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Month: April 2017

Short Film Study: Wallace and Gromit: A Matter Of Loaf Or Death (2008)

The Japanese title is “The Bad Dream Of Bakery Street’.

LOGLINE

Wallace and his dog, Gromit, open a bakery and get tied up with a murder mystery. But, when Wallace falls in love Gromit is left to solve the case.

GENRE BLEND

comedy, horror, romance >> cosy mystery

STORY WORLD

The town’s milieu was inspired by thoughts of 1950s Wigan. It’s sort of like 1950s steampunk. Similar towns are seen in the live action Midsomer Murders series. It’s very English. As a consequence, Wallace comes out with very British idiomatic expressions pretty much every time he speaks. His life revolves around very English foods, especially cheese.

The films appeal to a dual audience partly by including a frequent scattering of allusions to pop culture. There are plenty of puns and nods of recognition in the intratext — Meat-a-bix written on Fluffles’ bed box instead of Weet-a-bix, for instance. Continue reading

Scarecrows In Children’s Stories

Tattybogle

Perhaps this story has more longevity as a stage play because my daughter’s class performed it last year as part of the Year 2 drama unit here in Australia. The book, however, is out of print.

A bogle, boggle or bogill is a Northumbrian and Scots term for a ghost or folkloric being, used for a variety of related folkloric creatures including:

  • Shellycoats
  • Barghests
  • Brags
  • The Hedley Kow
  • Giants such as those associated with Cobb’s Causey (also known as “ettins”, “yetuns” or “yotuns” in Northumberland and “Etenes”, “Yttins” or “Ytenes” in the South and South West).

They exist for the simple purpose of perplexing mankind rather than seriously harming or serving them.

Worzel Gummidge

Continue reading

Retro Kids’ Mystery Story Title Generator

Long Title

First, pick a number between 1 and 24.

Now pick two numbers between 1 and 55.

1. The Mystery Of The Old Bungalow
2. The Secret Of The Spooky House
3. The Clue Of The Broken Parrot
4. The Case Of The Black Cave
5. The Crime Of The Hidden Puppet
6. The Curse Of The Dancing Cat
7. Intrigue Of The Moonlit Scarecrow
8. The Haunting Of The Dark Dragon
9. Sign Of The Invisible Ghost
10. What Happened To The Fire Magician
11. The Story Of The Shrinking Footsteps
12. Adventures Of The Crooked Cipher
13. Night Of The Double Labyrinth
14. Day Of The Sky Maze
15. The End Of The Thirteenth Witch
16. Crusade Of The Underground Wizard
17. The Tale Of The Twin Dungeon
18. The Crime Of The Disappearing Pearl
19. The Search For The Black Treasure
20. Operation: Christmas Mountain
21. The Disaster Of The Dangerous Island
22. The Time Of The Murderous Crow
23. The Final Hours Of The Green-eyed Spider
24. Sabotage Of The Doggone Hand
25. Living Jungle
26. Cliff-top Stranger
27. Flaming Professor
28. Underground Thief
29. Scarred Claw
30. Secret Escapade
31. Musical Butterfly
32. April Fool’s Day Cat Burglar
33. Wedding Day Train Robbery
34. Sneaky Trouble
35. Flower Show Lighthouse
36. Museum Valley
37. Art Gallery Mess
38. Thanksgiving Disaster
39. Evil Floor
40. Fearsome Gold
41. Winking Silver
42. Blinking Boomerang
43. Moaning Mask
44. Muttering Chest
45. Sneezing Clock
46. Terrible Shed
47. Cranky Basement
48. Kidnapped Nightmare
49. Invisible Terror
50. Talking Pumpkin
51. Wandering Lair
52. Two-toed Trap
53. Nervous Slumber
54. Headless Smoke Screen
55. Melted Cauldron

 

Short Title

Pick two numbers between 1 – 55.

