Shakespeare By The Bow

HAMLET 1

It’s Shakespeare by the Bow time again here in Calgary, and this year the chosen play is Hamlet. Produced by Theatre Calgary, it’s an opportunity for talented newly graduated drama students to gain professional experience, performing in a glorious setting.

According to Shakespeare Online, Shakespeare invented over 1,700 words that we commonly use today, including: addiction, amazement, bandit, blanket, cater, elbow, gossip, label, luggage, moonbeam, pedant, secure, swagger, zany.  (Zany?!?  Who knew?  I always assumed that was a 1960s word!!)

It’s a long time since I’ve seen Hamlet, so I was surprised by the number of phrases I recognised that we use in our everyday language. The following is just a tiny sample:

In my mind’s eye.
I shall not look upon his like again.
All is not well.
The air bites.
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
The time is out of joint.
This is the very ecstasy of love.
Brevity is the soul of wit.
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
The play’s the thing.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
Get thee to a nunnery.
Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.
The lady doth protest too much.
I must be cruel, only to be kind.
There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.
The rest is silence.
Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angles sing thee to they rest.

When it’s well done, Shakespeare remains alive, vital and very – very – relevant. And it can be fun too.  Check out the various interpretations of one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines – To be, or not to be, that is the question… – performed by the RSC during celebrations for Shakespeare’s 400th birthday.

 

The Peace of Wild Things

It’s been a hellish few months for the world.  It feels like every day there’s an even worse story on the news. At times it’s all too easy to be overwhelmed by feelings of grief and despair over current world events.

Growing up in Glasgow, I can remember my mother’s concerns when the world experienced its frequent periods of madness  – especially when they occurred during the summer months – as they reminded her of that summer of 1939 when things spiralled out of control.

I have to admit that over the past few weeks I’ve started to fear that we’re barrelling towards something we can’t stop. So when I’m feeling overwhelmed with bad news, I read this poem – The Peace of Wild Things – by American poet and novelist Wendell Berry.

It helps me.  I hope it helps you too.

The Peace of Wild Things – Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives
with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.  For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

lighthouse

 

Meditation on Writing

Every morning, after I’ve been for my walk, I sit with a cup of tea and read my meditation for that day from a book I bought over 20 years ago – 365 Daily Meditations by Deng Ming-Dao .  The one I read today seems very apt for those of us who love the process of writing, so I’d like to share it with you.

WRITER

She withdrew into herself,
First writing just for one,
Then touching thousands.
She incarnated ghosts, hurt and joy
Into paper-and-ink stories of wonder.

One author said, “I can get rid of anything by writing about it,” meaning that the process of exernalizaton could liberate the pain in his soul. That realization produced a delicious dichotomy: to free himself, or to hold on to both joys and tortures by remaining silent about them.

Writers write because they must: They need to express something from deep within themselves. They hear voices that others do not. They listen urgently, and they must communicate what they hear.

The Mirror Moment – James Scott Bell

My first introduction to the importance of the midpoint of a story was in a workshop given by Michael HaugeHe described it as The Point of No Return, both in the external plot and the internal development of the character.  Internally, it’s the moment when the character realises he’s closer – fractionally – to the person s/he will be at the end of the story than s/he was at the beginning. Externally, it’s the moment when the story has to go forward in a particular direction. There’s no going back.

For example, in the movie Dante’s Peak, the midpoint combines both these moments in a very clever scene. In the external plot, we’re told that the sign the volcano will definitely blow is when sulphur gets into the water system. In the internal plot, since his girlfriend was killed several years ago, the Pierce Brosnan character has been unable – or unwilling – to become involved in another relationship. At the exact midpoint of the movie, Pierce Brosnan returns from a date with the Linda Hamilton character. It’s his first date since his girlfriend died, showing that he’s finally willing to take a second chance on love. They’re about to share a kiss when her young son comes downstairs and asks for a glass of water. When they turn on the tap, the water is tainted by sulphur.  We now know the volcano must blow.

Open Pride and Prejudice about half-way through and you’ll find the scene where Darcy proposes to Elizabeth in the most pompous fashion. Of course she turns him down and tells him exactly why she’s rejecting him, particularly for his treatment of Mr. Wickham. The next day, having taken her comments to heart, Darcy returns and gives Elizabeth a letter, acknowledging his pride and putting her right on Wickham.  Reflecting on the letter and her own prejudice in the next chapter, she admits, ‘Till this moment, I never knew myself.’  (In fact, when I opened my copy of P&P from my university days, I discovered I had underlined those lines and written – moral climax of book.)

