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Drama in storytelling: what contemporary writers can learn from Steinbeck

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message 1: by Tim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tim Weed I think this novelette is nearly perfect in terms of what it does with storytelling drama. If you're a writer, you can learn a great deal from Steinbeck. Here's my analysis: http://bit.ly/Tp1Ztf

What do you think?


message 2: by VJ (new) - rated it 3 stars

VJ I will have to read this novelette again with your analysis at my elbow. I'm a novice writer and I appreciate your advice and understandable explanation of the need for drama as well as instruction about from where it should flow.


Walter Ullon Great analysis. I have to agree, drama works as long as it's genuine, and the reason Steinbeck did it so well it's because his characters were inherently flawed, and that's the seed of it isn't it?

Private ambitions, jealousies, deficiencies, naivete, etc, are all hard-wired into the personal destinies of each of his characters, which in turn humanizes them and their plight. He was truly a master.


Monty J Heying Excellent analysis of the use of drama. Tension on the page. Interwoven character needs and conflict. OMM has it all.


Gregory Rothbard To name their vehicle after certain heroic creatures, thinking of Rocinante in Charley and Me, and the fact that his beat up car is named Rocinante. The name fits very well. (BTW Rocinante was the name of Don Quixote's faithful horse.)


message 6: by Tim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tim Weed Thanks all, I appreciate the positive feedback. OMM is an instructive example, the more so because of its brevity and clarity as a narrative.


Michael Sussman Nice article.
Steinbeck was my favorite author growing up, and I still love to reread his novels.
Check out the 1992 film version of Of Mice and Men, staring John Malkovich as Lenny. It's spectacular.


Leah Michael wrote: "Nice article.
Steinbeck was my favorite author growing up, and I still love to reread his novels.
Check out the 1992 film version of Of Mice and Men, staring John Malkovich as Lenny. It's spectacular."


Yeah, he's really good at Lennie.


Veronica Yeah, the 1992 film version is great. John Malcovich gives justice in his portrayal of Lenny. The same with Gary Sinese, he is the very reason why I loved CSI NY,
John;s novel always moves his reader. And we must not forget The Pearl, My heart goes with Kino and his family. Why can't a person get his luck without any hassle? :(


message 10: by VJ (new) - rated it 3 stars

VJ Guess I'm old because I don't like Malkovich. Much prefer the version with Burgess Meredith.


message 11: by M.E. (new) - rated it 3 stars

M.E. Tim wrote: "I think this novelette is nearly perfect in terms of what it does with storytelling drama. If you're a writer, you can learn a great deal from Steinbeck. Here's my analysis: http://bit.ly/Tp1Ztf

W..."


I like your analysis. While it taught me nothing new, it was nice to have the repetition. I'm certainly hoping that I can add a nice drama element to my novel.


Monty J Heying Tim wrote: "I think this novelette is nearly perfect in terms of what it does with storytelling drama. If you're a writer, you can learn a great deal from Steinbeck. Here's my analysis: http://bit.ly/Tp1Ztf

W..."


Thanks again for posting this. Very instructive for writers.


message 13: by Tim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tim Weed Thanks Monty, Mitch. Glad you enjoyed the post.


message 14: by Feliks (last edited Mar 07, 2013 10:44AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Feliks Tim wrote: "I think this novelette is nearly perfect in terms of what it does with storytelling drama...."

Very pleasant summary Tim. Coherent and concise. I would mention something of my own, just from the way this novel and many others strike me.

Throughout the story, characters are saturated in the dread towards things they don't want to happen. George and Lenny don't want to wind up in jail; they don't want to be poor; they don't want to be parted from one another; they don't want to keep going on in the life they have. The boys in the bunkhouse too, all have their own set of worries and concerns facing them (which they do their best to ignore).

All the creative writing instruction I've ever read tends to emphasize 'character's goals' and while that's all very true I'm starting to discern more and more, that good dramatic characters are as driven by fear as they are by ambition. Drama is at least as much about avoiding a path as it is, yearning to follow a path.

Following this line of thought, many of the incidents in the story also make sense--become clear as to the reasons for their inclusion--even if not directly related. Lennie's feat of strength with the hay bales; the old hound dog that must be put to sleep; Curley's initial argument with George..even minor incidents serve as 'omens'. Its all 'foreshadowing' an upcoming confrontation in the way that Shakespeare was very familiar with (e.g. the ghost on the battlements in 'Hamlet')

You can also notice that the story abides by the Aristotlean concept of story unity; in that the fate of the characters at the end of the tale stem from factors at the beginning of the story and those factors wrap like a yoke on their shoulders, all the way through. Act 3 is the result of Act 1. They're on a path they can't swerve from, like Oedipus, like Hamlet, like so many other great character-conceptions.

VJ wrote: "Guess I'm old because I don't like Malkovich. Much prefer the version with Burgess Meredith."

Nothing to do with your chronological age. You simply have proper, mature, discriminating, perceptive taste. I can't ABIDE that guy.


message 15: by Tim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tim Weed Great points, Feliks. I've never thought of it precisely that way, but I think you're exactly right, both in terms of the importance of fear/dread as a character motivator and source of suspense, and about the Aristotelian unity. Thank you for the insight!


Monty J Heying Feliks wrote: "Tim wrote: "I think this novelette is nearly perfect in terms of what it does with storytelling drama...."

Very pleasant summary Tim. Coherent and concise. I would mention something of my own, jus..."