1. The Magician’s Secret
2. Ringmaster’s Sapphire
3. Crocodile’s Mother
4. Joker’s Silver
5. Spider’s Wedding
6. Werewolf’s Revenge
7. Viper’s Key
8. Monster’s Mansion
9. Stalker’s Summer Camp
10. Ghost’s Circus
11. Vampire’s Trumpet
12. Zookeeper’s Blues
13. Librarian’s Fright
14. Substitute Teacher’s Last Resort
15. Rogue’s Target
16. Stamp Collector’s Games
17. Dog’s Trail
18. Wolf’s Footsteps
19. Station master’s Island
20. Whale’s Cavern
21. Pigeon’s Lake
22. Master’s Mine
23. Shark’s Deathtrap
24. Mermaid’s Creep-show
25. Witchmaster’s Cabin
26. Scorpion’s Splutter
27. Phantom’s Tale
28. Skeleton’s Mirror
29. Owl’s Shadow
30. Warrior’s Twin
31. Pirate’s Brother
32. Professor’s Laugh
33. Shop keeper’s Knee
34. Monkey’s Father
35. Raven’s Scar
36. Chum’s Giggle
37. Wildcat’s Wail
38. Detective’s Helmet
39. Dinosaur’s Sister
40. Serpent’s Pyramid
41. Devil’s Mark
42. Apeman’s Siren
43. Millionaire’s Freighter
44. Zombie’s Arrow
45. Outlaw’s Bridge
46. Demon’s Flight
47. Kennel-keeper’s Journey
48. Smugglers’ Sting
49. Criminals’ Sock
50. Psychic’s Tunnel
51. Robot’s Ransom
52. Renegade’s Crime
53. Candy Striper’s Challenge
54. Rhino’s Vision
55. Trick-o’-treater’s Seven

 

Film and Truth

The cinema cannot show the truth, or reveal it, because the truth is not out there in the real world, waiting to be photographed. What the cinema can do is produce meanings and meanings can only be plotted, not in relation to some abstract yardstick or criterion of truth, but in relation to other meanings.

Movies and Methods: An Anthology Vol. 2

Of course we can say this about truth as explored in any kind of story, be it film, novel, narrative poetry or television commercial.

Violent French Washerwomen: Ar Cannerez Nos

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

There are a set of washerwomen called ar cannerez nos, or the nocturnal singers, who wash their linen always by night, singing old songs and tales all the time: they solicit the assistance of people passing by to wring the linen; if it be given awkwardly, they break the person’s arm; if it be refused, they pull the frefusers into the stream and drown them. 

A Narrative of Three Years’ Residence in France, Principally in the Southern Departments, from the Year 1802 to 1805: Including Some Authentic Particulars Respecting the Early Life of the French Emperor, and a General Inquiry Into His Character, Volume 3Anne Plumptre , 1 January 1810

  • A washerwoman night or washerwoman’s death is a legendary character dating back to the 8th Century.
  • She is some sort of creature or ghost originating in Gaelic culture. In Scottish Gaelic she is called a nighe bean.
  • Always met at night, cleaning cloth in a stream or a public wash-house.
  • The washerwoman is always linked to the death realm.
  • Like the Grim Reaper, if you met her it was a sign of death.
  • This washerwoman is often connected to/confused with banshees, white ladies and night spinners. (Night spinners appear in earlier versions of Rumpelstiltskin and various other fairytales.)
  • Also known in French as Lavandière de nuit, ‘washerwomen of night’.
  • The function of these legends was to reinforce certain social or religious prohibitions: mainly to punish women who kept washing clothes after sunset, while night was traditionally devoted to rest and the day to work. The risk of encountering the night washer would also be an incentive for the villagers not to go out at night and stay in their house; a principle that was recommended by the Church and sometimes reinforced by Britain in the 19th  century by the evening bells ringing a kind of curfew.
  • Sometimes night washerwomen were thought to be mothers who were cursed for killing their children.
  • Another story told people that night washerwomen were laundresses responsible for washing the laundry of the poor. By avarice, they replaced the soap by pebbles and rubbed the linen with the pebbles. The linen was terribly damaged and of course remained dirty. In a Sisyphean twist, to punish the washerwomen for this crime they were condemned to wash dirty clothes forever.

Reversals and Reveals In Storytelling

Reversals and reveals are vital for creating momentum and suspense in a story. Certain genres are required to be more page-turny than others, and all children’s literature must be page-turny. So you’ll find reversals and reveals everywhere in children’s literature.

the mountain of reversals and reveals

A picture of a mountain because in stories, character revelations often take place on one.

