Annie Proulx’s prologue (that wasn’t in the New Yorker)
Anne Hawley is the author of Restraint, a love story set in 19th Century London. She’s a Story Grid Certified Editor specializing in literary and historical fiction, and is the producer of the Story Grid Editor Roundtable podcast.
[00:00:00] AH: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid Masterwork Experiment. My name is Anne Hawley, and I’m an experienced novelist trying to ground my craft more solidly in Story Grid methodology. So, I’ve agreed to be the lab rat in the Masterwork Experiment, which Shawn Coyne is conducting as a test of his latest writing and editing methods.
Shawn is the creator of the Story Grid Method, the author of the book, The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know, and an editor with many years’ experience in the big New York publishing houses.
In the Masterwork Experiment, Shawn and I analyze the brilliant short novella; Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx, with an eye to understanding what it’s made of right down to the beat level. Now my job will be to write a novella of my own using exactly the same beats and structure, but set in Regency England with a very different style and voice that that historical setting demands.
Last week, we completed our micro-beat analysis of Brokeback Mountain and I began to feel like I was understanding the story at its deepest levels. This week, I turned in my first couple of scenes and try not to freak out as Shawn reads them out line-by-line and starts making suggestions.
I get some great inspiration about point of view and narrative device. This is where the beat analysis theory starts to bear some fruit. So, put on your white coat and safety goggles, and step into the laboratory for episode seven of the Masterwork Experiment.
[00:01:27] AH: Today, I’m in the real position that Tim was in originally. Now, you have some of my writing. Now, you’re looking at it. So, now I’m really – This is where the rubber meets the road, or the shit hits the fan. I’m not sure which, but what are we going to do with this today?
[00:01:42] SC: First of all, you can exhale, because your writing is terrific, and don’t worry about it. I wouldn’t have even considered doing this podcast with you if I hadn’t – I mean, I’ve already read your stuff. So, I know you have the chops to write line-by-line terrifically. So, just try and take yourself out of the self-critical world as we go through this stuff.
I think the best thing to do is literally to go through probably the prologue, and we’ll just kind of see how far we can go and I’ll make some comments that you can use or not use. I think the best way to do this is sort of track along with Brokeback Mountain what you’ve done line-by-line akin to what Annie Proulx did and see if there’s a way to make them align in a very tight way without completely copying everything she does.
So, I think that’s absolutely possible. So, I think the best thing to do right now is what I have up is I have your first 2,000 words and I also have the documents that you had sent me earlier that you had created, which analyzed Brokeback Mountain beat-by-beat.
[00:02:58] AH: Okay.
[00:02:58] AH: So, why don’t we just get into it, and I think probably the best thing for listeners following along would be to sort of just track and have Anne’s draft in front of you as we talk through this, and then let’s just jump into it. There’s nothing better than starting.
[00:03:18] AH: Well, then let’s jump in.
[00:03:21] SC: Okay. Great. All right. So, I’m in a read your first sentence and then I’m going to read the first sentence of Annie Proulx’s and then I’ll just sort of a riff on what I think.
[00:03:32] AH: Okay.
[00:03:33] SC: Okay. So, your first sentence is, “The run of bright, dry autumn days ended at dawn on a Sunday with a pattering of rain against the window of the small room where Matthew Barber slept.” Okay?
Annie Proulx’s first sentences, “Ennis Del Mar is still more wakes before five, wind rocking the trailer, hitting in around the aluminum door and window frames.”
Okay. Just on that one sentence, I have some thoughts, and the first thought that I have is your sentence is absolutely stunning and beautifully well done. The one question I have is that when I look at your sentence and the first sentence for Annie Proulx, what strikes me is that Annie Proulx begins right in the skin of the protagonist, whereas you made a decision to paint the picture of the environment.
What I like about Annie Proulx’s decision is that it takes us directly into the body of the protagonist, and she also uses the present tense. Ennis Del Mar wakes before five. So, it’s almost as if in her sentence we’re experiencing the world as Ennis experiences the world.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with the choice that you made, but I didn’t want to point that out, because there is a great advantage to directly putting the reader right into the boots, so to speak, of the protagonist straightaway, especially when you’re jumping right into the story.
Now, the way I could see the decision that you made making sense, and I think it does make sense from your point of view, is that you are writing a story in the vernacular of a different time period. So, the vernacular of sort of Regency Victorian literature is very much about painting the picture, creating the realistic environmental world as soon as possible. So, it’s almost as if the third person omniscient narrator is taking us from sort of the balloon view, the big balloon, and they used to have around the world in 80 days when they would have the hot air balloon.
So, I see your choice as that sort of traditional Victorian Regency sensibility, and I’m just wondering, first of all, if you understand my point about starting in the boots of the protagonist actually in the process of living his or her every day existence versus setting the scene of the environment.
