Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Set-Up & Delivery

Set-Up (thanks, Mary Ellen)



Two old ladies are outside their nursing home, having a drink and a smoke, when it starts to rain. One of the old ladies pulls out a condom, cuts off the end, puts it over her cigarette, and continues smoking.

Maude: What in the hell is that?

Mabel: A condom. This way my cigarette doesn't get wet.

Maude: Where did you get it?

Mabel: You can get them at any drugstore.

The next day, Maude hobbles herself into the local drugstore and announces to the pharmacist that she wants a box of condoms. The pharmacist, obviously embarrassed, looks at her kind of strangely (she is after all, over 80 years of age), but very delicately asks what brand of condom she prefers.

"Doesn't matter Sonny, as long as it fits on a Camel."

I've been thinking of elements of writing lately (haven't done much writing, so this makes me feel like I'm at least in the game), and one of the chief components of a good story is the set-up, another the delivery. Back when I was teaching, I'd tell my students to imagine visual shapes in order to get the story form they wanted, and the tornado and inverted tornado were simple to understand once they'd read the short stories or books I had on their lists. Take Southern women writers, for example.

Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird" is the regular tornado, because she starts off with generalities, sucks you in with the small town atmosphere, and then delivers the goods as far as who is gonna die and live, and the strength of the story (all of it is great, IMO) is the center of the tornado, the eye of the storm, once she's set it up. Sagging middle? Not this gal.

Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, and Carson McCullers do the same thing - they take an ordinary person or situation then blow it out of proportion, giving us protagonists who are left in haylofts minus their wooden legs, stuck in post offices out of stubborness, or realizing by nightfall that they're not the weirdest person in the room after all. - On the other hand, they all do the opposite with great affect...these women had the ability to turn that tornado upside down and bring the reader so far into their stories that by the end of the tale, the reader felt a kinship with the primary characters, could see that there were certain elements in the fiction that moved from specific events to general shared qualities.

Lee's affect was to broaden our scope of understanding, make us more aware of bigotry, not just to see the world through a child's eyes. O'Connor's was that there are snakes in the grass no matter where we live, that there are unscrupulous people who take advantage for no other reason than that they can. Welty's characters reminded us of our own families and why we have a love/hate relationship and jealousy going with some of them. The latter women were more inverted tornadoes to me, simply because what you got at the end of the story wasn't foreshadowed as strongly as Lee's work.

If I told you I had a sexy boyfriend who was a businessman with a great sense of humor and that I met him at a costume party, you *might* think 'nerd', so guy wouldn't be too much of a shock to your system.

Set-up is best achieved when writing tight, making sure all loose ends are tied up before the delivery. Delivery is more potent when the set-up suggests that the end result is something it's not. Say a girlfriend is talking about her Sexy Boyfriend. The dialogue can be either a tornado-type visual, wide at top (generalities) that narrows to the small funnel at bottom, or it can be inverted, with minimal information that grows until the big picture is formed.

Delivery (thanks, Janet)

No cigarettes were lit, so no rose bushes set on fire and no Tootsie Roll penny banks squished during the construction of this blog post. Doesn't mean I'm not geeking, though. *grin* I did, however, find some photos of Sexy Boyfriends to share.

Oh, baby, oh, baby, oooh...

Set up? Maybe.

But I do try to deliver.

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3 Comments:

At 7:56 PM, Anonymous Doug said...

OH, man, Lyn, that last photo. Makes me want to get my back and ass waxed just to be a jack o'lantern for my wife.

I actually asked about waxing, the last time I got my hair cut. The waxing gal came over and said, "Materials and time. A back is usually forty or fifty dollars." Then she looked at me and said, "Or sixty."

How ya been?

 
At 3:15 AM, Blogger Sam said...

I'll have the jack-O'Lantern for Halloween, Please.
:-D

LOL about the joke. Too cute!

 
At 4:23 PM, Blogger Lyn Cash said...

I messed up on spelling, but gist was that Doug cracked me up and that I agreed with Sam. *grin*

 

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