Tag Archives: plot

The Boss on stories of identity

Late at night and I’m channel surfing. I flick the button one more time and there’s Bruce Springsteen being interviewed by Elvis Costello about songwriting.

He’s talking about why so many of his songs are ‘stories of identity’. He says there are basic questions he asks about the characters – questions that result in the story or plot of each song:

– Who am I?
– Where is my home?
– How am I going to live?
– Where and how am I going to raise my children?

“All these things ultimately lead you into … political activism or social activism. Identity questions lead you inward but they also lead you outward.”

Other clips from Mr Costello’s Spectacle program can be viewed here.

Stories within stories

Australian media has been dominated by the horror of the February 7 bushfires for more than a week now – and rightly so.

There are so many stories here. Stories of tragedy, heroism, good fortune, misfortune, charity, courage, fortitude, ignorance, benevolence, malevolence and much, much more.

When you’re plotting a novel, you begin with a main story such as the fires and then look beneath its surface for the sub-plots within it. It’s weaving these subplots through your main story that makes a manuscript more than one-dimensional.

Today I’m conscious of one sub-plot from real life. A mum who spent much of last week fundraising and seeking donations for fire victims has her own youngest child fall suddenly, dangerously ill. The mum has to rush from the fundraising event she organised to a hospital where her child undergoes emergency resuscitation.

My thoughts and prayers are with that family and every family coping with sick or injured family members.

No Bonding experience

My mates and I caught the new James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, last week. Very disappointing. Perhaps it’s because the flick wasn’t based on one of Ian Fleming’s novels. It just felt flat.

Despite having grown up with Sean Connery and Roger Moore as Bond (childhood flashback to seeing the actual Lotus submarine car from The Spy Who Loved Me at the Melbourne Motor Show – very cool!) I’ve got no issue with Daniel Craig’s more aggro version of the hitman. My problem is that all the elements from the books I loved as a boy and recommend to boys today are being neglected.

Quantum of Solace featured a wimpy villain, only a token nod to Bond’s womanising ways, action scenes that seemed to be there for the sake of action rather than for the (vague) plot, no suspense, little humour and characters that, apart from M, were as engaging as cardboard cut-outs. On top of all that, the heroine was fairly clueless, rather than sassy and smart-mouthed as Fleming seemed to prefer.

I’ve seen reviews that said QoS is more Bourne than Bond. Yes, sure, but at least the Bourne films had a plot and tension. QoS started with a half decent car chase and deteriorated from there.

What spoke to me was just how excited my mates were to be seeing a new Bond film. The original Ian Fleming recipe still appeals to boys of all ages, over several generations. Time to review the ingredients list, film folk.

Old-fashioned adventure

I sometimes worry that the current generation of kids don’t get enough imagination-powered play. All too often their games seem to be pre-franchised – acting out roles as mass-marketed characters from TV and film. I don’t see play-acting as the latest superhero or TV character as a bad thing per se – I certainly imagined myself as Aquaman or Luke Skywalker at various times during my imaginary play.

But what seems to be missing is the generic, no-name-brand play where the child is a detective or explorer or racer of their own invention. This kind of play is important because it’s unconstrained. They’re not limited by peers or product awareness telling them “Ben 10 (or Bob the Builder or Barbie…) can’t do that”. They can make their own rules and plot twists.

On the same token, an adventure might mean a theme park ride rather than going exploring without adults. I did lots of dangerous stuff without adults when I was kid – possibly because I lived in country towns and had lots of opportunities to do so. The absence of computers, video recorders and electronic games also made me more inclined to get outside and actively make mischief.

I explored underground drains, sailed a rusty dinghy out into a farmer’s dam (without permission), fossicked around old mines, climbed trees, rode my bike all over town, made hideouts and did lots more… Today, as a city-based parent, I understand the concerns about child safety – but also worry that kids need opportunities to explore and make their own adventures. And learn how to appraise risk.

Anyway, when we visited my wife’s family on the Gold Coast back in March this year there had just been some massive storms. The banks of the river where we sometimes swim were crammed with all sorts of wonderful flotsam and jetsam. People had been building huts and bonfires and various other objects from the loose timber. Working with my kids, we decided to do something a bit different – build a shipwreck that looked like it had been washed ashore years earlier. The picture below shows the result of our exercise in imagination:

Beached wreck