[00:06:35] AH: Yeah. Yeah, I do, clearly. But what you say about that sort of the style or the vernacular –I mean, it’s not really terribly Victorian in terms of sentence structure or anything, but I’m running into this problem over and over again as I’ve been writing these scenes. How much of this is the style choice that for purposes of the experiment I’m at liberty to make decisions about and how much of it will be violating the experiment if I make the style choice?
[00:07:04] SC: Oh! You are absolutely within – From my point of view, in terms of the experiment, you are the one who’s driving the bus in terms of stylistic choices. So, whatever stylistic choice you make is your choice. I’m not suggesting that we change the patterns of your sentence to mirror or mimic Annie Proulx. What I am trying to do is to sort of elucidate why it is that the second we get into Brokeback Mountain, we can’t help but sort of fall into the story – It’s like Alice in Wonderland. We fall down, whatever. She goes into the mirror, or whatever she does. I forget.
[00:07:44] AH: Yeah, the rabbit hole or whatever it is.
[00:07:46] SC: The rabbit hole. Okay. So I think the reason why I am sort of getting down to this granular detail is to throw out some notions in order to pull the reader in as quickly as possible. While your first sentence is delicious and wonderful, and it probably will remain as is. Let me just get into the second sentence.
My major point is your choice of tense. So he lay under his quilt, barely awake, enjoying the sound until he remembered his cabbages, which is perfectly we’re now in his room, but the tense choice is such that it does not feel as if we are experiencing the world as the character experiences it. Do you understand what I mean?
[00:08:37] AH: Yeah. The choice that Annie Proulx made to put the prologue in the present tense and then change to its past tense throughout the rest of the story, pretty much, sets the prologue apart as well. It makes it clear that this is a separate item of the story, and that this is Ennis Del Mar present that then we’re now going to go back into his past.
[00:09:02] SC: That’s exactly right. It’s as if the prologue of this story and the epilogue of this story is the world that Ennis Del Mar lives in at the end of his existence. The rest of the story in the middle there is the events that happened to him that brought him to that state of existence. It’s almost like seeing someone in a café and you look at them and you say to yourself, “I wonder what that story is. I wonder who that person really is.”
Then if we were able to stop time and take that Dickensian trip in a Christmas Carol and sort of tagalong as we travel back in time and through time, that’s the effect that Proulx u really brings forth in Brokeback Mountain. So, I think if we frame your prologue as Matthew Barber’s present day life, which is sort of subsistence farmer of sorts. I’m not really sure at this point.
[00:10:03] AH: Oh! Neither am I. But this was just my first guess, right?
[00:10:06] SC: Right. No. No. I mean, it’s a great first guest that’s going to – We can really play with this and blow this out, and that’s the difficulty of beginning with the prologue, because I suspect she created the prologue after she had written the body of the story and knew a lot of answers to questions that we just don’t know yet.
[00:10:27] AH: Right. Right.
[00:10:27] SC: So, I’m not saying, “Shame on you, Anne, for not figuring out all these things prior to writing the entire story.” But what I am trying to point out is the way in which she embeds past, present and future inside of these individual sentences in the prologue and the way she cues us into this moment in time when this man is waking up about to have to leave his life once again to go back to trying to find shelter with his daughter. I think the choice that she’s making using the present tense is very effective. So, it’s my recommendation that you reconsider trying this prologue in present tense on your next draft. I’m not saying, “Stop all progress and do it now,” but I think the present tense for this could work or not.
So, essentially, let’s walk through these beats and how you chose to abide by them. So, the first be in the prologue is waking up. Obviously, you have the same beat here. Matthew Barber wakes up. He springs out of bed, pulls on his breeches and boots. Fumbled for his knife and burst out into the garden. Great!
So, he’s already in motion. Then you have starting his day. That’s the second beat in the prologue of Brokeback Mountain, and Matthews starts his day too. Cut the two dozen heavy bright heads of cabbage and carried them a basket load at a time into the house. So, that’s his first order of business that morning. Totally see how you abided that beat too.
Worrisome signs is the next beat, and the way you abided that is that you have a moment of recognition by a second party, which is the vicar. Matthew, a friendly voice called out just as he was going in for the last time. It was the vicar in his gig, his wide-brimmed hat dripping with rain. Mattie, his arms full, raised his chin in acknowledgment, “Working on a Sunday, I see?” the vicar said. “Well, cabbages wait for no man. Shall I see you in church this morning?” Mattie said, “Yes.” He didn’t know what else to say. Then you tagged it with the vicar waved and drove on.
So, this is sort of in the sequential beat movement of Brokeback Mountain of the prologue. This would be worrisome signs, and I think it’s kind of intriguing, because the presence of the vicar as a worrisome sign, sort of as your choice, is interesting.
[00:13:11] AH: In Brokeback Mountain, he thinks about the boss, the guy he’s been working for who sort of threw him the keys and said, “Take care of it.” What I’m proposing here is that Mattie isn’t employed by anyone. He has a little subsistence farm. So, I needed a boss-like figure to come in and interject something, and that would be the vicar.