Bravo! Excellent points.


message 17: by Feliks (last edited Mar 07, 2013 10:09AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Feliks Ty Steinbeck Man :)

Going to come back to you, Steinbeck and Hemingway sometime when I get around to it..I see you've been beating the drums..heh heh


message 18: by VJ (new) - rated it 3 stars

VJ Odd how focusing on what one doesn't want to happen seems to not only foreshadow the inevitable, but it also drives the story along.

Some old folks say one should never focus on what you don't want to happen as that only adds energy to the odds that what you dread will come upon you.

What a catalyzing insight.


message 19: by Feliks (last edited Mar 07, 2013 10:42AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Feliks Thanks. I do a little creative writing as a sideline; and as my projects have gotten more ambitious I've been trying to analyze my own particular writing 'blocks'. This realization came to me, as I was troubleshooting dramatic set-ups. I found it much, much easier to generate a chapter or scene once I realized that characters are NOT always on a "hero's journey". They're usually trying to avoid it! ha. Its just difficult to describe a 'character pursuing a goal'..what kind of 'mood' is that? Not everyone is Luke Skywalker. But describing a character with worries and anxieties..its a snap. We all know what that's like.


message 20: by Tim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tim Weed Right on. More great contrarian insights. You're speaking my language here!


message 21: by Feliks (last edited Mar 07, 2013 11:06AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Feliks blush! ty. I've actually got about 200 pages of tips & tricks I've developed for myself; my rules-of-thumb..arrived at after much skull-sweat. I keep a short-list 'em taped to my monitor (just the crucial ones). I'll let you know if I ever publish. :p

But this thing about 'dread'..here's another good example. Ever watch one of those old Nick & Nora Charles, 'Thin Man' mystery movies? Almost the entire cast except for Nick, Nora, Asta, (and Sgt Brody) are all doing their best to keep their guilty secrets from being uncovered. All of the 'suspects' have something they're worried about. One is doing a little friendly blackmailing; one is having some illicit affair with a maid, one has gambling debts..all have something they want to keep hidden. Even though they're not the actual killer. But they're ALL consumed by quivering anxiety just as much as if they were! So then you get to the inevitable dinner scene. "You're probably wondering why I've asked you all here this evening," says Nick. And then he meticulously lifts the veil on each of these dirty little secrets; the red herrings are all dealt with as he hones in on the one bonafide criminal. Charles hopes he breaks under the tension. He's the one Charles really wants. But along the way, its us--the audience--who are treated to all the actor's tension-filled faces and gulping adam's apples as the plot unfolds. "Someone sitting here at this table tonight..is a murderer!"


message 22: by VJ (last edited Mar 07, 2013 11:13AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

VJ Feliks wrote: "blush! ty. I've actually got about 200 pages of tips & tricks I've developed for myself; my rules-of-thumb..arrived at after much skull-sweat. I keep a short-list 'em taped to my monitor (just the ..."

Yes, please, do put me on the waiting list. Your explanations unfold and blossom, yet with brevity.

I never liked mystery movies, likely because I didn't approach them with the right perspective. Everyone has something to hide is right up there on the cynical scale with House's assumption that Everyone lies! I'd make a lousy detective I expect.


message 23: by Tim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tim Weed Me too!


message 24: by Feliks (last edited Mar 07, 2013 11:27AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Feliks Adolf Hitler --of all people--hated mystery stories too, y'know. He loathed them. :)

"People who don't like mysteries are..anarchists!" -- Raymond Chandler

Because its all about 'order' which is disturbed; and then order which is restored.

"What one man can obscure..another man can discover" --Sherlock Holmes, The Case of the Dancing Men

"Commit a crime, and the world is made of glass" --Ralph Waldo Emerson


Give them a try!


message 25: by VJ (new) - rated it 3 stars

VJ Feliks wrote: "Adolf Hitler --of all people--hated mystery stories too, y'know. He loathed them. :)

Oh, why would you jump to him, right off the bat?

"People who don't like mysteries are..anarchists!" -- Raymond Chandler

Here is an emotion I can get with!

Because its all about 'order' which is ..."


This one, not so much. I seek order, patterns in behavior. I have a terrible time figuring people out. Finding the order helps me build templates for understanding human behavior.

I do like Sherlock Holmes, but Emerson is not living in the 21st C where the world is much more of a stage and the backstage is getting murkier heartbeat by heartbeat.


Feliks Hitler illustrates the Chandler quote, that's all. He started off as an anarchist. In the world he envisioned (I suppose) there would be no mysteries. Not sure how he thought he would accomplish that. But is that what you want to be? A disruptor of society? :D

Emerson: I think today crooks have a harder time than they've ever had. CSI techniques; watch lists; cameras which snap photos of your license plate as you whiff a redlight..


message 27: by VJ (new) - rated it 3 stars

VJ Feliks wrote: "Hitler illustrates the Chandler quote, that's all. He started off as an anarchist. In the world he envisioned (I suppose) there would be no mysteries. Not sure how he thought he would accomplish th..."

Ah! Gotcha. I suppose I would like disrupting thought that reflects no engagement with life, no tolerance of the absurd. I like mysteries, just not figuring certain ones out. People are the great mystery I fathom.

Emerson: We, as a culture, have become adept at developing techniques to cope with the behavior we have not yet figured out how to curb. They may get caught through the use of the techniques, but the courts will only let them go free, for a'that.


Kerry I was involved in a theater production 'Of Mice and Men.' We either rehearsed or performed the play almost every day for over a month. It is truly an excellent piece of writing, Steinbeck gets to the essence of his characters in a clear and concise manner. It's like everybody is a victim of circumstance.


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