Friday, May 14, 2010

Day 36: Simple Tastes

I had the briefest of discussions with two friends last night which, had we had more time to pursue our conversational quarry, may well have got heated, it certainly reach animated proportions and all over the question of favourite biscuits?

In the falling light of a late afternoon, as my writing day draws to a close, 4.30pm is my time for tea and a biscuit. The humble biscuit, along with the pot of leaf tea, are two of this writer’s closest friends.

I grew up in a biscuit family and we lived in a biscuit country. Sunday afternoons went hand-in-hand with the McVities Chocolate’s an English thing. However, these days, as my taste buds have matured and now that I live in Australia, my biscuit du jour is anything but exotic. I will never turn down the offer of a chocolate biscuit, nor the jam or cream-filled varieties, but for me, I require of my day-to-day biscuit, something more workmanlike, the ego-less biscuit if you will. I’m the same with tea. You can keep your Russian Caravan, Orange pekoe and bergamot-infused Earl Grey, just give me the bog-standard builder’s tea, rich in tannin and dark in amber hues.

The biscuit that shows off is arrogant and unreliable (climate plays around with chocolate and so do Cadbury’s in the different hemispheres methinks). The cookie (not really a biscuit) is a charlatan,a Tootsie of a biscuit, Dustin Hoffman in a box (cookies don’t oft come in packets).
I try, as often as I can, to avoid recreating the English experience down here. Yes, I can buy Cholcolate Hobnobs (you get them in those streets where they hang trainers over the telephone wires...stand there long enough and some dodgy guy will come and sate your sweet tooth). But when In Australia I do the Australian biscuit thing.

The Tim-Tam is probably the King, of biscuits, but for me, the reliable and dependable Duke of biscuits is the Scotch Finger. The Scotch Finger was born the wrong side of the blanket to it’s lauded forefather - the Scottish Shortbread - a bastard biscuit child, but it works well and it is, above all, reliable. Pitched somewhere between the melt-in-the mouthness of the shortbread, but differing, via defererence to a crunch to the tooth (as a good biscuit does), it can, with little effort, be gently snapped in half to provide two biscuits from the one outing.

Hemingway may have required his great game fishing, Voltaire (as previously noted here) his 40 mocha’s a day and Hunter S.Thompson....well, all manner of chemicals, but me, in my contract (that Messrs Goldwyn and Meyer will be drawing up one fine day soon), I will have my entertainment lawyers add the rider, the clause, that Scotch Fingers must be provided on set. Maybe chocolate ones (they do make them), but only on Fridays.

It is important that you know and be convicted of your biscuit of choice. If you don’t, then I fear for you. Be warned: anarchy, lawlessness and turmoil will be your bedfellows. Trust me on this one.

Day #36 Tip: A Beginning, Middle and an End
If I told you that I was going to tell you a story and that I had a beginning and a middle, you’d probably ask “but what happens in the end?” If I offered a middle and an ending, you’d want to know how it all began. Even if I offered you the “luxury” of just the beginning and the the end, you’d still probably want to know what happened in the middle.

The order of three is the natural order of things: we’re born, we live, we die. Of a day, I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner (sometimes a biscuit or two). Life is good, it turns bad and then...and balance the natural order of things, it gets good again.

Arista is a “script hothouse” in London, run by Stephen Cleary, working with writers, producers and script editors, interrogating screenplays all the time. I’ve done a weekend workshop with Mr Cleary and he’s great...please check him/them out. Without stealing there stuff and passing it on here, I will tell this much: the “Arista Process” for creating a new work, asks pretty early on that the writer come up with: one line to summarise each act for the three acts of the story, then turn that one line into a paragraph. Now, at Arista, just like all the other Script Lab’s they’re working with screenplays and writers day-in, day-out. Do you imagine that they arbitrarily came up with the three act idea by just picking a number out of the air? They know what works

Virtually every book, every teacher, every course, every film, every script models their work around the simple three-act structure. Yes there are five and seven act stories and more. Of course there are multi-strand narratives, parallel, tandem and "anti" story structures, but they are all built around the age-old paradigm of the three-act structure.

When Quentin Tarantino appeared to rewrite the book on screenwriting in Pulp Fiction, did he not take several story strands, all with a beginning, a middle and an end, cut them up, throw the bits of paper up in the air and film them where they landed? Not quite like that, but you get the idea.

There have been avant-garde, nouveau and experimental filmmakers who have tried all manner of other models and paradigms for storytelling, but they’re the exception not the rule. I love classic story structure and, as a writer in pursuit of craft mastery, I want to become deft at working that structure if I want to be in the position where I can play around with it like Quentin did.

The simple three act structure, just like the idea of ‘story’, is sometimes maligned these days - sniffed at - often by writers who, in my humble opinion, want to show off: “look how high I can jump”. I’m not countenancing that scripts shouldn’t be daring, different and try something new, but my experience has shown me that I can’t do that until I’ve got a firm understanding and grasp of the traditional, the tried and tested first. I’m not prescribing rules, but the adage of “you’ve got to know the rules to break or bend them” does apply here. The story template of the three-act structure has been good for every tale-teller since man first opened his mouth to speak. There are no “rules” to scriptwriting or any form of writing for that matter, but there are some simple “rules of the road” that have served our predecessors well.

All this talk of writing has made me Hungry.

No comments:

Post a Comment