[00:13:29] SC: Yes, right, and the vicar represents sort of the commonality of the community. It’s the conformity of the group. So, if Mattie chooses not to go to church, it shall be noticed. It would be noticed anyway. But now that the vicar sees him up and at him on a Sunday morning, if he chooses not to go, that would be an even larger moving away from the community ritual.
[00:13:57] AH: I really wanted to get in the sort of religious – What do I want to say, the religious tone of the society at the time that would really hamper Mattie being himself and living as he would want to live. It’s the version of, “We can’t let anybody know what kind of people we really are.”
[00:14:18] SC: Yes, and I think it works. I think it’s good. I like it. Then let’s check the next beat we have here, and that’s that he has no choice beat. The way you satisfied that is there was the hen house to check, TK some subsistence farming things. Yes. So, these are the things that he really needs to do, or he’ll starve to death. They’re that important, and he has no choice. So, again, there you go. You abided the beat, and let’s move on to the next one.
The next beat is someone abdicates responsibility to someone else/he’s left holding the bag, and this is from Ennis Del Mar and the moment that you were talking about when his boss threw him the keys and said, “Give them to the real estate shark,” and then that boss leaves.
[00:15:10] AH: Well, that’s kind of what I was going for in the vicar expecting him to show up at church.
[00:15:16] SC: Yes.
[00:15:17] AH: It’s a little out of sequence, but that was what I was going for. Yeah.
[00:15:21] SC: I think it works. Yeah. That makes sense. I see here you sort of put in a little time to admit that Josie was never coming back at the end of the prologue, and I think that’s a good sort of TK decision, because, obviously, what we need to do here is to come up with some metaphorical remembrance of sorts akin to the shirts on the hanger that Ennis and Jack Twist have. Obviously, all of that isn’t fully fleshed out yet because you have to allow yourself moments of discovery and you can’t really make it up until you’ve gone through the whole first draft.
My gut of the one thing that sort of a little bit fuzzy right now is in the notion that Mattie is capable of doing all of this very drudgery, difficult, irritating, painful work, because he is sort of guided by the spirit, so to speak, of his long-lost love. I think we did get that very clear in the prologue from Brokeback Mountain. Ennis, he remembers a dream of Jack from the past, and that’s what sort of keeps him going.
[00:16:41] AH: I didn’t feel like I could use the dream itself, because then, boy, it’s just like a blatant copy.
[00:16:48] SC: Sure. Some things to consider, I’ll just throw them out, that just came to me, is one of the things that we like to do is we associate stories with practical things. So, perhaps, there was some ho or some kind of tool that Josie – There’s a story associated with it.
So, when Mattie picks up that tool, it says if the psychic DNA from his lover returns through the material grasping of the tool.
[00:17:24] AH: Could be the knife that he starts with.
[00:17:25] SC: It could be the knife, and using the knife to survive by cutting the cabbages, right? That’s a nice sort of thematic metaphor that isn’t forced, because we all have things that we hold on to that have deeper meaning than their utility.
[00:17:46] AH: I have some ideas about where that knife might come into the story now. That’s a really – That’s a good idea.
[00:17:52] SC: Yeah. Yeah, I totally agree with you. Using the dream is way too on the nose, and it’s too much mimicry of Annie Proulx. But thinking about the thing that sparks recollection and good feeling is sort of the abstractions of what that dream really did for her as an artist. The use of the dream was a tool for her to express this psychic connection with another being, whether or not that being is on the planet are not really doesn’t matter. So, anyway, I’m belaboring a point that we both already agree on. So, let’s keep going.
[00:18:33] AH: Okay. Okay.
[00:18:34] SC: So, that’s the prologue, and I think that’s a really, really solid first draft that is only going to get deeper and deeper and more specific as we move through this. So, let’s move on to scene on. IN Brokeback Mountain, this is a 548-word scene, and the scene description is Ennis and Jack apply for a job. So, it begins with some exposition that’s full of set ups and ammunition for the future, or to reflect the past. So, let’s get into your first scene, and I’ll start reading it now.
“The day it all began, it was Mattie who opened the door. The Butler was drunk and the head footman was off somewhere wooing the kitchen maid. Old lady, TK,” which is to come, “was ringing from her sitting room. Cook was cursing the incompetent new scullery girl for letting the soup boil, and that’s when the doorbell sounded, “Oh! This is a really terrific start for setting the world and the environment in which these two men live,” and it’s also – Mattie is the one who’s inside, and his paramore is about to appear outside, which is really cool.
So let’s keep moving here, “A rough looking individuals stood in the porch. Grubby cloth cap in hand. Mattie stared at him, “I’m the new groom,” he said. “Well, take yourself off to the stables then. What were you thinking coming to the front door?” The fellow only grinned, “You the butler?” “Of course, I ain’t. Any idiot could see he wasn’t old enough to be butler. I’m the second footman.” The idiot stuck out his hand, “Josiah Wilton.” Mattie jerked his head in the direction of the stables, “Take yourself off. Mr. Tanner’s the headroom. Don’t let me see around the house again.” He shut the door, but not before the new groom winked at him.
