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.

 

Mary Edith Huggins

My mum was born 100 years ago,  March 15th, 1916, in Dudley Drive, Glasgow, the eldest daughter of Percy Huggins and Harriet Davenport.

Mum left school when she was 14 and went to work as a shop assistant.  She also loved playing tennis, and it was at a ‘tennis dance’ that she met my dad.

They were married on August 15th, 1938 and moved down to Coventry where my dad had a job in Britain’s burgeoning motor industry.

But it wasn’t long until she returned to Scotland. Sensing war was on the horizon, my dad had joined the army reserves in November 1938 and was called up at the beginning of September 1939. Alone in Coventry with no family nearby, my dad drove my very – very – pregnant mother up to Glasgow, where she gave birth to my brother a few weeks later on September 16th.  Apparently it was touch and go for a while, the doctor not sure if he could save both my mother and my brother… but he did.

And then my mum became one of the quiet, unsung heroines of the war; one of the millions of women who didn’t earn any medals, who was never feted in the mess, but who just ‘got on with it’, coping alone for four years when her husband was overseas, queueing up to buy her weekly rations, carrying pails of cold water up three flights of stairs to wash her baby’s dirty nappies, waiting alone by my brother’s bedside as he fought meningitis, then as now a killer disease, in the days before antibiotics.

I still miss mum a lot. Having suffered rheumatic fever twice, her heartbeat might have been wildly erratic (irregularly irregular might have been the medical description!) but she was strong and courageous with just a touch of whimsy in how she viewed life.  I remember dancing with her around the kitchen, her waking me up to look at the moon, standing beside me one dark stormy winter’s morning watching my brother cycle off to work and telling me that the rain running down the windows was heaven’s tears because he had to go out to work in such weather.  I remember getting up at seven in the morning to drive down to Dumbarton Road to buy rolls fresh out of the baker’s oven for breakfast before going to school.

I remember, too, taking mum on a holiday to Hawaii, watching her lie back on the sand as she enjoyed the sun. Remember her courage when, in her eighties, on a very turbulent flight from Glasgow to London, she helped the people seated next to her by handing out sick bags and making sure they were okay.

But one memory sticks out really clearly which to me, exemplified her willingness to have a go at life.  My mum was one of those people who had a talent for looking after people and for making her surroundings really lovely. Whether it was the way she served the food on a plate or adjusted a piece of furniture, she had one of those eyes (my sister has it too) of making something/anything look really good.  Widowed in her early 60s, she took in a lodger for a while, but when they left she decided she would get herself a job – her first real job since she’d been married.  Dressed up in her ocelot fur coat and knocking ten years off her 76 years, she interviewed for a job as a housekeeper/driver in London.  A few weeks later found her driving around London in her employer’s jag on roads even I would be scared to drive on.  But she took it all in her stride.  That generation of women, the quiet unsung heroines of the war, they had gumption.

I miss you mum. Every day. You’re never far from my thoughts.  On this special day I will, as I do every on anniversary of your birthday, light a candle for you and thank you for being my mum.

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.

Ross Ainslie

As an emigrant from Scotland, and with Burns Night almost upon us (January 25th), it can be all too easy to get caught up in twee images of Scotland and its music.  You know what I mean – pipers marching through the glens, kilts a-swinging, belting out Scotland the Brave.

And while there is definitely a place for all that, my visit back to Scotland for The Perthshire Amber Festival last October, really opened my eyes to the vibrant contemporary Folk Scene that currently exists in Scotland. Especially in the world of piping, where I was introduced to the music of Ross Ainslie.

What can I say apart from – What a musician! With his tattoos, long hair and ripped jeans, he is definitely not your traditional image of a piper.

Unfortunately, none on the photos I took at his concert turned out, but here’s a wonderful clip of him performing from Youtube. Check it out. The energy of the music is intoxicating and exciting.

But Ainslie can also play beautiful, mellow and traditional.  Below, you can hear him playing on my most favourite song, Caledonia.  (at 2mins 46secs and 4 mins 22secs.)

 

Swimming Cows

Visiting a museum in Dunkeld, Scotland, a few months ago, I came across the term ‘swimming cows’ for the first time.

Back in the day, droving cattle from the Highlands down to the markets in Crieff and Falkirk was huge business and the major source of income in the Highlands. From Crieff, the cattle were herded south to England, where their meat was in great demand.  At the peak of the industry, 100,000 cattle left the Highlands every year. The droving way of life only fell into decline with the arrival of the railroads in the mid-19th Century.

