In the spoof Thriller Concept Generator below, cartoonist Tom Gauld captures the centrality of the chase sequence in the thriller genre.
THE ENDURING APPEAL OF CHASE SEQUENCES IN STORY
Pretty much every modern storytelling technique can be found in the Bible. As for chases, there are plenty. Moses fleeing Egypt springs to mind.
There are the chase scenes in fairytales, which often have a dream-like quality, ignoring the physics of real time and space:
The children saw her coming from afar and the maiden threw a brush behind her. The brush changed into a huge mountain of bristles with thousands and thousands of thorns. The nixie had great difficulty in climbing over them. When the children saw her, the boy threw a combbehind him that changed into a huge mountain with thousands and thousands of spikes, but the nixie was able to grab hold of them and climb over the mountain. Now themaiden threw a mirror behind her that formed a glass mountain that was so very, very slippery that the nixie couldn’t climb over it. So she thought: “I’d better go home and fetch my axe and split the mountain in two.” However, by the time she had returned and had smashed the glass, the children had long since made their escape, and the water nixie had to return to tread water in her well.
— “The Water Nixie”, from the first Grimm collection
I suspect the chase nightmare precedes humanity. When my dog sleeps he twitches his feet as if running. I’ll never know for sure, but when he emits those half-hearted barks in his sleep, I bet you he’s being pursued. Or perhaps he’s running after me, thinking I’ve abandoned him.
WHY THE CHASE WORKS SO WELL IN STORY
A story isn’t a story until the main character wants something, and chase is a certain kind of Desire — one character wants something from another. And that desire is externalised. It is also high in suspense. A chase scene will be fast-paced. It is therefore almost mandatory in certain genres, like thriller and action.
FURTHER STORYTELLING TERMS
In Secrets of Story, Matt Bird talks about the ‘double-chase’. This is when the main character is both hunter and hunted. This is often what sets off the ticking clock ticking clock.
Bird also points out that when the double-chase begins, this often forces a decision. The example he offers is when David offers marriage in An Education.
The double-chase is often a feature of what TV Tropes calls the Stern Chase:
The protagonist is being pursued and must stay in motion, usually moving to a different Adventure Town each episode. There will be ploys to delay the pursuit. Some will work, some won’t. Frequently the protagonist must complete a hunt of their own, to bring the pursuit to an end.
The term “stern chase” comes from the navy cliche, “a stern chase is a long chase”, which comes from the old days of sailing ships.
In Writing for Emotional Impact, Karl Iglesias advises juxtaposing scenes — positive charge followed by a negative charge and so on. Positive charge means things are going well for the character.
Chase-and-escape, chase-and-capture also describe scenes, specifically how they end. Iglesias is using the term ‘chase’ more broadly than a literal running-race type pursuit.
Because a scene usually involves a character anting something from another (the chase), there are only two ways it can end: The character gets what they want, either outright or in a compromise (capture), or they don’t (escape).
What’s the difference between satire, parody and farce? What about the difference between satire and irony? I frequently conflate these terms, so I looked up some definitions and examples.
Satire is the comedy of beliefs, especially those on which an entire society is based.
Satire has been around for as long as complex human hierarchy has been around — probably since the age of agriculture. Satire was flourishing at the epoch of the Renaissance. Satire was the most important genre of the epoch. This makes sense — the Renaissance was all about change, and satire is all about mocking the old and ushering in the new.
But the following five forms of satire were most common during the Middle Ages (all related to folklore):
The fool satire — popular also throughout Europe from the 15th to the 17th century. Starred the fool or jester who represented the weaknesses, vices, and grotesqueries of contemporary society. Mr Bean would be a modern example. The fool tries to get away with stuff but is found out (unmasked). See also the IT Crowd.
The rascal satire — often interchangeable with the fool satire. But the rascal is not so much ridiculed and unmasked. He serves as a touchstone for the surrounding world. He is trying to gain entrance to organisations and estates of the medieval world.
The satire of greediness and drunkenness — often depicted by a character with a fat belly. This character is linked to fertility, rebirth and universal excess. Greedy characters have two sides to them (as in any carnivalesque tale) — the mocking of greed and idleness are combined with a positive and joyful accentuation of the very material-corporeal principle.