[00:20:37] AH: The lovers meet.
[00:20:39] SC: The lovers meet, and it’s also what I love about it, is that there’s tension. There’s conflict. Mattie, he’s in his persona of – What is he? The second footman?
[00:20:50] AH: Yes, he’s the second footman.
[00:20:52] SC: So, he’s living the persona of the second footman and he opens the door only because necessity required it. This is really cool, because, necessity, meaning the person who usually – The Butler usually opens the door, where is he? He’s out courting somebody or is he getting drunk or something?
[00:21:13] AH: Well, the butler is drunk, presumably, habitually. The next person who would have the job of opening the doors out screwing around with the maid.
[00:21:22] SC: Right. So his third man – This is great. In this very short amount of space, what you’ve you done is established the hierarchy of the servant order within the house, and he’s the third person responsible. Guess what? He is that good at his job that he’s quick to respond and open the door, while also the head of the household is ringing from her sitting room.
This is a best bad choice situation for him, right? Is it more important to open the door or is it more important to answer the head of the households ringing from her sitting room? Is that his responsibility or is that somebody else’s?
[00:22:03] AH: Yeah, he’s in the position where both of those things are his responsibilities. Yeah, which one does he do first? I think, like most of us, the ringing of a bell, there’s two bells ringing, right? The doorbell and the upstairs sitting room bell, or whatever it is. I don’t have a reason why he decides to answer the door. Presumably, it seems more important to him, or it implies that old lady TK is pretty nice and can probably wait, or I’m not quite sure where I was coming from with that.
[00:22:33] SC: Well, you don’t really have to have a reason at this point, but I’ll just say from a third-party point of view, it’s a delicious choice, because one of the things about the love story genre is the what needs to be conveyed is sort of the magical/supernatural/irrational sense of the romantic tradition. What that means is that love does not abide rational or realistic thinking.
So, when you’re writing a love story, it’s important to have these sort of little inconsistent your rational choices that aren’t so large that they strain credibility. So, the fact that your character made the choice, the irrational – I mean, the reasonable choice is always take care of the boss first.
[00:23:34] AH: Right.
[00:23:35] SC: Right? That’s just the way we all operate. But for whatever reason, Mattie decided to open the door first. Of course, his pissed, right? Because it’s not anybody of any importance whatsoever. In fact, it’s just some guy who’s going to work in the stables. Like, “Dude! Get out here. I got important things to do, and you’re just fodder for the stables. Get out of here.”
So, it’s all a really nice active scene that you’ve accomplished in very short order. Let’s track what you’ve also done. You’ve established a hierarchy of the house to a certain degree. You explained it very quickly through these characters being driven by their internal desires. The butler is a drunk. One’s chasing somebody else. People are not really fully in control of their faculties, except Mattie is. Mattie is the one sort of controlling force that’s kind of holding it all together. It’s nice.
[00:24:39] AH: I was also trying to get a sense of, – Or give a sense that the household is so poorly run, generally. It’s chaotic. Because this is the equivalent that I could find for the way Aguirre sends the two men on their jobs. It’s like, “Gust go do this. Here’s three pieces of instruction. Off you go to this free, open place,” which I can’t get them to a free, open place. So I’ve got to have some kind of suspension of the normal rules of a fancy household like this to allow this affair to start. That’s kind of what I was going for.
[00:25:14] SC: Okay. That works really, really well, and it was a really smart idea to set that up, because – I don’t want to jump to far ahead, but one of your questions for your next sort of writing segment is how do I make this reasonable that these two are sent out. I think this is a great set up for that. This is what Jane Austen did in Pride and Prejudice. She established the chaos of the Bennett household very, very well and very, very quickly. This is a family sort of clinging to the edges of gentlemanly respectability, and the father is sort of living in his own private Idaho, and the mother is sort of dashing around sort of like a mosquito, willy-nilly trying to get her girls married off.
They don’t have much help. They have some. It’s nothing like the Mr. Darcy world where everything is very, very orderly. So what you’re establishing early on here is very important and it’s stuff that we can even tweak later on locking into that sort of chaotic, we’re barely hanging on, the mistress of the house is a little bit dodgy, but we love her. It’s great. Okay. So let’s move on.
[00:26:36] AH: Okay.
[00:26:37] SC: You’ve established in this first scene the lovers meets and also Mattie is completely order- driven, and Josiah, just like kind of likes to goof around. He’s sort of like lights the nudge as far as he can the edges of proper behavior just for the – For kind of the fun of it, which is really cool. Then, the sound of a bell being wrong vigorously echoed up from the servant’s hall, “Coming, my lady” Mattie muttered, hurrying towards the stairs.
