Saturday, June 4, 2011

The stories around us

My friend Milo Shapiro wrote a book called The Worst Days Make the Best Stories, a title I love for its honesty and inspiration. When we are in the midst of a tough situation, it’s hard to see if for the gift it truly is. Don’t get me wrong. Sucky days suck; there’s no getting around it. But in addition to sucking, tough situations also provide us with the core of a good story: a problem to solve.

As my daughter and I prepare to travel to Spain next week, I remind myself that the worst of times make the best of tales.

Think about the most entertaining stories you write or tell. The ones that really keep your audience engaged are the tales that make the audience wonder what the heck is going to happen next. They wonder how on earth you’re going to get yourself out of that pickle?

We’ve all been to dinner parties where someone tells a story that is…errr, less than gripping. They report that went to Aruba and it was sunny every day, so they went to the pool and drank tasty, blended drinks with pink umbrellas! Oh, and they met the nicest couple from Minneapolis. That Anne was such a doll. Her husband Hank, gosh, what a peach. And golly, there’s some terrific birdlife in Aruba.

Big freaking yawn.

Don’t get me wrong. I wish my friends smooth travels, but if they are going to turn it into a story, they better have faced some challenges.

The notion that the worst days make the best stories has saved my sanity on more than one occasion. Lying awake on a makeshift bed at the Shakespeare and Company in Paris, I realized it was an awful idea it was for Katie and I to sleepover at the bookstore. Staying overnight at the converted seventeenth century monastery is a wonderful adventure for a twentysomething with a pierced face, but not the best fit for us. It was tough to fall asleep with the putrid combination of hot garbage beneath our window, and cigarette smoke from fellow travelers permeating the building. When I woke up to the bells of Notre Dame the following morning, I saw three rodent turds beside me, and thought, This is going to make a hell of a story. It kept a smile on my face as Katie and I made our hasty escape.

In many films, the second act typically ends when all hope is lost for the protagonist. Everything has gone utterly and completely wrong. When Katie and I are in a predicament, she will often turn to me and ask, “Can we start act three now?” That final act is when we get the payoff of a satisfying resolution.

When we travel, Katie and I know we are starring in our own story and trust that act two will come to a conclusion and we will get our happy ending. (We live in a comedy; no dreary art flick endings for us.)

As Katie and I prepare for our big adventure to Spain next week, we will remind each other that perfect trips make boring tales, and the true test of our character is how we deal with the inevitable challenges that are put before us.

As writers we need to welcome crappy days as awesome material. Perfect days are to be enjoyed and appreciated – but never written about.


Post a Comment