But what has this to do with ‘swimming cows’?  In the days before bridges were available – or their tolls affordable – the cattle had to be swum across rivers. If the lead cow could be persuaded into the water, the herd would follow. But occasionally, if his herd balked at crossing a particular river, the drover might hire a local ‘swimming cow’ to lead the cattle safely across. This ‘swimming cow’ would then be returned home to await being called on by another herd.

Even in this day and age, cattle are still swum across rivers or seas to fresh pastures. I came across this article about a farmer in Skye who swims his herd across the water to fresh pastures every year.  Now in his 80s, he used to swim alongside them, but now accompanies the herd in a row-boat.

And if you’re wondering what happened to the drovers when their industry collapsed, many travelled to America and became cowboys on the famous Cowboy Trails.

If you’re interested in learning more, please check out this documentary of a modern-day recreation of a drove from the Isle of Skye to Crieff.

Happy New Year!

It’s been a helluva year.  I’ve experienced incredible highs – the birth of a granddaughter and grandson – and bitter lows – the ultimate betrayal by the man I believed had been my soulmate for thirty-seven years.

But a New Year offers us all hope.  And for those of you who have also suffered pain and loss this year, here are some words of wisdom from one of my favourite movies, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

There is no past that we can bring back by longing for it.  Only a present that builds and creates itself as the past withdraws.

To all of you who are part of my life, whether family, friends, acquaintances, or through this blog, I wish you health, happiness and the love of family and friends in 2016.

And just in case you’re worried this blog is going to descend into more grief in 2016, don’t worry.  My first blog of the New Year will be about the history of swimming cows.  Yes, that’s right, swimming cows!

MOZART AND MAHLER IN THE MORNING

What a glorious morning!

There’s a lot I love about living in Downtown Calgary. This was the view that greeted me on my daily river walk this morning. Then, less than three hours later, I attended The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra’s open rehearsal of Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 in E Minor, and Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major K. 219.

Morning

I recently joined the Calgary Association for Lifelong Learners (CALL) and for the grand sum of $10, and from a prime seat, I was able to watch the full rehearsal for tonight’s performance. I’ve been to the CPO many times, but there was something very special about seeing the musicians in their jeans, t-shirts, hoodies and baseball hats, (rather than their usual funereal black) their mugs of Tim Horton’s coffee on the floor beside them, that brought a relaxed joy to the performance. Fascinating, too, to watch the musicians making notes on their sheet music throughout as the conductor tweaked things so that everything will be perfect for tonight.

I might have ‘studied’ music back in High School, but that was a long time ago. I’m not really familiar with Mahler’s music and certainly not this symphony.  Composed in 1904-05, the performance notes reveal that ‘in 1905, the oars that were rowing his (Mahler’s) boat across an Alpine lake suggested a rhythm and character for the opening theme of the first movement’.

James Ehnes was the guest violinist for the Mozart Concerto and what magic he wove. The video below isn’t from today’s performance but one I grabbed from Youtube.

As the song says, Oh, what a beautiful morning!

Silver Splitters

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed it’s been pretty quiet for the past few months.  That’s because I’ve been dealing with a very painful personal issue which has sucked just about every ounce of creativity from me. I have wrestled with whether or not to talk about it in this blog. I actually started this post almost five months ago not knowing if I ever would post it. My decision in doing so today is because I’ve been doing a lot of reading around the subject recently.  All divorces are different, but they all share one common aspect; severe, gut-wrenching pain.  Although I am still early on in the process, this is how I’m trying to cope with mine.  It’s rather a long post, but if it helps one other person out there who is going through the same thing to know that they’re not alone, then it is worth posting.

There are times when life turns on a dime.  One day, my husband and I were  booking tickets for the holiday we’d been planning for several months. A few days later he came downstairs on a Saturday morning and announced that he was going to visit our (adult) kids and tell them our almost 38 year-old marriage was over. No discussion. When asked why, his answer was that, ‘It would be best for both of us in the long run’. And that was it! (Although I discovered later there was much – much – more to it than that!)

There’s a name for us, apparently – silver splitters or grey divorcees – and we’re the fastest growing demographic when it comes to divorce. So if you’ve been totally blindsided, like me, what can help you get through those first few weeks of suddenly finding yourself unexpectedly alone?

I’m only a few months into the process. I still have a long way to go in coming to terms with everything that’s happened – and my counsellor has warned me that it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better – but here are three things I’m concentrating on in my journey towards healing.

1) HEALTH: I’ve been pretty casual about my health over the past decade.  Between shift work, family obligations, my husband’s illness and life in general, my own health has scored low on my list of priorities. But something my mum told me after my dad died really hit home. Not wanting my brother, sister, or myself to worry about her, Mum made her health a priority, going for a long walk along the beach every day – even when it was raining and she could barely see for tears – making sure she ate well and getting plenty of sleep.