[00:27:13] AH: I think of it as more as, “Coming, my lady.”
[00:27:16] SC: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yes. That is good. Then you transition into a passage of time. He didn’t see the new room again for several days. That’s nice, because you resolved that meeting by him actually going to do the next duty before you launch into the progression of time.
Let’s go back to Brokeback Mountain and see how we’re doing here. Exposition full of ammunition. Yes. Now, the only thing here is that Proulx added a lot of sort of third person omniscient worldly back story to the two main characters while you decided to go straight into lovers meet, and I think your choice is absolutely fine. But it is worth making a note. We do need to know sort of where these two gentlemen –Where they grew up. What their life circumstances were, etc. So, we can put that sort of expositional stuff somewhere else that will be a good place to sort of progressively complicate the story at some point.
[00:28:27] AH: I have been so trained out of using the omniscient narrator voice to do exposition that I just – I have a really hard time bringing myself to use it, which is why I put that background in a conversation that comes a little bit later in the scene.
[00:28:45] SC: That’s true. I think the tone of Brokeback Mountain though does have the omniscient sort of narrative.
[00:28:53] AH: Yeah, it totally does, and it’s like, ”How come she can do that and I can’t? I’ve been prohibited.
[00:29:00] SC: Well, it’s a matter sort of just sort of like bumbling through it until it kind of clicks. So, while you may not want to do it, and I would side with you in your story based upon sort of the way you’ve structured your prologue. It makes sense to get into an active conflict scene right after the prologue.
So, let’s just put a pin in that, but I think that’s absolutely something that you’re going to have to tackle, is allowing yourself to seemingly feel as if you’re being foolish by writing from that omniscient point of view, because I think you will be able to do it very well and you just sort of have a thing, a bugaboo about it.
[00:29:47] AH: I’ve been slapped around about it by any number of critique groups and things like that.
[00:29:51] SC: Yeah, yeah. Well, never say never about anything.
[00:29:56] AH: Okay. Well, the irony too is that – Of course, the novels of the actual period, were full of exactly that kind of exposition, just straight out of the omniscient narrator’s voice.
[00:30:06] SC: Oh, absolutely! That’s the way it worked.
[00:30:10] AH: Let me ask you a question here.
[00:30:11] SC: Sure.
[00:30:11] AH: This goes to point of view and narrative device. With Annie Proulx, we have a sense of this journalistic, almost reportorial most of the time through the story, right? Her point of view is, “I’m reporting on what I saw,” kind of.
When you have talked about point of view in the past, one of the things you’ve mentioned is we need to think about who the narrator is even though they’re not in the story and who they’re telling the story to, under what circumstances, from what distance in time, that kind of question. I need to get that in my head, and I don’t have that in my head yet. I’m having a hard time figuring that out.
[00:30:47] SC: Yes, I can tell. I can tell that. The best way to answer something like, that question. Absolutely, that will be a thing that will click your story into a different dimension. Think about – I’m sure in your life, especially in my life, there’s always been these times when something not so great has happened to me and I don’t think things are going well. I’ll sort of confide my anger, resentment, my disturbance about an unexpected event to a third party. Usually somebody older, with more wisdom, right?
They’ll sit there and they’ll listen to me and then they’ll say something like, “Let me tell you a story.” Then I’ll be like, “Oh, great! This is great.” So they’re not going to lecture me, and I really love this person, and they’re going to tell me a story that they obviously think will be very, very helpful for me to metabolize my anxiety. So, I settle in for it.
So, a lot of times when you’re writing, it’s a great idea to think like who is – This is what William Goldman did in the Princess Bride, right? He thought to himself, “Well, let me make up some crazy, silly fairytale based upon what my granddaughter wants. She said she want me to tell her a story about princesses and brides. So, I’ll just to make something up, Princess Bride, and my narrative device will be a grandpa trying to get his grandson or granddaughter to sleep at night.” Then he ended up using that set up in the actual story.
So, it’s worthwhile thinking to yourself, “Perhaps this is –” You know that old story we hear about, George Washington never told a like. He cut down the cherry tree, and confronted by his parents he said,” I cannot tell a lie. It is I who cut down the cherry tree.” So that’s a story that our teachers, at least in my era. Teachers used to tell us that during the silly American history stuff that they told us. So, maybe there is some young person going to their mother or their father. Maybe in, say, 75 years, someone asks about, “I understand why those two guys have their own farm. What’s that all about?”
So, the father or the mother, knowing the truth of gay people and that how important and wonderful they are, they tell them a story like this, “Well, let me tell you a story about these two really wonderful guys back in time.” That could be something to think about.
Now, obviously, it has to click in your mind. But to think about this story as almost like a Grimm’s fairytale, where there’s some sort of payoff at the end that will change the behavior of the listener. I don’t know that Annie Proulx is set out to do that when she wrote Brokeback Mountain, but that is the effect of that story. If you really Brokeback Mountain and you sort of come in to it with some preconceived notions about what it is to be gay. At the end of that reading that experience, you will have a changed attitude.
