the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

A Lesson in Storytelling

Yesterday, on Citizen of the Month, I talked about the importance of storytelling in blogging, and brought up that idea of a storytelling session at BlogHer. (you can sign up to attend or present during this session over here)

I hope this idea that bloggers are writers doesn’t scare anyone off. There are quite a few bloggers who don’t want to consider themselves writers, because then they will get writer’s block, always comparing their little slices of life to the “bigger, dramatic” stories of literature, stories like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Grapes of Wrath, or Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Having your husband lose the remote control of your Playstation is just not as dramatic as turning into a cockroach or fighting a giant octopus under the sea.

Of course, we all have our dramatic moments to write about. Life-changing moments always happen in our lives — births, deaths, divorces, but not every day, and as writers, we can’t sit around waiting for some big event to occur while we post photos of our cats everyday on our blogs. I mean, we could, and many of you actually do, but it doesn’t make for exciting blog reading, and there is little chance that you will ever end up on Dooce’s blogroll.

The truth is, even a “nothing” story can be improved with story structure. Most of my story ideas usually suck. But if you stick with, a story usually develops. Let’s analyze today’s blog post AS I WRITE IT, hoping that it will be a learning tool.

Now at this point, I have no idea what I am going to write about, but I am hoping some story will come to me from the muses above, which I will then structure into something mildly coherent. It doesn’t always work, so bear with me.

Nothing of interest happened to me today. I’m not just saying that to get your sympathy just in case this post is really bad. I really mean it. It was so hot in my apartment in Queens today. The radiator is blasting, and there is no manual control, so I was even forced to turn on the air conditioning for a half hour! In the winter! The heat makes me groggy. I did a little writing, with the emphasis on the word little, and slept half of the afternoon. I spoke to my mother on the phone. I ate a tomato. That is my day. What the hell kind of story can I write about with that lame material?

Let’s start at the beginning.

Main character:

Neilochka.

Characteristics:

A little horny. A little frugal. Is that my full character? Of course not! But those two traits will be emphasized today because it will help me create a coherent story.

Beginning of Story:

Earlier today, I did leave the house. I went downstairs to the “compactor room” where we bring our cans and bottles for recycling. It is a no-no to throw these items down the incinerator chute, and the management says so in screaming red fonts on every door to every incinerator chute on every floor. There are even more rules to follow on the door of the compactor room.

compactor

A few months ago, down in the lobby, someone started a simple, but brilliant idea in a little alcove across from the compactor room. Rather than throwing away some old books, the tenant left them on one of the several empty shelves in the alcove. Within days, everyone noticed this, and the concept took off. This tiny nook has become the apartment building’s open-access library.

library

Tenants bring books, tenants take books. There are currently over a hundred books in our make-shift library. A pile of magazines has also developed, as varied as the interests of the building’s tenants, from Glamour to Golf to Jewish Philosophy. Whenever I bring down my recycling, I rifle through the pile of magazines, looking for something interesting to read, say in the bathroom.

(This is where the frugal characteristic comes to play, so my taking of one of the magazines in the story is not just a random act, but a logical extension of the fact that I would never actually buy these magazines)

Today, I found the March 2009 issue of Marie Claire. I don’t know too much about the magazine, but I have heard a couple of mommybloggers saying that it is their favorite women’s magazine. Well, to be more truthful, there were three hot women on the cover, so I figured I would check out the magazine.

(This is where the horniness element comes into play, further pushing the story along)

Middle of Story:

Now that the premise has been set up — Neilochka, a frugal horny guy picks up a free used copy of next month’s Marie Claire, it is time to expand on the theme.

This middle section of the story — the second act in dramatic terms — is the one that always causes writer’s block. What happens now? What does Neilochka do with the magazine? Does he play with himself? Nah, that gimmick is overused on this blog and is too OBVIOUS! Does he get into a fight with the original owner of the magazine who didn’t really leave it for others in the library, but accidentally dropped it on the lobby floor, and now accuses Neilochka of theft, and calls the police on him? That would be an EXCELLENT plot twist, and I might have gone in that direction if I was trying to be fictional, but I’m trying to stick with the real-life facts here to prove a point.