WHAT ARE ‘REVEALS’?

‘Oh darling, [story is] just two or three little surprises followed every now and again by a bigger surprise.

– Peggy Ramsay, agent

A revelation is basically a surprise.

Revelation is seen by the audience as motion, even if nothing has changed but knowledge or insight.

WHAT ARE ‘REVERSALS’?

‘Reversals’ are ‘big reveals’. The audience’s understanding of everything in the story is turned on its head. They suddenly see every element of the plot in a new light. All reality changes in an instant. ‘Reversal’ is a term writers use. Audiences tend to just say ‘twist’, but that often just means a sequence they weren’t able to easily predict. For example, when Andy escapes in Shawshank Redemption, that’s not a reversal. It might qualify as a twist because we generally expect life-prisoners to stay where they are. 

The Sixth Sense, however, includes a genuine reversal because the famous revelation requires us to regard the entire story until that point in a completely different light. The big reversal reveal comes right at the end of the story. This has the advantage of sending the audience out of the theater with a knockout punch. It’s the biggest reason this movie was a hit. (M. Night Shyalaman didn’t come up with the idea of the psychologist being dead until well after his first draft. Though he managed to make it feel very new, Shyalaman was borrowing from a long tradition of Dead All Along characters.) 

The Greeks called this ‘peripeteia’. A classic example is Oedipus Rex — it’s the bit where he finds out about his parents. Fast forward a few years we have Luke Skywalker finding out who his father is.

A story can have more than one reversal. While minor reversals can occur in every scene, bigger ones tend to divide the work into specific acts.

A reversal reveal is most common in detective stories and thrillers. 

But you must be careful with this technique. It can reduce the story to a mere vehicle for plot, and very few stories can support such domination by the plot. O. Henry gained great fame using the reversal technique in his short stories (such as “The Gift of the Magi”), but they were also criticized for being forced, gimmicky, and mechanical.

A subversion is not a modern invention but peripeteia itself; it is the tool that catapults the hero into the opposite of their present state — from thesis to antithesis, from home to a world unknown.

That’s what inciting incidents are too — they are ‘explosions of opposition’, structural tools freighted with all the characteristics the characters lack; embodiments, indeed, of everything they need. Cliffhangers, inciting incidents and crisis points are essentially the same thing: a turning point at the end of an act; the unexpected entry point for the protagonists into the new world; bombs built from the very qualities they lack which explode their existing universe, hurtling them into an alien space of which they must then make sense.

—John Yorke, Into The Woods

STORYTELLING TECHNIQUE: THE ‘REVEALS PLOT’

When a story relies on reveals as its main source of interest for its audience, this is known as a ‘reveals’ or ‘revelations’ plot. Another name for this is the ‘big plot’, not just because there are so many surprises but also because they tend to be shocking. Although still immensely popular today—especially in detective stories and thrillers. Mysteries are required to include a big revelation, but other kinds of stories make use of revelation also. (Lord Of The Flies: Who is the beast?)

Came from: The heyday of the reveals plot was the 19th century e.g. Dumas (The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers), Dickens, The Portrait Of A Lady

How It Works:

  • The hero generally stays in one place, though it is not nearly so narrow an area as unity of place requires. For example, the story may take place in a town or a city. Desperate Housewives is a great example of a reveals plot. Characters don’t leave the suburbs except to visit hospitals/schools/workplaces which are themselves a part of suburban life. 
  • The reveals plot almost always covers a longer time period than unity of time allows, even up to a few years. 
  • The hero is familiar with his or her opponents, but a great deal about them is hidden from the hero and the audience. In Desperate Housewives, the mysterious newcomers have secrets. Characters and audience learn about them as each series progresses.
  • These opponents are very skilled at scheming to get what they want. This combination produces a plot that is filled with revelations, or surprises, for the hero and the audience.
  • These plots tend to start en medias res, then take the audience backwards and forward through time. We’re not just talking flashback here. One set of scenes might unravel a secret in the forward direction. Another set of scenes might move us backwards from the ‘beginning’ to the source of the mystery itself. In a detective story the plot begins in the middle of the story — the point at which the investigation gets going. In this kind of story, the plot progresses by going backwards in time. The biggest revelation will coincide with the moment of the deepest penetration into the past.