The estate satire — the three estates were the clergy, nobility and peasantry. (Women weren’t included — women were a separate class.) Estates satire praised the glories and purity of each class in its ideal form, but was also used as a window to show how society had gotten out of hand.
Satirical sirventes — ‘service songs’ — a genre of Old Occitan lyric poetry practised by the troubadours, written from the perspective of servicemen.
The satirical element also found expression in other genres of medieval literature, including in church drama and street performance.
Comedy in general tends to say something pessimistic about the nature of humankind, and satire is the most effective way of transmitting that message.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SATIRE AND IRONY
Satire and irony are not the same, but they commonly go together. Satire is the comedy of beliefs, especially those on which an entire society is based.
Irony is a form of story logic in which characters get the opposite of what they want and takes action to get. When it’s used over an entire story and not just for a moment, irony is a grand pattern that connects all actions in the story and expresses a philosophy of how the world works.
Irony also has a bemused tone that encourages the audience to laugh at the relative incompetence of the characters.
In the satiric-ironic form, you make the moral argument by constantly setting up a contrast between a character who thinks they are being moral — supporting the beliefs of the society — and the effects of those actions and beliefs, which are decidedly immoral.
— John Truby
Parody – a form of satire that imitates the characteristic style of a particular writer, musician, artist, speaker or genre using deliberate exaggeration for a comic effect.
(Though the epoch of the Renaissance was all about satire, it was also full of parody.)
Think of ‘farce’ as ‘broad satire’. And by ‘broad’ we mean satire that isn’t very subtle. A farce will make use of certain over-the-top techniques:
When we’re not talking about comedy, ‘farce’ describes a real life situation which started off serious but has now devolved into ridiculousness.
OTHER SIMILAR WORDS?
Perhaps these words don’t adequately cover contemporary humour.
This Country is a fly-on-the-wall mockumentary sitcom with two series so far (2017-2018). The story centers the misadventures of two cousins marooned in a small village in the Cotswolds. Most of their peers have moved on. Kerry and Kurtan are stuck in adolescence. They behave like typical Year 10s, despite being in their late 20s, early 30s.
Beatrix Potter was already popular by the time she published The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes (1911). The introduction to our 110th anniversary copy says the tale was created specifically to appeal to a new, American audience, with the inclusion of chipmunks.
Note also, crime stories appeal disproportionately to women — for whatever reason, this is a female genre. Beatrix Potter was the perfect candidate to create such a work.
Also, if you want to see what sort of sociopathic, philosophising white man Peter Rabbit turned into, go no further than Mr. Tod — the unexpectedly dark sequel to The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Potter wrote this mindfully and opens with direct address:
I have made many books about well-behaved people. Now, for a change, I am going to make a story about two disagreeable people, called Tommy Brock and Mr. Tod.
Actually, Potter did not use the word ‘nice’. What she wrote was this:
I am quite tired of masking goody goody books about nice people.
The publishers made her change it.
I wonder if, by 1912, Potter had become weary of people’s assessment of her work. Even today, I feel Beatrix Potter is mischaracterised as a spinster who wrote cosy tales about bunnies dressed in coats. But you’d only believe that if you hadn’t actually read any of her stories. More recent made-for-TV bowdlerisations don’t help. Is the opening to Mr. Tod a note to the people who underestimate her darkness?
Nobody could call Mr. Tod “nice.” The rabbits could not bear him; they could smell him half a mile off. He was of a wandering habit and he had foxey whiskers; they never knew where he would be next.
If Potter were alive today, I can guess what she’d say to people who insist people — women in particular — write likeable characters as role models for children. I think she’d tell them where to stick their opinions.
The Tale of Ginger and Pickles by Beatrix Potter is a story of utopian, idealised capitalism, first published 1909. This is how we’d all like capitalism to work — small local businesses provide goods and services; those friends providing the best goods and services win out, those ill-suited to small business find other, more suitable occupations. All is fair and just. Continue reading “The Tale of Ginger and Pickles by Beatrix Potter”
I saw this widely shared on Twitter and wondered if this frown analysis were an oversimplification of reality:
Americans, I am so confused. What is all this talk I’m hearing about how you don’t use the word “frown” to mean the furrowing of one’s eyebrows??? But but but what is a frown if not an expression contingent on the mobility of eyebrows?!!