[00:34:22] AH: But, does her point of view choice, her narrative device choice, have much to do with that?
[00:34:28] SC: I think it does, because she chose the journalistic narrative point of view, which means just the facts, right? So, the feeling of her story, it’s almost like a newspaper report done by the New York Times or someone like that. Here’s a story about two cowboys who fell in love in 1963. That sort of journalistic reportage, it didn’t add any sort of flowery stuff.
My point is that the objective factual sort of presentation of what happened with the minimal flourishes of high-style language is convincing to a cynical person, which is I don’t understand what it means to be gay. I just don’t get it. That sort of person, if you were to give them a very florid, wonderfully described story in the kind of high, romantic era, literary tradition, they’d be like, “Oh! I don’t get it. All that flowery language.” But because Annie Proulx used the journalist third-person omniscient point of view, it’s just like, “Dude! Here are the facts. There’s this guy. He lives here. He’s got this job. He does this. He’s married,” and it’s very to da-dum da-dum da-dum da-dum. It’s like a newspaper report, and that is so convincing to a broad audience.
I know I’m going on about this, but I think once you kind of get that – Steve Pressfield always tells me, he couldn’t figure out how to write the Legend of Bagger Vance, until he sort of learned about this golf match that was done for charity in South Carolina. He thought to himself, “Oh! There was this little boy who was a caddie for the guy who won. Let me tell this story from that little boy’s point of view. Only now that little boy is and old man, and that old man is telling someone facing difficult circumstances what it was like to be a little boy in that magical time when golf had honor.”
So, that whole narrative device, he said once he nailed that, it was so clear in his mind who was telling the story that all of these little flourishes and amazing things came to him just with that lock-in perspective.
The problem or the thing for you to think about is who is telling this story? Who are they telling the story to and why are they telling them this story, and what time period are they telling them? Is it, “Let me tell you about your great-great-grandfather.” Is it that story? Is it, “Well, I know you have a problem with that person, but let me tell you about this other story about this person who’s very much like the person that you have a problem with. Maybe you can learn a little bit about what it’s like to be that person, and maybe you can change yourself if you hear this story.”
You’ve got the facilities here, and it’s obvious that your craft is right where it needs to be and it’s just sort of this one sort of magical thing that only Anne can think up. What you need to think up is who is telling the story? To whom are they telling it and why are they telling it to them?
[00:38:06] AH: Right. I’m silent here, because all these ideas are running in my mind. It’s like, “Well, okay. I got some thinking to do and I’m not thinking on my feet here.”
[00:38:15] SC: No. You don’t have to.
[00:38:17] AH: I got to go sit down and – Yeah, and think about it for a while. Yeah, let it simmer.
[00:38:22] SC: Yeah. What’s so wonderful about answering those questions is that you start to understand that there isn’t a wrong answer. You start to understand that there’s multiple variations of choices and then you get to choose the one that you would be the most excited about spinning out. Whenever you sort of get stuck like, “Oh! I’m not really sure what tense I’m using. I’m not really sure if this is that or –” It does go to the narrative device, and genre is the first question you need to solve. Narrative device is the second. Then, of course, everything that you do needs to have unexpected events constantly churning through and changing the tenor of the story and every unit of story.
So, we definitely have the genre locked and loaded. We have the general sensibility of the narrative. Now, it’s up to you to sort of really hammer down and get very specific in your mind and even write it down on a piece of paper once you sort of lock it down the answer to those questions. Who is telling the story? Whom are they telling it to and why are they telling them the story?
Where are we now? We’re just at the end of –
[00:39:42] AH: Oh! He’s hurrying towards the stairs, and then we’re at he didn’t see the new groom again for several days. Yeah.
[00:39:48] SC: Right. Then we have – This is really – I love this. I mean, the way you paint a scene is very, very specifi,c and I know this is just your first draft. So, it’s only going to get tighter. Okay, so let me read this next paragraph.
So, basically, you made the transition from, “Okay, they met. Lovers met,” and now couple days have passed, and you’re using the same time as the prologue, which is brilliant choice. Okay. So, let me just read it. “He didn’t see the new groom again for several days. It was October, the start of the hunting season, and he was serving hot whiskey punch just after dawn to the gentleman gathered in the misty stable yard. Their black riding boots gleaned. Their coats were snug and finely tailored and they took steaming mugs from Mattie’s silver tray without looking at them. The glossy horses stamped and snorted and the hounds barely held in check by the kennel master were straining to be off.”
“Josiah Wilton was just handing the reins of a tall thoroughbred to Mr. Robert, lady TK’s nephew. The grubby cloth cap and worn jacket were gone, replaced by a groom’s uniform of dark blue coat, knee breaches and top boots. Mr. Robert exchanged a word with him before mounting, and Josiah touched his round woolen cap and stepped back.”