My mum was of that wartime generation that just got on with things, so I’ve tried to take a leaf out of her book.  Every morning I get up, brush my teeth, pull on my clothes and go for a walk along the river.  I bought myself a Fitbit recently and have programmed in 10,000 steps per day. By the time my walk is over, I’m already more than half-way to my daily goal. My emotional heart might still be shattered but my physical one has had a workout.

As for food, I’m trying to mostly cook from scratch.  Sounds like a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be.  Throw some chicken and veggies in a wok, or even just zap a potato and have it with homemade coleslaw, grated cheese or a salad, and it can be cooked, eaten, and the dishes washed and put away before the pizza delivery man is even loading your order into his car.  It helps to keep only healthy food in the house so I’m not tempted, but I am allowing myself one chocolate treat a day.

Same with alcohol.  I drink only when I’m with friends and keep no alcohol in the house.

Sleep?  Well that’s the hard one, isn’t it? My sleep pattern has been totally disrupted and I can’t remember the last time I had a solid eight hours sleep. Most nights when I go to bed, all I can think about it is what has happened to me, both before going to sleep and the second I wake-up in the morning, and my heart just pounds.  There are nights when I can’t sleep at all, and pace the floor back and forth. (There’s someone in the apartment above me who also paces the floor at 2am.  One of these nights I’m tempted to go upstairs and see if they want to go outside for a proper walk!) But I’m trying to keep to a regular routine.  I tried some over the counter sleeping aids, but they fuelled some bizarre and even more upsetting dreams, so I visited my GP for a regular prescription.  He only gave me seven tablets, so I can only take them when I absolutely have to. I’m trying to follow the advice you find on websites about getting to sleep: no electronics an hour before bed, turn down the lights, soft music, write my diary and plans for the next day etc. But it’s hard. When I turn the light off, my brain whirrs into action, so most nights I am forced to play a movie on my iPad on my bedside table to hold back the dark and the raging tumult in my brain. If I fall asleep before 3 a.m. it’s a good night.

2) GRATITUDE: Many days I just sit down and bawl. I never knew – or understood – the incredibly powerful physical, as well as emotional, effects of grief, but when I think about who and what I have in my life I realise I must be grateful for my good fortune.

FRIENDS: I’ve never thought of myself as having a lot of friends, but the one thing I’ve discovered through this is that I do, and they are AMAZING.  You know who you are, so thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I’m very lucky in that most of the friends I’ve made over the years are friends that I’ve made through shared interests, and not social friends we made as a couple, so I’ve not had to face the nightmare of friends deserting me as everyone ‘chooses sides’.  Quite the opposite.  My friends have let me rant and cry… but also allowed me to laugh.  One friend in particular refused to allow me to stay the first few nights in my new apartment alone. Her company meant that instead of ‘imprinting’ my new home with tears and a sense of failure – plus the added grief of having to put my elderly dog down when she collapsed on the same day I moved out the family home –  we christened it with a bottle (or two) of wine, great conversation and a truly meaningful friendship. She and her husband have also helped me clear my things from my old house, which has made the whole process so much easier than doing it alone. Another friend took me clothes shopping.  I haven’t had as much fun shopping for clothes since I was a teenager. Another jokingly signs all her e-mails to me as a ‘Founding member of the BAAC’ – Bill’s An Arse Club. Another invited me to visit her in Victoria to celebrate my birthday away from sad associations. But they have all listened. Thank you. You have no idea how much you have helped. I could not be working my way through this without your support.

FAMILY: I’ve had a bit of a rough patch with my siblings the past few years, but since all this blew up, their support has been phenomenal. Blood truly is thicker than water!  Thank you.

FINANCES: I’m extremely fortunate in that I’m currently not having to forage around for enough money to live on. For now I have enough to get by – as long as I’m careful. I don’t know what the final settlement will be, although I will have to tighten my belt.  50/50 – as it is in Alberta – might sound generous, but given, for example, I will now have to pay 100% of the costs of my monthly expenses on half the money, it is still a 50% drop in income. But I remain lucky.  I’ve heard of several girlfriends whose husbands have hidden all the money from them and they have been reduced to borrowing money from elderly parents or cashing in life insurance policies to have enough money to live until the settlement is finalised.  That should never have to happen.  You never know if it might happen to you, so if I can offer one piece of advice, it’s set up your own bank account if you can.  Figure out how much money you would need to live for three – six – twelve months and then work towards creating that safety net for yourself. Just in case.

