Thursday, June 17, 2010

How to Tell a Story

(a piece I wrote in 2009 in my writing group to a prompt "50 ways to ____")

There are many ways to tell a story. You can start with a long, winding, complicated yarn and reduce it to a snappy anecdote in the re-telling. Eliminate an explanation, combine two people (for instance the traffic cop and the security guard play one role). You can also go the other way which is, let’s face it, more fun. Embellish a nothing, non-story into a quirky tale that is so interesting, so funny, so improbable, you’ll have other people telling it to their friends.

Let’s say, for instance, you witness a minor auto accident in the parking lot of a strip mall. No injuries, very little property damage. So minor the parties almost decide to forget the whole thing, but exchange information anyway. What you have there is real snooze-fest, a big loser. Don’t tell that. It’s too dull and embarrassing for you that you even remembered it. But what if one of the drivers was Oscar winner Sofia Loren? And what if she got out of her Mercedes Coupe and one of her impressive bosoms came dangerously close to popping out of her lavender silk blouse? And don’t forget to describe her eyewear. I don’t even know if she still has that line of frames but you better believe she was wearing doozies that day: there were curly Qs and rhinestones on the earpieces, and the lenses were tinted and big as dessert plates.

When she recovered from her near mammary spill, she muttered Madonna when she saw the crumpled rear fender of her pretty blue German car. (No, she was not calling on the cultural icon Madonna, but expressing frustration in her native Italian. In America, we just say “Aw, shit.”)

Now you’ve gotta think. Be creative. Who hits her? Another movie star? A sports figure? Politician? No, no, and no. You’re gonna want to go for a comedic figure. Make it a frightened little old man who barely speaks English, who’s driving a delivery van of some kind. Come on, how funny are delivery vans, just in general? They’re stupid, right? Those weird doors that slide open that they almost never close, the driver’s uniform sleeves and collar flapping in the breeze as the van take corners at speeds well above the posted limit.

Anyway, back to the story. OK, now, work in some dialog. Ms. Loren has just taken the Lord’s mother’s name in vain. (Is that a sin? I don’t know.) The little man runs over to the car, his palms up defensively waving as if to ward off punches or thrown objects.

“What happened? Car good?” He smiles and lowers his arms, clasping his left wrist with his right hand.

“Sir, you dented my Mercedes. Do you or does your employer (insert pause as she reads) eh, Alfredo’s Linen Service, have insurance?”

Sofia produces her pocket book – I mean, if anyone still carries one of those it’d be her, right? – and removes a tiny gold pen. She frowns into her pocketbook: nothing to write on. Here’s where you join the story. “Allow me.” You say as you extract a small notepad from your inside jacket pocket, without looking. You know that move.

Sofia’s eyes widen with delight behind her sexy frames and accepts it without a word. You wince and suck air through your teeth as you notice printed on the cover of the pad are the words “Reno’s Silver Legacy: Have a ball!” Fortunately, she doesn’t seem to notice. The poor little delivery van driver has returned to this van to root through the various cubbies and stash holes for an insurance card or a convincing document of some kind. He returns, empty-handed, his hair sprung up from his head in coal-colored tufts.

“No, Miss. No nothing.” He offers his empty hands as proof and looks down, ashamed.

Now you’ve created enough interest in your characters and each one elicits sympathy. Your listeners will want to know more. Go for it. Give them the end. Go for a big finish!

1 comment:

  1. THIS IS AWESOME!! If its my story the big ending involves sex with Sofia in the back of the linen truck.