The inverse* of the ‘reveals’ plot is the ‘journey’ plot.

  • In the journey plot, surprise is limited because the hero dispatches a large number of opponents quickly.
  • The reveals plot takes few opponents and hides as much about them as possible. Revelations magnify the plot by going under the surface.
*Dickens actually blended the reveals plot with the journey plot. This shows what a master he was of plotting, since the two approaches are in many ways opposites.

Advantages Of The Reveals Plot

  • The reveals plot is organic because the opponent is the character best able to attack the weakness of the hero, and the surprises come at the moments when the hero and the audience learn how those attacks have occurred. The hero must then overcome his weakness and change or be destroyed.
  • The reveals plot maximises surprise. (Since plot basically equals ‘surprise’, surprises are always good.)

Plot in this kind of story comes from digging deeper and deeper into the same world, with each new level providing a whole new batch of reveals, and thus plot, for the audience.

Planning and Editing A Revelations Plot

John Truby advises writers take some time to separate the reveals from the rest of the plot and look at them as one unit. Tracking the revelations sequence is one of the most valuable of all storytelling techniques. You’re checking to see if the sequence builds properly.

1. The sequence of revelations must be logical. They must occur in the order in which the hero would most likely learn of them.

2. Reveals must build in intensity. Ideally, each reveal should be stronger than the one that came before it. This is not always possible, especially in longer stories (for one thing, it defies logic). But you want a general buildup so that the drama increases.

3. Reveals must come at an increasing pace. This also heightens the drama because the audience gets hit with a greater density of surprise.

4. Start the hero’s desire low and raise it with each “reveal”. It’s pretty typical in a story for the hero to be ambling along not wanting anything much and then something happens and they are forced into action. Then, at about the midway point the hero will really, really want that thing, doing everything in their powers to achieve the thing they never really wanted in the first place. The reveals are what drive the hero’s increasing intensity of desire.

Further questions to ask:

  • Are these revealed secrets worth knowing? There must be a direct impact on the immediate situation.
  • Does the audience have enough context for this revelation to be meaningful?
  • Is the secret simple? If it needs heaps of explaining it won’t have any punch when revealed. (“Luke, I am your father.” Not, “Luke, I am your cousin thrice removed.”)
  • Have you foreshadowed but not telegraphed?
  • Like endings, reversals should feel both inevitable and surprising at once.
  • Is this so-called revelation simply one of two possible alternatives considered from the beginning? If so, the answer won’t be much of a ‘revelation’ — more like when you’re expecting a baby it’s probably going to be a boy or a girl. The surprise is pretty minimal in that regard. If you’re stuck with this problem, consider audience misdirection or hint at something different but related.

Picturebook Study: Mr Big by Ed Vere

STORY STRUCTURE

This is a tale told by a storyteller narrator, who we meet on the very first page and then soon forget. Almost all picture books have third person narrators but most often we don’t consider who that might be, so there must be a good reason for introducing Mr Big’s friend. The good reason is that the friend is very small, taking up about an eighth of the title page. Then, when we meet Mr Big on the following page, he seems adequately and ridiculously large.

The ideology of the story exists as back cover copy: A true friend comes in any shape or size!

WEAKNESS/NEED/PROBLEM

“Now, Mr Big had a small problem,” we are told. “Compared to everyone else he was extremely… (page turn) big!”

The rule of threes is utilised as the first ‘act’ of the picture book takes us through various situations in which Mr Big is lonely. He is so big he scares everyone away from

  1. The park
  2. The cafe
  3. The bus

His psychological weakness is clearly explained: “No one stuck around to find out who he really was. So inside, Mr Big felt very, very small.”

DESIRE

As in many picture books, our  main character’s weakness has been clearly stated in words. In this format there’s no time to show it, hoping the reader will work it out for themselves.

The desire, on the other hand, is left up to the reader’s deduction.

Mr Big is lonely; therefore he wants __________. Any child can probably work that out.

This has me asking a question I haven’t had until now, even after all this time of breaking down the structure of picture books: Do successful picturebooks spoon feed EITHER weakness/need/problem OR desire, but not both? This is something I’ll have to take a closer look into.