“The hunt leader sounded his horn. The dogs began barking furiously and the last of the half-dozen gentlemen guests mounted. As they thundered off in a body, Mattie began retrieving the punch cups they had dropped in the straw and mud of the yard, “It’s Matthew, is in it?” Mattie straightened to see Josiah holding a muddy cup out to him, “I,” Mattie said.” Josiah was a slender fellow, taller than average, with colorless straight hair sticking out from his cap, “Did you cut your own hair with a knife?” He asked.”
[00:42:03] AH: Ooh, there’s the knife again. I just noticed that.
[00:42:06] SC: Yes. “You look a disgrace to lady TK’s house and living above the stables don’t excuse it.” Josiah was unperturbed, “Not me,” he said, “Mr. Turney done it with the main tremors.” Mattie shook his head and bent to pick up the last of the cups, “Careless bastards, ain’t they?” Josiah said, “You shut your mouth. Mr. Robert’s guests ain’t for the likes of you or me to judge. But it annoys you, doesn’t it? Picking up after people as they throw their cups to the ground?”
“He’d never thought about how much stooping and bending he did to retrieve what the mistress and her family left lying about. “Don’t have work to do,” he said. “No. All my work just galloped off and won’t be back for hours.” “Well, bully for you,” Mattie said, “Some of us work all day.” He then gave the lie to this assertion by continuing to stand there in the chili stable yard holding his tray.”
“Josiah grinned at him, “How old are you?” he asked, “I mean, besides not old enough to be a butler? 20?” “22,” Mattie admitted. “Well, I’m about the same,” Josiah said, “don’t know for sure, because I was a foundling. Every other servant in this house is old. We young fellas need to stick together.” “We can’t,” Mattie said flatly. We could, a bit.”
“It was tempting. Mattie missed his brothers, one year older and one a year younger, both in service and other houses. He hadn’t seen either of them since last Christmas time. There was nobody for him to talk to in lady TK’s house. Well, then he said finally, “Make yourself useful. There’s one more cup over yonder.”
Okay, that’s a really, really good, solid scene that you dropped in a lot of really juicy information, and I love how they’re still this sort of inside the house, outside the house hierarchical sort of struggling going on. Mattie still looks down on this guy, but he’s charmed by him to. He admits to himself a lot of things that he hadn’t really thought about before, and it’s just a really nice sort of baby step. It’s a baby step progressive complication that gets these two guys to realize, “Oh my gosh! We’re the only young guys around. Everybody’s old.” It’s really well done, Anne. I really like it a lot, and I love the specificity of the whiskey, the hot whiskey. I mean, I can see the mist. I like the fact that Josiah is no longer in those ratty clothes. He’s sort of taken a step forward in the world, but he’s still at the very low ladder. He’s obviously a charming person, because Mr. Robert is nice to him, nicer to him than anybody is to Mattie. He’s got a certain charisma, and Mattie – He likes him and he’s a little pissed off about it too.
[00:45:03] AH: Yeah. I mean, I’m working really hard all day every day in the house, minding my business, and here you are getting ahead by being kind of a jerk.
[00:45:13] SC: Yeah, exactly. It’s a really sweet scene that I really don’t have much to say about other than well done.
[00:45:21] AH: Okay. Here’s a concern I have. In the Roundtable Podcast, we did Sense and Sensibility a couple of weeks ago, and Kim Castor came up with this interesting idea that there is the Pride and Prejudice type love story and the Sense and Sensibility type love story, which she distinguishes by the simple fact that in Pride and Prejudice, when the lovers meet, they hate each other. In Sense and Sensibility, it is not internal obstacles that are keeping Eleanor and Edward apart. It’s externals. So, there’s internal obstacles versus external obstacles to their love.
In Brokeback Mountain, it’s clearly – There is no internal obstacle particularly. They like each other right away. They’re attracted right away. I decided to change it to the hate each other at first kind of – I mean, a little bit of that internal obstacle more.
[00:46:10] SC: Yeah, I think that was a really good choice. I mean, there’re two sort of ways to handle the lovers meet, and Kim is absolutely right. There’s what I call the thunderbolt solution. The thunderbolt solution is the idea that our perfect mate, when they appear to us, it’s like a thunderbolt hit both of us and we both “just know.”
So, if you ever saw the first Godfather movie, that’s where I got the phrase from, because Michael Corleone, when he’s exiled to Italy, he runs into his wife, his future wife on a walk and his two bodyguards laughed because the two of them lock eyes and the one says, “Oh, he was just hit by the thunderbolt.”
So, the thunderbolt is a romantic convention where there’s just – There’s no doubt. Then the other side of the romantic deal is that opposites attract, right? So the opposites attract convention is that the lovers have a lot of animosity toward one another. They don’t “approve” of the way the other person “is” or behaves.