The truth is — nothing really happens in the real life second act of my story, other than me skimming through this very boring magazine, which is mostly filled with advertisements of anorexic young models selling stuff. But do you notice that I am using an old writing trick called “misdirection?” Writers use misdirection when their plot is so THIN, that they have to fill in the space with something unrelated to capture your interest. So, since I didn’t play with myself or get into a fist-fight over the magazine with another tenant, I am just blabbing on and on about anorexic models and other subjects, hoping that you won’t notice that nothing of interest is really going on. Sometimes, you just have to go with the inferior material and push it forward. TV shows do it all the time. That’s why TV shows always have guest stars showing up in their weakest episodes. Whenever a sitcom story is getting boring, some producer will say, “Let’s bring in Drew Carey or Mary Tyler Moore or one of the Jonas Brothers as a guest star so the audience won’t notice that this episode is boring as hell!”

Now that I have wasted some time with misdirection, I revert back to the story. Clever right?

OK, smack in the middle of Marie Claire magazine was an interview with a hip new all-girl rock band currently playing gigs in NY and LA. What caught my eye was that the girls were all wearing short skirts… and their bras. Apparently they are a rock group called The Vassarettes. In the interview, they talk about the importance of rocking the house while just wearing their bras, and being the first “bra band.”

vassarrettes3

Emily: “It’s totally empowering and liberating being up there onstage with nothing holding us back. It’s girl power times a million.

Kai Elle: “It means girls rule!”

Erin: “It means it’s cool for women to thrash.”

Alexa: “It means giving everything you’ve got and leaving nothing onstage.”

I was pretty impressed with the confidence of these brash young rockers. I also assumed that they were fairly bright and were called the Vassarettes because they met at Vassar College. Did this rock band idea come out of a project they were working on in their Feminist Studies class?

I actually have some good stories to tell about Vassar. There was this one girl… But I will leave this story for another day. Remember this rule! Don’t burn yourself out with each story. When you get a new idea while writing your current post, jot it down and use it on a rainy day!

The End of Story:

Let’s recap.

Beginning of Story – Neilochka, a frugal horny guy picks up a free used copy of next month’s Marie Claire magazine.

Middle of Story — Neilochka is bored by dull magazine until he sees four chicks in their bras and his eyes widen, until The Vassrettes bring up old memories, like a misty fog, as he remembers a smiling buxom young woman from Vassar College, much like the aging King Lear once thought back to his youthful encounters at the end of Shakespeare’s tragedy.

A good finale should always contain a big twist, that thrusts the story into an entirely new direction, creating excitement and drama for the audience. Think of every thriller you have ever seen in the movies. “Oh no, the killer isn’t the drug addict, it is really HIS MORMON SCHOOLTEACHER WIFE!”

A good blog post should have this same type of dramatic twist. In this case, I googled The Vassarettes in order to see the video of them performing their terrible pseudo-Spice Girls song in their bras.

Never in my life have I actually been turned OFF by women in their bras. The whole gimmick was just stupid. This spurred me on to do some more research, and I discovered that this “band” was not formed in the dorms of Vassar, but was created as a promotional gimmick for a brand of bra called “Vassarette.” Apparently this bra company, which is a Vanity Fair brand, is trying to sex up their image to compete with Victoria’s Secret.

This is the surprise twist. OK, it is not the biggest surprise in the world, but remember we are writing a blog post, not Crime and Punishment, so get off my case! I didn’t say this was going to be a GREAT post, just a post from crappy material.

And like in any good story, this twist should have a profound effect on our protagonist, in this case – Neilochka.

Up until now, we have known only two basic things about Neilochka — he is frugal and takes free magazines, and he is horny and likes to look at women in their bras. Now, towards the end of the story, it is time to create a more fully-developed character, showing his arc and character growth. Neilochka is not just frugal and horny. We now discover a new side to his personality. He is also cranky and opinionated, and he especially hates it when marketers and advertisers try to manipulate their consumers with stupid ideas like creating a girl band playing rock music in their bras, and promoting it as “empowerment.”