JOURNAL: Some experts recommend journaling as a way of coping with the pain, while some research suggests that it makes it harder to move on. I’ve taken a slightly different approach.  It may sound rather Oprah-ish and new-agey, but I decided to start a Gratitude Journal.  If I could find five good things about my day, then I decided that, despite everything, I had to call that a good day. They don’t have to be big things.  Here’s a selection from my first month: Saw geese and goslings waddling down the street and failing to stop at the stop sign – just as well there were no cars coming; stunning view of downtown with the Rockies in the distance; great cup of coffee from The Good Earth; my granddaughter gave me a really tight, squeeze the air out of my lungs, hug; Marks and Spencer’s chocolate biscuits, mmmmmm; washed my car inside and out so she now looks new and shiny.

3) KINDNESS:

SELF:  There are times when anger and despair engulf me.  I feel stupid, discarded, and find myself questioning every single decision I have made over 4 decades. Sometimes I am literally breathless from terror, my stomach clenching and legs shaking, and it can hit anywhere – the grocery store, out for a walk, having coffee with friends. As a non-swimmer I can only describe the sensation as standing on the top of a high diving board, with no ladder behind me, and knowing I have to jump into 20 feet of water. It is physical and it is real and I am having to learn to deal with it.

In the past, like most women and mothers, I have put others’ welfare ahead of my own. Now I have to be kind to me.  I must be – mostly – what matters for the next little while.

There are moments when my feelings of betrayal, followed by sheer utter stupidity, are overwhelming. When my husband left me, he wouldn’t tell me why, just that we would be better on our own and that there was no-one else in his life. And I believed him.  Kinda Sorta.  But not really. However, over the past few weeks, the truth has been revealed – and it’s not great. Where I thought I had started to heal, I am back at square one, but it’s been made much worse.  His lies had also started to create a tension between me and my kids as they believed what their father told them. For months I’ve been questioning my life-long relationship with my husband – what has been true in all these years and what hasn’t.  Sadly, now the kids are questioning their relationship with him too. So if there’s one request I have, it’s please – please – may the spouse who chooses to end the marriage put all the cards on the table at the beginning.  When you walk away, you don’t just break up a marriage, you break up a family. It will hurt – dreadfully – but at least the healing for those left behind can start right away if all the facts are known from the start.

THE KIDS:  Last – but very far – from least. It may seem strange that I didn’t mention the kids in my gratitude section.  Of course I’m grateful to them.  From the bottom of my heart.  I’m not sure I could have got through this without them. They have been loving and supportive… but torn. As I said above, when a marriage breaks down, the family is changed forever. For the past 30 odd years, talking with them about their dad was part of every day, normal conversation. Now nothing is normal when his name is brought up. Maybe one day it will be again – but probably not for a long time.

There’s a common perception out there that divorce is harder on young kids than on adult kids, but with the recent explosion of silver splitters or grey divorces, research is suggesting that the opposite is actually true and the experts are only just starting to catch up. So if you are the parent of adult children, I would suggest you read this article from The Huffington Post on Adult Children of Grey Divorce.  While I, as the discarded older spouse, am struggling to find ways to cope with the day-to-day, both practical and emotional, our kids are suffering too. We must remember that even though our hearts have be broken, we are still parents and must learn/remember/try not to cross boundaries with our kids, no matter how much we want to. They are still our children. My kids and myself recently met together with a counsellor and I can’t speak highly enough about the experience.

So these are my thoughts from a few months in.  I know healing will be a long and slow process and I will long grieve the promised and looked forward to future that was ripped from me so suddenly on that Saturday morning in April. But I look around at women who have gone through the same thing and a few lines from a poem by Maya Angelou ring loud in  my head.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
I rise
I rise
I rise.

It’s still the middle of the night for me emotionally – and perhaps you, too – and I’m still afraid for the future. Dawn is not yet anywhere near the horizon. But even after the longest night, the sun rises. Oh yes it does.

So will I.

And so will you.


			

SIGNS

IMG_2048Life has been a bit challenging emotionally for me recently and something happened the other day that had me bawling. You know that kind of crying, where it’s so deep down in your soul you can’t stop till you’re exhausted? All I wanted in that moment was my mum – to be a little girl again, have her put her arms around me and promise me that everything will be all right. But Mum’s been dead for over 12 years, so that’s not possible.

Or is it?

I was babysitting my eldest granddaughter yesterday. She’s the spitting image of photos of my mum as a little girl – same hair, same eyes, same determined personality. She started rummaging through some of my necklaces, immediately zeroed in on one, picked it up and handed it to me. It was my Mum’s gold locket.

I put it on, picked up my granddaughter and gave her a hug. She gave me a big hug right back.

Thanks, Mum.  Love you.

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.