A Lifetime Ago (Part I of III)

A Lifetime Ago
Part I – The Brainstorm
By Jeffrey Kieviet


School was never my favorite thing in the world. I didn’t really get much out of it. Maybe I would have if I’d paid more attention, but alas, I didn’t and here we are. My favorite classes were always theater and drama. They were filled with my favorite teachers, best friends, and a complete lack of real-world relevance. At least on the surface. You’d be surprised how much “acting” pays off on a job interview, or what “directing” teaches you about leadership, or how knowing how to operate a light/sound board makes you the perfect DJ for your local middle school graduation. Well, maybe not the perfect DJ, but at least you gave your business card to Timmy Lebowitz’s grandmother and she said she’d call you about his Bar Mitzvah. C’mon Granny Lebowitz, he’s been 13 for two years now, when is he going to become a man?

Anyway, in one of the theater classes (I think it was directing 101) we learned about the basic elements (aspects [parts]) of theater. To extrapolate (steal from Aristotle’s 6 Aspects of Tragedy), I believe these elements are the basis for all art: theater, music, painting, etc. And while not all are utilized to the fullest extent, the best art takes all aspects into account and balances them in best way to present the piece. For instance, Quentin Tarantino movies are all about Dialogue & Spectacle; the people talk funny about quirky things and then stuff blows up and people get shot or stabbed in a way that makes fountains of blood shoot out of them, more blood than could possibly fit in a human body. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he’s won a couple Oscars for his writing so people clearly appreciate his ability to write Dialogue. But then you take Oliver Stone who clearly has a political message to get across and is willing to sacrifice character and realism to beat the Theme into your head with a railroad spike. Maybe he’s too similar to Tarantino, but you get the point.

The 5 parts of art (or at least direction [according to William Ball’s A Sense of Direction {stolen from Aristotle} and slightly reiterated out of the mouths of babes [me]) are: Theme (the message or point of the piece), Story (the tale being told), Character (who the tale is about), Dialogue (how it’s being told), and last but not least (well, Aristotle considered it Least), the best part of Starlight Express, Pizzazz (or “Spectacle” as the sires say [Aristotle’s 6 Elements of Drama included “Music” or “Melody” coming before Spectacle, but I guess this can be added to Spectacle. Ancient Greek Tragedy always had a Chorus and some sort of music because the audience were treated like toddlers who’d been hit in the head too many times with a plastic hammer {they were fans of Oliver Stone too}]).

There are 2 ways to approach creating a work of art (and hey, filing invoices can be a work of art if that’s your line of work): organize, plan, and execute, or jump into the deep end and see if you can swim. I feel like my work’s been drowning lately, especially with a series of realtime reviews where there was almost zero preconceptions. My first drafts basically became my outlines and the editing was just enough to turn discombobulated ramblings into quasi-sentient collections of… well, ramblings. Kind of like Snakes on a Plane or Cowboys & Aliens, the idea just starts going and they try to make sense after the fact.

So let’s try to put a story together. Part I we’ll brainstorm, then we’ll hammer out the details, and finally we should have ourselves a neat little tale tentatively titled “A Lifetime Ago.”

As one of the few regular readers of this blog (or at least my posts), my mom, pointed out that our stuff tends to be dark, morbid, and/or depressing. I mean, our first piece of Combo Fiction was a Joint Chapters called Suicide. Half the movies we review are hated pieces of cellulose garbage. And the ones we like tend to be about death and destruction. So for the sake of my mom, let’s make this a happy story, less about the loneliness of humanity, more about hope & recovery. A lost soul who perseveres against the odds to overcome. A love story: love conquers all!

But what kind of love? Star-crossed lovers? Familial love? Someone who’s allergic to animals saving a dog from the middle of the street and raising him as man’s best friend? Let’s go with a classic: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl. We need to make some alterations along the way, make it unique and as original as can be, although with the internet I feel there is no longer any story that has yet to be told. Hopefully we can at least make it heartfelt and (at the very least) enjoyable.

We need good people. A couple who love each other from the bottom of their hearts, beloved by their family and friends, upstanding members of their community. But they need flaws of course. Most sitcoms have the classic hot wife with the loveable oaf: Married with Children, The Simpsons, Honeymooners, Family Guy, really anything that’s on network primetime. Unless it’s the 20-somethings with awkward sexual tension or cop dramas. So let’s take the out of shape slob, and make his wife love him enough to be concerned about his health. Both of them go on a journey of self improvement & grow together. We’ll do actual character bios in Part II – The Details. However, while Aristotle considered these aspects to be listed in order of import, like I stated before, you can change up the order, balance them out in a way that works for your story. While the story may not be incredibly original, I want the characters to shine with realism.

This is one aspect that seems to be theater-centric. Sure, music as an art form has dialogue; the words are sung, sometimes even by the character. But how does a painting have Dialogue? I mean, aside from comic books, pictures aren’t big on words. So I’d argue that the presentation of the art works as its dialogue. A plaque by the painting, even the title, are enough to change the interpretation. A picture of a mother by a baby splashing in a tub: if it is titled “Bath Time,” it is easily a scene of joy, love, and humor; if it’s called “The Drowning,” the suds and foam take a decidedly darker tone. In a fictional story, especially a short story, dialogue is usually one of the less used elements (unless you check out Derek’s recent chapter of From A to Zombie). Especially realistic dialogue. If you’ve been keeping up with the Game of Thrones craze, you’ve noticed that aside from the blood & boobs, the way people talk and what they talk about is truly engaging. The books are spectacular combinations of dark, intense themes, incredible stories, deep characters, exquisite dialogue, and enough spectacle to fill seven 30-40 hour+ audio books. I’m a fan if you can’t tell. So in the hopes of not overdoing myself, I intend to keep the dialogue to a minimum. Simple expressions to bring our characters from scene to scene.

Ok, without revealing too much about the story right off the bat, I’ve been brainstorming this one for a while. I don’t want to (nor think I could) fill a 5 page story with sex & violence in a way that makes people want to keep on reading, so the Spectacle will be the arrangement of the tale. I want to start at the end and work my way to the beginning. Well, RE-work my way. The couple meet late in life, and the narrator wishes they had more time. So scene by scene, we take the same couple and have them meet earlier and earlier in their lives, allowing for more development and getting to play with what happens. Kind of a mix between Memento and Run Lola Run. Without the chase scenes and shoot outs…

So join me next week for Part II, the character biographies and the outline. And hopefully, by the time we get into August, we should have a well thought out short story. Feel free to shout out ideas and suggestions in the comments section, I’m willing to collaborate…

All the ideas are going to be from my mom, aren’t they?


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