James Scott Bell calls this Midpoint in the internal story The Mirror Moment. The moment (not a scene) when: The character is forced to look at himself. As if in a mirror, only it’s a reflection of who he is at that moment in time. Who am I? What have I become? What do I have to do to regain my humanity? Sometimes, it’s the character looking at the odds. How can I possibly win? It looks like I’m going to die—physically or spiritually. Now what am I supposed to do?

Sometimes, James Scott Bell says, it can be a moment when he actually looks in a mirror and sees – really sees – himself.

This mirror moment can also been illustrated in movies – sometimes literally. I’ve just been watching a great 3 part series on movie music called Sound of Cinema: The Music That Made The Movies.  In it, composer David Arnold talks about the challenge of writing the music for the reboot of the James Bond movies starring Daniel Craig. He describes the first in the series, Casino Royale, as an ‘origin’ tale of how Bond becomes the spy we know and love.  Because of that, he decided he couldn’t use the famous John Barry theme in full until the final scene, but would use snippets throughout to show Bond’s development into the character we have come to know.

And one of these scenes was when Bond, in his first tailored tux, looks at himself in the mirror. I mentioned this to some of my writing friends and wondered if there was any chance the scene happened in the middle of the film. My friend, screenwriter Carol Mulholland, pulled the script off the internet. Taking into consideration scenes that were never shown, the mirror scene happens… at the midpoint of the script.

So, there you have it.  In a book or in a movie, the mirror moment can, literally, be the moment when the character sees himself as who he is – or is becoming – in a mirror.

 

Spring

 

I’m in the process of moving house. Unpacking one of my boxes today, I came upon a journal I kept waaay back when I was 20 years of age. Inside was a poem called ‘Spring’. Given today’s glorious Calgary weather and the excitement of a new home, it seemed fitting to share it with you here.

 

 

SPRING – by Diana Cranstoun

The dawn
Of the world
Is beginning

A time
To start afresh
To forget
The failure
And sadness
Of yesterday

A time
When life
Promises
Hope

The trees blossom
The flowers bloom
And the sun
Yawns its greeting
To the world.

USING THEME TO BRAINSTORM YOUR STORY

Many thanks to those of you who attended my workshop ‘Using Theme To Brainstorm Your Story’ at this year’s When Words Collide Conference in Calgary. Several people asked for a copy of my Powerpoint presentation. I am unable to provide that, but here are the main points of my workshop.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEME AND PREMISE
THEME is what your story is ‘ABOUT’.  It’s the emotional heart of your story. It’s the human emotion of your story which creates an emotional resonance within your reader. The theme of your story can be told in one word.
For example:
Love/Betrayal/Trust/Respect/Change/Survival.

PREMISE is the What If? of your story.  It’s your plot.  It’s what your story is ‘about’.  For example:
This is a story about a businessman who hires a hooker for a week.  (Pretty Woman.)
This is a story about a lawyer who cannot tell a lie for 24 hours. (Liar, Liar.)

JENNIFER KENNING QUOTE
The theme is the coded message that you consciously plan and the audience subconsciously decodes.  The theme should resonate through all of the characters and subplots and be interwoven into the premise and plot. The theme should be present in some form in each scene

Why does your script need a theme?  Because you’ve created this killer premise, but unless there is some emotional logic for the audience (reader) to connect to that premise, the audience (reader) will leave the theatre – (or close your book) – apathetic to what they have just seen or read.

EXAMPLES OF THEMES
Sometimes a good way to illustrate a theme in your story is to contrast it with the opposite. For example:
Betrayal/Loyalty
Poverty/Wealth
Truth/Lies
Resilience/Defeat
Pride/Humility
Sacrifice/Selfishness
Survival/Death
Tradition/Change

SINGLE WORD TITLES
Authors sometimes state their theme in their choice of a single word book title.  Ian McEwan’s Atonement.  Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

ROCKY 
I hate sports films with a passion – especially boxing ones – but I love Rocky and will watch it over and over again. Perhaps it’s because the underlying emotion of respect permeates every single scene in the movie, whether through dialogue, setting or action. Take one of the first scenes in the film – Rocky goes to his locker to find his key no longer works. His belongings have been relegated to the hooks on the wall, commonly known as Skid Row. What a display of lack of respect for Rocky, that is.  Imagine how he feels? His self-respect must be shattered. Apollo Creed also fails to show Rocky respect in a way that will come back to bite him. He thinks little of Rocky’s boxing skills – even waving off one of his trainer’s concerns when his trainer sees Rocky’s preparation for the match – therefore does not train for the fight. By the end of the match, Creed’s attitude has changed.  ‘Ain’t gonna be no rematch’.