Yeah, Kim was right. You got to make a choice there. Annie Proulx made the choice of it being a thunderbolt kind of situation. That’s why the language that she uses refers to lightning. Jack Twist, he’s from lightning flats, and up there in Brokeback Mountain, lightning occurs. Brokeback Mountain is actually the nirvana of love, sort of, like the place where thunderbolts and lightning happen. So, it’s sort of like that secondary real beautiful world of the mind that she makes an actual place in her story.
You’ve got some sort of limitations that Annie Proulx didn’t have in that. These two men are locked into a very tightly controlled hierarchical class system that will require some expository set up in order to get them to the place where lightning strikes. If lightning struck before they get to the place where lightning strikes, that would be a miscue on your part. But you did not make that miscue, because you wisely said, “I’m going to play up the social classes and the fact that there’s a whole hierarchy of servants,” and that’s what these scenes are doing. The truth is, is that there really isn’t that much difference between Mattie and Josiah. Josiah knows that. Mattie really knows that too.
But Mattie has to hold on to that worldview in order to provide meaning to his life. Josiah’s meaning is more derived from being a force of chaos. Goosing people, and nudging them, and winking at them and like, “Hey, aren’t we in some F-upped world?” It’s kind of like Josiah’s point of view, like, “Isn’t this the shits? These assholes axles throwing the cups on the floor? Look at us. We’re just picking up, serving these idiots.”
[00:49:35] AH: Does that make him a sort of a herald character?
[00:49:38] SC: Yeah. He’s sort of –
[00:49:40] AH: And a bit of a trickster?
[00:49:42] SC: Yeah. He’s a bit of a trickster, right? So think about that. The trickster is all about sort of getting other people to change their vision, to change the lens by which they look at the world. That’s nice to have the trickster as part of the love story. Now, if the trickster was going to fall in love, who would the trickster fall in love with?
[00:50:05] AH: Yeah, the least likely non-trickster stayed down to earth person who needs him to shake him up.
[00:50:12] SC: Right, probably. I mean, I’m trying to think of the hero’s journey archetypes. I would probably be like the threshold guardian, wouldn’t it? What does the threshold guardian do?
[00:50:24] AH: He answers the door when the doorbell rings, right?
[00:50:27] SC: That’s right, and he’s also the one that protects the cloistered indoor world. The trickster’s going to love F-ing around with the threshold guardian, because they’re always stiff, bureaucratic, always doing things the right way, “No. No. No. That’s not how we do it here at –” Whatever manner it is.
So, here’s a great situation where your deep story knowledge has come to your rescue without you really even consciously understanding it. You’ve created the trickster character whose nudging a threshold guardian. The threshold guardian doesn’t appreciate it, but the trickster is sort of starting to get a little bit under his skin. You’ve got a really, really nice beginning here. So, kudos to you.
[00:51:16] AH: Well, thank you. We have come to the end of scene one, and I guess we could take up with scene two next time, or how shall we proceed?
[00:51:27] SC: Yeah, let’s just keep plugging through. I know you had a couple of questions at the end of your documents. So, what I would like you to do is pretend as if you have to solve those problems without getting any help from me.
[00:51:42] AH: Actually, I’ve posted them first to my editing group and asked for suggestions.
[00:51:46] SC: Oh! Great. Great. Okay. So, you and your editing group figure out how you should proceed, and then proceed a little bit further and then share that work with me and then we’ll just keep plugging through this.
[00:51:59] AH: I will get on it.
[00:52:01] SC: Great.
[00:52:02] AH: Well, this has been fun. Thank you, Shawn.
[00:52:04] SC: Oh, thank you, Anne. This is going to be great. I know it.
[00:52:07] AH: I’m excited. I’ll talk to you next week and see how much farther we can get.
[00:52:10] SC: Okay. Thanks, Anne.
[00:52:11] AH: All right. Thanks a lot. Bye-bye.
[00:52:12] SC: Bye.
[END OF EPISODE]
[00:52:14] AH: And that’s a wrap for episode seven of the Masterwork Experiment. You’ll find links to all my working documents in the show notes. For everything Story Grid related, visit storygrid.com. Be sure to pick up a copy of the book, The Story Grid, and sign up for our newsletter to get a weekly notice of all the wonderful things we are constantly working on here in the Story Grid universe.
If you’d like to learn more about me and my work, you’ll find me at annyhawley.net. That’s A-N-N-E H-A-W-L-E-Y.net, where I’m writing about the process of working with Shawn and the challenges of writing to specifications set by someone else.
I’m posting my draft scenes there too complete with TK’s and temporary character names and probably typos. So, check that out on my blog. You can also find me every Wednesday on the Editor Roundtable Podcast, where I team up with four of my fellow Story Grid certified editors to analyze the story structure of a movie or a novel every week.
To support the show, please tell other authors about us or leave us a rating and review. Join us again next week when I turn in some more scenes and begin to structure my middle build. Cross your fingers for me. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.