PAGE 15 EXAMPLE: A FRED CHAPPELL STORY STEP 1 Character Chappell selects Joe Robert Kirkman, a teacher and sportsman. EXAMPLE: A PROGRAM PARTICIPANT’S STORY STEP 1 Character I (Frank Pressman) choose my father. STEP 2 Incident Kirkman tries to convince his outdoors pals about the existence of a devil-possum. STEP 2 Incident On a family outing, my father drives down an unfamiliar forest path. STEP 3 3A—character’s dreams He felt the world in which he lived was too “matter-of-fact.” “Derring-do was what was needed, some heroic feat that would encourage the spirits of hound dog men for generations to come.” Dream story: He conjures the devil-possum. 3B—character’s traits Trait 1: Rituals irritated him. He had to poke a “disorderly stick” into any custombound proceedings. Illustrative story: He upsets his outdoor friends’ ritual dog commentary with the invention of a devil-possum. Trait 2: He was a good tree-climber, having once worked for two years for the Carolina Power and Light Company. Illustrative story: He climbs a poplar in pursuit of the alleged devil-possum. STEP 3 3A—character’s dreams My father dreamed of a wanderer’s life, in which pleasures were expected and hardships ignored. Dream story 1: When his New York freelance business became a money-maker, he moved the family to an 1812 mansion in the country. It was romantic, but something he couldn’t afford, especially after some of his clients, now far away, left him. Dream story 2: none. 3B—character’s traits Trait 1: My father took great pleasure in anarchy in all forms. Illustrative story: He was walking with his sons down a local highway, when he spotted weeds breaking through the cracks in an abandoned store’s parking lot. The store was roofless and trees were growing inside. “In just a few years, nature is going PAGE 17 3C—manner of talking Kirkman uses tall tale-telling techniques. 1. He cites respected sources in order to give his tales credence. He pounces on oddities, builds them up. He grabs his audience with such lines as, “Listen close now.” 2. He sometimes feigns lack of certainty to make his story sound more authentic, and sometimes he challenges or taunts his listeners. 3D—way of thinking 1. In all situations, even dangerous ones, he subjects his own thoughts to analysis. 2. He cites the world’s great thinkers. 3E—physical presence 1. When inactive, he sometimes lay "stretched full out, his large square fleshy face propped on the heels of his hands. 2. A handsome face, by most account, his boyish dimples and the humor crinkles of his middle years showing the tender alloy of his character.” to bust up that whole place and take it over,” he said with great glee. Trait 2: He worked hard his whole life to support the family and rarely had freedom. Illustrative story: He set up a room in the basement for his special typewriters and walls of special keys. He went down there before anyone else got up and emerged for dinner. 3C—manner of talking 1. He uses gestures and exclamations to make big points. 2. He sometimes asks rhetorical questions. 3D—way of thinking 1. My father’s main ways of thinking were to ask questions, such as “What if?” and “Why not?” It made him a good listener, but also mischievous. 2. He was always looking to beat the system. 3E—physical presence 1. He had a friendly, big face that he used to make a host of funny expressions. 2. His voice was deep and booming, and he slapped his knee when he laughed, which he liked doing. STEP 4 4A—immediate quest To climb a tree and capture a devil-possum. 4B—others characters’ personality traits As a group, Kirkman’s outdoorsmen pals traditionally disdained physical activity, and left hunting to the dogs. Pauley Mackail: a country fellow who doesn’t read the newspaper. Wylie Hazel: He’s skeptical, asks leading questions, and makes pointed jokes. Broomsedge Tommy Fowler: He speaks in a high-pitched twang with broomsedge in his mouth. He flounders about in petty details when he tells stories; and is gullible. STEP 4 4A—immediate quest To take a road wherever it leads. 4B— others characters’ personality traits Mother (Darla): In front of kids, she supports and even idolizes her husband, except when she feels disrespected. Daughter (Deborah): She’s consumed with adolescent needs and feels that boyishness is irresponsible in a father. Oldest son (John): He challenges wild assumptions and takes the lead in grounding PAGE 19 4C—tools and objects The characters’ main accessories are their dogs. They mythologize dogs—and not just their own. Anecdote 1: Setback Williams let his brave, rat-sized, orange-glowing dog out of his pocket to go track bear. Anecdote 2: Tillyard Crowe’s dog had bitten Santa. Anecdote 3: Swann Dillard’s German Shepherd, trained to bite logging chains in two, crawled under trucks and nibbled through tie-rods. the family. Middle son (Frank): 1. He identifies with his father and develops imaginative scenarios. 2. He plays the role of mediator. Youngest son (Ozzie): He asserts himself with silly and sometimes blunt comments to compensate for being very young. 4C—tools and objects The car, an old one, has many malfunctions, yet it is a symbol of family pride. Anecdote 1: Once it made it through a deep puddle in a flash flood, when many newer, fancier cars got stalled. Anecdote 2: Climbing a steep local highway, it had to ride on the shoulder, its power was so low, and the family pretended that they were astronauts suffering G-forces. STEP 5 Fred Chappell starts with story element 4A, the immediate quest. This is called starting a story in the middle, a Classical technique designed to engage an audience. Who can tell what my father was doing at three o’clock in the morning of a balmy May Friday in 1946? Why, he was climbing a medium-sized intricate poplar tree, hugging himself up the trunk and clambering among the limbs like a child dazed by dreams of pirate mizzenmasts. A muddy old totesack he clenched in his teeth, and a savor of the burlap was to remain in his mouth through all this long day to come. The four hounds leaping and yapping below had treed the fearful devil-possum and Joe Robert Kirkman was all fixed to capture the animal and take him home and put him to some private use not virtuous in the least. STEP 5 The storyteller decides to arrange his cards randomly. The first card he picks is the first anecdote about