OPPONENT

Mr Big’s opponent is his own body — a variation on ‘he’s his own worst enemy’. But for a story that’s never quite enough — the opposition has to be personified (anthropomorphised in this story, ‘peopled’ with animals). The opponents are all the smaller creatures who refuse to stick around to get to know who he really is.

PLAN

Mr Big gives up on friendship with ‘people’ and instead seeks solace in the company of a piano who looks all alone in a shop window. He feels a connection to it, takes it home and sits down to play, to assuage his own loneliness.

BATTLE

Instead of everyone gathering for an epic battle, everyone gathers in the square to listen to the beautiful music coming from Mr Big’s window, sort of reminiscent of Rapunzel. Remember how the prince hears Rapunzel singing as he rides by and makes it his mission to discover who it is? I’m also reminded of the 1999 film Gloomy Sunday in which a piano player has the ability to enchant the people around him, changing their lives.

The ‘battle’ sequence in this kind of story is perhaps better called the ‘Culmination’. The piano playing ends with him getting invited into a local jazz band.

The ultimate success of a piano player is to be seen on the stage, and so we see him playing to a crowd, who now think he’s marvellous.

SELF-REVELATION

But the stage scene is also the self-revelation.

At last everyone could see the real Mr Big!

Just like a film such as Le Week-end, self-revelations/end-of-battles often occur in front of an audience. This is a staple from traditional mythic structure. The 3000-year-old version of ‘Photo or it didn’t happen.’

NEW EQUILIBRIUM

Wisely, the author replaces the problem of loneliness with the problem of celebrity:

Mr Big has a new problem. He doesn’t get much time to be alone… and that’s just the way he likes it!

 

Fairytale Study: The Pied Piper of Hamelin

A version of The Pied Piper cover by Monico Chavez

 

First up, The Pied Piper is not technically a fairytale. It is a legend. Hamelin was a real place, and it is believed that once, in this German town of Hamelin, all of the children really did disappear one day.

June 26, 1284, is when 130 children left Hamelin a town in Lower Saxony, Germany. This information comes from a stained glass window created for the church of Hamelin, which dates to around 1300 AD. The window no longer exists — it was destroyed in 1660. It’s been written down in chronicles (in Latin language) that June 26 is when the children ‘left’. (Left, not ‘died’ or ‘were taken’.) Nothing else was written down — was it too painful to write more? Even today no one is quite sure why the children of Hamelin disappeared. There are several theories.

The story itself suggests that the children were ‘taken’ away by the black death or similar, personified in the tale by a man in a pied (colourful) suit. The problem with this theory is that if the children were taken away by the Black Death or similar, surely it would have been recorded somewhere. Mass deaths due to Black Death were recorded elsewhere. People who were able to write generally wrote to other towns nearby to let them know what was happening and what they might expect.

Another popular theory is that they were taken away for The Children’s Crusades. This is a very dark story dating from The Middle Ages. Young charismatic cult leaders convinced children to take Holy vows with the aim of ridding the land of Muslims. They needed kids to do it because they had ‘not yet sinned’. There’s no evidence of any children ever reaching the Holy Land. We don’t know how much of this legend is true. They were almost certainly much smaller than we’ve been lead to believe. There’s no evidence that Nicholas the Crusader ever came to Hamelin to recruit. It is possible the children of Hamelin became part of a Pagan cult. Germanic Paganism was in its death throes in 1284, so they may have become victim to some cult leaders who were desperate to revive the pagan way of thinking. The summer solstice is celebrated around that time of year, though a bit earlier these days (around June 20-22).

Others have suggested it was a ‘dancing plague’. For more on that look up Choreomania.  There are plenty of stories of dancing mania in Germany at this time. One group of people even managed to break a bridge after too many were dancing on it at the same time. There were injuries. Holland and France also has reports of choreomania.

But there may be another reason an entire generation of children disappeared at once — the town may have been ransacked, with the children taken away as indentured slaves or married off elsewhere. This is not unheard of in history, and the Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped in Nigeria overnight in April 2014. The Pied Piper could be a based on a news story similar to that.

This snippet turned into a proper tale (similar to the fairytales we read to our children today) in the next few hundred years. It was even said that someone in particular (named) saw it with his own eyes. At first there is no mention of rats. (In the 1400s version.) Continue reading

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