On the other hand, it may be true. It would explain why (American-made) frowny emoticons have no eyebrows to speak of. This explains why the frowny emoticons have never looked satisfying to me. They just look mildly disappointed with the world.
Expand to GIFs and it’s easy to confirm the hypothesis.
Vulture (American) describes that (British) Fleabag scene above as a ‘laugh pout’. It’s definitely a conspiratorial, theatrical frown to me.
But then, Britney Spears is American and here we clearly see her using her eyebrows. I have no idea what emotion she is expressing here because GIFs are without context. But Americans clearly use their eyebrows to express a range of emotions. She looks incredulous and slightly disgusted to me, as if she can’t believe the interviewer just said that.
I’m neither American nor British. But I wondered how I, as an Australasian, would depict frowning in art, because this has implications for illustrators, right? This involves going back into art I’ve done in the past. Facial expressions are more subtle in the sombre works, more exaggerated in cartoony works.
Without looking too far, I realised I make use of both eyebrows and mouth downturn to depict frowning, at least when it comes to cartoons. When it comes to depicting a serious, sombre mood, I do very little with the face.
Just the other day I posed a 3D model frowning and came up with this:
The character is meant to be feeling annoyed and is also concentrating. I was using software which lets me control the eyes separately from the mouth, which is important information for this nonetheless rubbish experiment.
But I have lived part of my life in New Zealand, about half my adult life in Australia. So my own examples prove nothing either way about Americans vs Brits.
What if I compare British picture books to American picture books? Might we then see a difference?
First I need to find some characters with eyebrows and a human-esque mouth. (Pigeon from the Mo Willems series won’t do here — pigeon has a beak, dammit.)
I’m immediately hampered with a deeper issue. Is this even what Americans would describe as a ‘frown’? Does a frown denote sadness? That’s just a sad face, right? I mean, it’s right there in the title:
Or does a frown denote something else, like contemplation of hard things?
American illustrators definitely make use of the eyes (eye shape in lieu of eyebrows) when the frown indicates anger. But is this a frown? (The mouth is open and therefore useless to us here.)
Let’s go briefly to the UK. I’m searching for Shirley Hughes because she draws a lot of people, and people have proper mouths.
Look at Mog, though, by Judith Kerr. Cats have naturally downturned mouths, to the point where I believed all cats were always sad when I was little because if you look at them from the front this is what you see. But if you look at them side on, they’re enjoying a perpetual joke. Mog’s eyes have been reshaped to look mournful rather than frowny. Is this a frown to you? I don’t even know anymore.
The character below is by British illustrator Chris Riddell. Eyebrows feature heavily. The mouth is narrow rather than downturned. I’m definitely getting ‘frown’ here. To me, this is the archetypal frown. All of the characters to the right are frowning.
Here’s what I think’s going on. The concept of a facial expression is different from the reality of a facial expression. Actors, emoticon designers and illustrators are all working with the concept of frowning rather than with the reality of it. Britney Spears appears to be mid-interview above, whereas Steve Carell is acting. The same facial expressions, even if there were no difference at all, may well be labelled differently on each side of the Atlantic.
If you’d asked me to describe Steve Carrell’s face above, I wouldn’t have come up with ‘frown’. That’s not what I could call a frown, even if Giphy calls it a frown, even if the underlying emotion is frowny. I might have used words like sad, contemplative, thoughtful. His expression is clearly negative — he’s not thinking of something great, but that’s not a plain ole frown to me.
Illustrators, as you were. I reckon any difference between England and America is a labelling difference.
We may find something quite different if we went to Asia or into Maori culture, where eyebrow language is DEFINITELY a thing. I had to learn it myself as a young adult, moving from the South Island to the North Island of New Zealand.
“The Headless Bust” is the sequel to “The Haunted Tea-Cosy”, which I tried to decipher the other day (with limited success). This one is actually a little easier to understand and we are basically given a pass for not understanding it anyway:
‘Who were these people? Why did they
Appear to us along the way?’
‘But then again, why should we care?’
It’s quelque chose d’un grand mystère.’ (something of a bit mystery)
Gorey taps into the absurd to save us from it.
— Jane Langton
WHY LANCELOT BROWN?
The book is dedicated to Lancelot Brown, a landscape designer who lived in the 1700s. He was paid royal figures for his landscaping work (while the actual gardeners were paid very little, I expect).
