So he decided to clean up his toys like Daddy had asked him to do [an epiphany -- a moment of realization, offering the turning point and signaling a rapid resolution to the plot from this point forward]. And he got right to work.

Before he knew it, all the toys were picked up and put away. So he asked Daddy, "Can I watch a video and eat a snack now?" And at last, Daddy said yes. Elliot chose to watch an episode of "The Muppet Show," and Mommy brought him a cup full of raisins and loops [resolution comes quickly, inversely proportional to the amount of time spent building up to the climax]. And Elliot was very satisfied. He wasn't hungry anymore. And he wasn't bored [the central conflict is mirrored by phrasing representing the central conclusion]... And he lived happily ever after [again, a classic framing element to any bedtime story; these words clearly signal an end to this episode of "The Adventures of Elliot"].

[What's crazy is that the vast majority of this plot development happens subconsciously, even without my awareness as instananeous author! The art of storytelling is so ingrained in our psyches and in the history of our culture that it just naturally spills out in a moment of creative effort. I suppose if you even looked deep enough, you could draw moral lessons (like the reward for perseverance) and discover other classic elements of storytelling that almost accidentally find their way into a simple bedtime story. Perhaps this is ridiculous, to offer such a perspective on a silly bedtime story... But then again, maybe there really is something to this whole Storytelling thing].


At 12:35 AM, Blogger Marcey said...

Hi Eric,

I just read your story to Lainey and she begged for more! And now she says we should make up a story for you! I think that that is a wonderful idea, but Mommy just had surgery on her hand, so typing a story would be too hard right now. But, we will write you one soon!

Thank you for your story and filling our heads with sweet thoughts of your dear son.

The Smiths!


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