It is the time for the finale!

Tensions rise as the hero and villain meet on the battlefield. There is Neilochka, the David, with a tiny little blog without ads, and zilch power in society. The villain, the Goliath, is like any bad guy in any James Bond movie, or Madame Defarge in “Tale of Two Cities” a demonic figure, relentless in her goal to dominate the world. The Vassarette Bra company and her henchmen — the Vanity Fair Brand, Style Network, and Marie Claire Magazine — all want to pollute our airwaves with awful girl bands playing shitty rock music in their bras. And only ONE MAN can stop them. Neilochka! But how? With the only true weapon any blogger has at his disposal — sarcasm.

Neilochka would like to introduce you to his own hard rockin’ boy band, direct from JAPAN that perform their totally empowering music while only wearing cock rings, making the Vassarettes look silly in comparison.

guys

END OF STORY

(OK, maybe nothing can save this story, but I tried)

GO HOME

22 Comments

  1. Poppy Buxom

    You are so talented.

    I’ll bet the whole trajectory of this story would have been completely different if you had dated a Smithie.

  2. Neil

    Poppy, I though Smith girls were all lesbians?

  3. Caron

    Willing to withhold until you post the video.

  4. MammaLoves

    Yeah, those are the days I just don’t write. ;-P

  5. 3boys1mommy

    You may want to look into getting a cat Neil.

  6. flutter

    so, wait, does this mean I have to take off my bra?

  7. an9ie

    Remember this rule! Don’t burn yourself out with each story. When you get a new idea while writing your current post, jot it down and use it on a rainy day!

    Why didn’t I learn this at school! Oohhh, to think of all those blog posts where I gave too much away at once!

    Also, great post. I can see you in a tweed jacket with suede elbow patches lecturing in an all-girl college, Neil.

  8. an9ie

    Arg! Damn HTML! Only the first paragraph was meant to be in italics. Sorry, Neil!

  9. kimberlee

    I dunno, I think my readers are getting used to being bored to tears …

  10. better safe than sorry

    didn’t madonna already do the bra thing?

  11. Michele

    Neil, this is why we love you so. Sarcasm makes everything better.

  12. SAJ

    hahahahhahahahhaahhahahah! You are the best writing teacher ever.

  13. Chris

    Thank you for the lesson. I was able to glean something from this post. I think you should consider mentoring us via your blog on a regular basis. Especially for the people who won’t be able to attend Blogher.

    The YouTube video made me very uncomfortable. Those girls are too young looking. If it’s a marketing gimmick, they’re doing it all wrong. They need more voluptuous women – like Victoria’s Secret models. Dumb marketers.

  14. Neil

    I agree, Chris. Very unsexy. What is the point? Why put them in bras at all if you are not selling the bras as anything particularly interesting?

  15. mommyknows

    Dear GOD! I think I’m that boring blogger that tells no story and posts a picture of her cat everyday. Well not cat, but my naughty kid. I should just pack it in!

  16. ingrid

    Did you know that *loads* of female bloggers blog in their bras.

    And other stuff. But the bra is often on. 😉

  17. Colleen - Mommy Always Wins

    A-huh.

    Whaa eees innernetz?

    No offense, but I think I lost brain cells reading this.

    But I’d totally buy tickets to see Japanese doods rocking out with their…well, you know…

  18. conversemomma

    Ugh, the feminist in me is gnashing my teeth. Why don’t brains sell as big as bras? Blah! Love your Arc!

  19. Annie

    Well, it certainly was a long post :-).
    Not sure if I learned anything other than your day is more boring than mine.
    However I thank you for giving it a shot. And by the way I love cat blogs, to me they are way more interesting than mommy bolgs, so there :-).

  20. sassy

    You’re silly !

  21. Postmodern Sass

    You’re really onto something here.

  22. roo

    [Emily: “It’s totally empowering and liberating being up there onstage with nothing holding us back. It’s girl power times a million.]

    I hate to say it, Emily
    but when you’re onstage
    something is in fact
    holding you back–
    A Vassarette bra.

    And isn’t that the point?
    Or should I say, points?

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