This is him. He does have a mischievous, interesting face. I can see why Gorey may have been taken by him. Because otherwise, honestly, why?
This makes me want to write a picture book and dedicate it to some random historical figure for absurdist reasons. This feels like a joke on literary analysts, who like to decipher reasons behind everything that appears in a book. Well, I’m not falling for that.
STORY STRUCTURE OF THE HEADLESS BUST
Once again, the story opens and closes with fruit cake. The standout feature of the fruit cake is that it is rock solid. The main character is a scrooge (we know from the previous story) and has been hoarding it for ten years.
The story opens like this:
‘Twas hours and hours after dawn
Ere (before) the last guest was fin’lly gone. ça va, hélas (alas), from bad to worse;
Adieu to prose, allô to verse.
This opening doesn’t mention the fruit cake but I assume that is what Edmund Gravel holds in his hand. The Bahhumbug ‘calls attention to’ some ‘fact’ — the fact that the story has now switched from prose to verse? And this is apparently the cause of Gravel’s ‘unraveling’, in which he goes with the insect creature into a parallel universe and meets all kinds of different people.
From here on in, each page is a bit like a limerick — different rhyme scheme, but a series of short, humorous character sketches in rhyme. My interpretation is that Gravel has just hosted a party which went on far too long and now he’s dreaming of people, perhaps remembering awkward interactions he’s had with them, being a natural hermit.
He is dozing off when a fly turns up, to complement his imaginary Bahhumbug, then a cloud (perhaps a shroud) and whisks them away to some ‘provincial town’ (showing that Edward prides himself on being urban and sophisticated). I’m reminded of The Wizard of Oz, but anything including a fly and dream sequences is going to remind us of Kafka. The French words make it at once sound a little erudite (beau monde, meaning fashionable society, and so on) while also distancing English speakers from the text — this is exotic stuff.
So that’s the fantasy portal by which Gravel lands on foreign turf: a shroud which might be just a woolly cloud.
REAL VERSUS TRUE
‘Initial, dash cannot conceal
The fact that everything is real,
But whether it is also true
Is left entirely up to you.’
What’s the difference between ‘real’ and ‘true’? This is the sort of question philosophers get caught up in. The question requires a definition of ‘truth’, most often described as that which is both empirical and logical. People on Quora have attempted to define a difference; but it comes down mostly to context.
I think Gorey is asking this question to make us think the story is deep. He knew darn well this is not a philosophical piece so much as a humorous one. Surely?
Then again, let’s go to the subtitle of this story: A Melancholy Meditation on the False Millennium.
It’s easy to forget now — I was a young adult — everyone was talking about the new millennium back in 1999. It was a period of great reflection, and also trepidation. Which millennium did Gorey believe to be ‘False’? Was it the one just ending or the one just beginning? Sadly, he didn’t stick around for much of it. He died in April 2000.
Perhaps the ticking over of an entire 1000 years was a solemn reminder of the fact that we can never go back. Once a millennium is over, it’s almost as if it never existed. It remains true, but it is no longer real. Only the here and now can ever be really ‘real’. Everything exists in memory or in imagination.
Turns out I fell for it after all.
At midpoint, the main pair find themselves wandering around in the fog, not knowing what’s happening or what they’re doing there, which makes them our viewpoint characters since we have no idea, either.
Then they are standing on a miniature island, barely big enough for the two of them. The background is negative space. Except for the legs of the fly, hovering above, almost completely out of range of the ‘camera’. Or maybe it’s not the fly at all? It almost looks like the sun’s rays.
But after this emotional journey to the inner soul, the trio meet a few more characters.
What does QRV stand for? I Googled it. In amateur radio it means ‘Are you ready?’ This could make sense. Gorey could be asking, ‘Are you ready for the new millennium?’ But honestly, that’s a stretch. What on earth does it mean?
My favourite character sketch is the following:
In Wiggly Blog a certain X–,
Who looked to be of neither sex,
Was charged with gross indecency
Which everyone could plainly see.
The picture is of a person wearing a kerchief on their head, knotted at the side to perhaps form pigtails (feminine), or perhaps it’s just a kerchief.