Very often you will find that the same recurring theme crops up in your stories because it will be something that is important in your life or your value system.

Back in 1975, Sylvester Stallone was an aspiring actor with dreams of making it big. But he had a lot going against him including a slight paralysis of his mouth which left him mumbling.

Inspired by a boxing match between Mohammed Ali and Chuck Wemper, Stallone wrote the script of Rocky in 3 days. Producers were interested in the script – but not in him. Stallone refused to sell the script unless he played the title character. The film went on to be nominated for 10 Academy Award.  It won two, including Best Film.

In an interview about the Rocky films, Stallone said, ‘Until a man – and this means a woman too – has been through a real baptism of fire, when you are scared, when you are hanging on, when someone’s hurting you – then you are going to see what you are really made of and then you are going to get the only kind of respect in the world that matters and that is self respect. That’s pretty much what my journey has been. This has been about getting Rocky self-respect… and maybe a bit of that will rub off on me.’

THEME BRAINSTORMING TOOL

So how can you use theme as a brainstorming tool? Easy. Grab a piece of paper and draw a cross in the middle.  At the top, write PHYSICAL, and the bottom, EMOTIONAL. On the right hand side of the page, write your THEME, and on the left hand side, write the OPPOSITE of your theme.

Theme scan

 

CASE STUDY – TITANIC

James Cameron said that Titanic was about MAKING EVERY DAY COUNT. I hate to argue with such a successful director, but I’m not sure you can can make every day count unless you have the FREEDOM to do so. So for me, I would say the theme of Titanic is freedom, and it is illustrated by depicting FREEDOM and it’s opposite (ENSLAVEMENT) in dialogue, setting, action scenes etc.

So how can you use the above diagram to brainstorm your story?

In the case of Titanic, take a piece of paper, as above, and write PHYSICAL at the top and EMOTIONAL at the bottom.  On the RHS of the page write (what I believe is) the theme – FREEDOM.  On the LHS of the page, write ENSLAVEMENT.

titani theme cropped

Then you can brainstorm ideas which you think represent Freedom and Enslavement in physical and emotional forms.

I realise the typeface on the above document taken from my Powerpoint – is too small to read (I’m the very opposite of a geek when it comes to tech stuff), but this gives you an idea of what your page should look like. Below I have listed examples from the individual quarters.  (These only a very selected few from my memory of the film.  If you watch it, you will find many – many – more.)

TOP RIGHT HAND SIDE. PHYSICAL EXAMPLES OF FREEDOM:
Rose poses naked for Jack.
Rose cuts Jack’s chains with an axe as the ship sinks.
Molly refuses to be confined by a social convention that insists she wait for a porter to carry her bags, instead deciding to carry them herself. (This is an example of the theme being carried throughout the story via sub-plots and secondary characters.)
Jack’s hair streams in the wind
3rd class is stark but full of life and energy.
Rose dances in steerage.
Rose spits into the wind.
Rose smokes a cigarette in 3rd class.
Rose makes love with Jack.
Iconic scene of Jack and Rose on prow of ship.
On the Carpathia rescue ship – Rose refuses to allow Cal to save her and return her to her old life.
Rose attempts suicide – preferring the release of death to living the life proscribed for her.

BOTTOM RIGHT HAND SIDE – EMOTIONAL EXAMPLES OF FREEDOM
Make each day count.
‘I don’t want your money.’
Rose’s love of impressionist painters who paint what they feel rather than exact depictions of their subject.
‘I remember how the sunlight felt – like I hadn’t felt sun in years.’
Rose says to Cal, ‘I’d rather be Jack’s whore than your wife.’
Rose finally has the freedom to tell her story to her granddaughter and the ship’s crew.

TOP LEFT HAND SIDE – PHYSICAL EXAMPLES OF ENSLAVEMENT
Rose ties her mother into a corset.
Cal puts his hand on Rose’s shoulder and tells her he will be her ‘first and forever’. Rose’s expression is bleak.
Cal beats Rose. She cannot fight back and the maid’s subservient position prevents her from intervening to rescue Rose.
Jack is handcuffed to the ship’s piping.
Rose smokes a cigarette and Cal stubs it out
1st class dogs are taken down to the 3rd class deck to piss and poop – a clear visual of the rigid class structure and people’s roles within the class structure.
People cannot move freely from one deck to another – they are held back behind metal doors.
1st class is exquisite, but there are rules to be followed.
Cal has a safe in his cabin.
Rose places Jack’s photo and the jewel in Cal’s safe and writes, Darling, now you can keep us both locked in your safe.

BOTTOM LEFT HAND SIDE – EMOTIONAL EXAMPLES OF ENSLAVEMENT
Rose: ‘It was the ship of dreams to everyone else. To me it was a slave ship, taking me back to America in chains.
Rose: ‘It was their whole world and I was trapped in it, like an insect in amber.
Everyone believed the ship was ‘unsinkable’ therefore Ismay, Smith and Andrews made fatal decisions. Had they not been ‘trapped’ in their thinking, the ship might have been saved.
Rose on the necklace Cal gave her – ‘After all these years I still feel it closing around my throat like a dog collar.’
Rose: ‘Why can’t I be like you, Jack. Just head out for the horizon when I feel like it.’
The sailors manning the lifeboats are so trapped in the British class system, that they allow themselves to be intimidated by the rich into lowering the lifeboats without filling them, even though there are not enough lifeboats for everyone aboard.

These are only a few examples, but hopefully it gives you an idea how using theme can help you brainstorm your own story.

IT’S A BRAW, BRICHT, MOONLICHT NICHT, THE NICHT.

scottishblogIf I’m being totally honest, there are probably places in Scotland where they really do talk like that.  In fact, many years ago, when visiting Aberdeen, (150 miles from Glasgow where I lived) I struggled to figure out the nationality of the people sitting at the table next to me in the restaurant. Were they Dutch? Scandinavian?  Turns out they were Aberdonians, but with their Doric accents, I could understand very little of what they said.  (Eg Fit like?  –  How are you?)

Writing accents in a novel is tricky. Too much can turn readers off by pulling them out of the story as they try and work out what you’re trying to say. Too little can have a diluting effect as your story could be set anywhere.

As a Scot who’s lived in Canada for many – many – years, here are some common contemporary phrases I notice when I go back to Scotland on holiday. If you’re writing a modern day novel set in Scotland, you might find some of them useful to add a little colour to your setting.

WORDS:
Wee – Scots use this a lot.  Wee monster.  Wait a wee minute.  Wee boy.  It’s a wee way up the road.
Wean – (sound like wane)  A small child.
Rubbish – Garbage/trash.
Hiya! – Hi!  Hello!
Outwith – eg Outwith my control. – Outside (out of) my control.
On your tod – On your own.
Suss out  – Figure out
Uh-huh – yes
Aye – yes
Wheeching along – moving very fast.  eg wheeching along the road
Scooshie cream – Canned whipping cream.
Dead – Very.  eg dead nice
Toilet – Washroom
Bahookie – Butt
Cooker – Stove
Hoover – vacuum.  (I’m going to hoover the carpet)
Messages – groceries.  (I’m going for the messages. I’m just going for the shopping/groceries)
Kirk – church
Chum you – Accompany you.  eg How about I chum you along the road?
Go down the town – Go downtown.

OBSERVATIONS:
irnbrulolliesIrn Bru is Scotland’s soft-drink equivalent to whisky. In fact, I think I’m right in saying that Scotland is the only country in the world where its own homemade soft drink outsells the other ‘big two’ soft drink companies. The adverts claim it’s ‘made from girders’, and I have it on good authority that it’s great for treating a hangover. As you can see, you can also buy Irn Bru in ice lolly/popsicle form. (Check out this classic Irn Bru Commercial and see how many Scottish landmarks you can identify.)

Alcohol is sold in all supermarkets and village stores. The only time it’s not available is on a Sunday morning until 12.30pm – when you should be in church.

Children are usually allowed in lounge bars and pubs – with their parents – until 8pm.

Midgies (Scottish mosquitoes) arrive in May and go right through the summer until August. They are a tiny, but major, irritation and can spoil a holiday if you’re not prepared. To avoid them, stick to the beach, make the most of a windy day, or make sure you’re wearing repellant.

The longest running police drama in the UK was ‘Taggart’, set in Glasgow.

Glasgow Kiss/Glasgow Coma Scale. One leads to the other. A Glasgow Kiss is a vicious headbutt. The Glasgow Coma Scale is the scale used in hospitals worldwide to assess consciousness (or lack of it!) following a head injury.

There’s a (friendly!) rivalry between Scotland’s two major cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Depending on where you’re from, you might say that the best thing about Glasgow is the road to Edinburgh, or…  You can have more fun at a Glasgow funeral than you can at an Edinburgh wedding.

Back in the 18th/19th centuries, Glasgow was a major centre for the international slave/sugar/tobacco trade and was known as the ‘Second City’ of The Empire.

The three major Scottish Banks (Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank) all issue their own banknotes.

The Screen Machine is a truck that brings a mobile cinema to the Scottish Isles and remote Highlands so locals can catch up on the latest films.