I like this page because I have wondered how Edward Gorey might have identified had he been born 80 years later than he was. As it is, he goes on record as saying he identified with neither gender himself; these days kids are exposed to a much broader range of categories and a gender spectrum rather than a gender binary. I suspect this figure is Edward himself.
Which leads me to think every single one of these characters functions as a facet of Gorey himself.
The following morning, Gravel and the Bahhumbug are back at Gravel’s house (it seems the Bahhumbug is living there with him now) and they’re faced with the task of cleaning up after last night’s party.
They discuss their adventure and conclude it’s not something one can explain. A complete cheese dream. The final page suggests this party was an End of Year Party and now they realise they’re in a new century, and there’s nothing they can do about it. They’ve been thrown there whether they like it or not, as if into a scary, absurdist dream.
Is the fruit cake meant to represent something? That gets sent off to ‘Havens for the Indigent’ where they use it to scrub floors and keep doors open. Perhaps, if anything, it stands for bad feelings in general. Gravel and his Bahhumbug have let go of something and will start afresh.
ILLUSTRATIONS IN THE HEADLESS BUST
Here’s an example:
Reversing at a tango tea
In Snogg’s Casino-not-on-Sea
L– tripped and cried, ‘I am afraid
They tampered with the marmalade.’
In each illustration of each character sketch, Gravel, the fly and the Bahhumbug appear alongside the new person (with the exception of Miss M, who has disappeared after requesting from them a pineapple ice cream.
When is this story set? The first story seemed to be set in the time of A Christmas Carol but then again, Gorey did funny things with time even in that book (exemplified by the ten-year-old fruit cake).
The bewildered men appear in long fur coats and top hats, or plus-fours and golfing shoes, the clueless women in hobble skirts and turbans with aigrettes, or flapper ensembles with fluttering veils.
— Jane Langton
An aigrette is a headdress consisting of a white egret’s feather or other decoration such as a spray of gems. I never knew what they were called, thanks, Edward. When I see these I think of the 1920s, but fashion of the 1920s was a new take on fashion from around 1900. So I don’t think these characters are flappers.
A comparison between Mo Willems’ Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus! and another from the same series, The Pigeon Wants A Puppy, highlights certain shared comedy writing techniques found in both.
TECHNIQUES OF NOTE
Directly addressing the young reader
A main character who eventually tries to trick the reader
A battle scene featuring a tantrum
A circular ending
STORY STRUCTURE OF DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS!
Pigeon is only a pigeon and is not to be trusted doing human things (even though he or she speaks English).
This weakness is connected to pigeon’s Desire, which is to drive a bus.
The adult Opponent within the world of the story is the bus driver who, before the title page, has told the reader that he’s just popping out for a few moments — could the reader please not let the pigeon drive the bus while he’s away?
This is funny in its own right because it suggests the pigeon has previously done just this. And the thought bubble coming out of pigeon’s head on the front papers suggests memory, not just wishes, in light of this fact.
But with the bus driver gone, Willems turns the reader into Pigeon’s Opposition, as is the case in Pigeon Wants A Puppy. In this story, the pigeon pleads with the reader and the reader (hopefully) is on side with the authority figure and knows not to say yes.
Pigeon’s plan is to make a case with the reader:
They will be careful.
They have a cousin who drives a bus. We extrapolate that Pigeon would therefore be excellent at it.
A sob story: “I never get to do anything!”
Next, Pigeon tries to trick the reader into playing a ‘game’ which is presumably driving the bus for real.
Finally, ending this sequence, four ‘pages’ per page, each with a new reason for letting Pigeon drive the bus speeds up the pace and suggests Pigeon goes on and on about this for ages.
Pigeon throws a tantrum. Pigeon also threw a tantrum in The Pigeon Wants A Puppy. Big letters are scrawled across the page. Feathers float off (which kind of look like droplets of sweat — because I have anthropomorphised Pigeon).
We never know exactly what Pigeon is thinking after that because the ‘speech bubble’ is an angry scribble. But Pigeon looks resigned and downcast. Pigeon has the revelation that this is not going to happen.
This is confirmed when the bus driver returns and Pigeon has still not had a go at the wheel.
But this is another circular plot and once the bus drives off, a big, red truck comes along. Pigeon decides they would like to drive that. No words are used for this — just another thought bubble. This time, Pigeon stands on the other side of the page (the right side). This creates a visual ending to THIS particular story.