the car (4C). It’s a good starting place for the story. A Studebaker with wooden side panels had been my family’s means of travel in 1964, when we’d lived like ill-suited pioneers in rural Connecticut. We had bought the car cheap from a dealer who’d been getting rid of outdated models. The car, which we had unimaginatively named Betsy, was an odd creature, we knew. But, in the eyes of us Pressmans, it was heroic. One time, on a busy road, Betsy had come to a knee-deep puddle formed in a flash flood. Several handsomer cars sat beached on the road’s shoulders, having PAGE 21 NOTE: The Chappell story being used here as a model of storytelling (Chapter 1 of “Brighten”) covers 20 pages in the book. It can only be reproduced here in excerpts. Chappell follows the first event with story element 3B, a description of his hero (age 36, schoolteacher, a rebel against custom); and then 4B, the character trait of the other characters as a group (their custom of sitting back while their dogs hunted). Then, Chappell goes back in time a little to describe what Kirkman and his friends had been saying and doing before Kirkman had been led to climb the tree. In doing so, he utilizes 4B and 4C. The descriptions of the other characters come into play as they tell their “meanest dog” stories. Dogs assume personalities. At this point, according to the next step in the story-writing process (Step 6), Chappell should move on to the main story. But he makes an exception, knowing that his readers are easily able to follow his story, which proceeds chronologically. He follows with story elements 3E (physical presence) and 3A (character’s dreams). My father rarely competed in the rivalries of quaint drollery. Maybe he felt outclassed. He lay stretched full out, his large square fleshy face propped on the heels of his hands. A handsome face, by most account, his boyish dimples and the humor crinkles of his middle years showing the tender alloy of his character. His eyes were dark gray but yellowed now by the fire he peered into, staring into the heart of the blaze as if some secret nestled there, some message to tell him why the world he lived in must be so poky, so matter-of-fact, so lacking in spice. foundered in the water and having been pushed away from traffic. Other cars hung back, their motorists not daring to cross. After a brief consideration of our chances, and with an irrational faith in Betsy, my father forged ahead. My two brothers and I opened the car’s doors to gauge progress. Water poured into the seating area. After five seconds of trawling, Betsy emerged on dry land without a cough or a shrug. She left the other cars behind and, as we proceeded to no particular destination, we cheered another victory of the underdog against the “system.” Note how the car has a personality. The next card picked is “manner of talking 1,” and then, “character trait 1.” So, the story will work with the father’s facial expressions and love of anarchy (represented by the parking lot anecdote). My father loved to beat the “system” even if the system were merely a puddle. In our underdog mythology, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton were demigods. Comic poses were a tribal language. My father, for instance, employed rubbery faces to express displeasure and non-verbal sounds for pleasure. “Oooh,” he once exclaimed as we walked along a commercial strip, his eyes lighting up and his mouth gaping. “Isn’t that great?” He was referring to an abandoned real estate office he had noticed. Weeds had cracked the parking lot pavement and trees had begun to break through the building’s roof. “In a few years,” he said with the awe of a paleontologist, “that building will be completely destroyed, and in ten years, you will not even know that it had existed!” He laughed and clapped his hands. Anarchy: a cosmic joke. PAGE 23 He might rouse now and tell a mean dog stretcher that would cover his friends with scarlet shame, but to what purpose? It conferred no grand and permanent distinction to tell a whopping lie on the side of a mountain in western North Carolina in the pitch-dark. Derring-do was what was needed, some heroic feat that would encourage the spirits of hound dog men for generations to come. Then they all fell silent to hear the hounds way off in the blackness… The men engage in dog stories again. They interpret the barking of their dogs, who are tracking the scent of a guessed-at creature. Tired of the ritual, Kirkman says, “Hush up, boys. Listen close now. Don’t the dogs sound real different tonight?” Thus follows Joe Robert’s ruse about the devil-possum, the use of the three outdoorsmen’s voices as a chorus, and Kirkman’s plot-impelling pronouncement: “One way to settle it. Let’s go see what they’ve got treed.” In the process of telling his friends about the devil-possum, Joe Robert uses techniques that can be applied to all writing: that is, establishing the authority of the speaker. “There was a piece in the newspaper a little while back about how they’ve been spotted in South Carolina and north Georgia,” he says, for instance. The last of four cards picked is the first character trait of the narrator, Frank, the middle son: He identifies with his father and develops imaginative scenarios. You’ll see two innovations in the following passage. The narrator jumps ahead to a time many years later when he discovers that only he and his father recall the story. This breaks the time line, but also confirms the boy’s character trait—his identification with his father. Secondly, the storyteller takes the opportunity—since it fits in so well—to describe the other characters, even though the cards that do that have not been randomly selected. It’s okay to break rules. The storyteller is in charge. Whereas some fathers will introduce their children to the wonders of fishing or to the intricacies of running a store, my father opened doors on mysticism. I was eager to follow him. My sister, Debbie, sensed an irresponsible self-destructiveness in it and kept her distance. My older brother, John, and younger brother, Ozzie, went along for the ride, but reserved critical stances. My mother had long ago booked passage on the Pressman roller coaster, and had learned to tensely survive the wild moments. It’s not surprising that, now that my mother has died, only my father and I recall a tiny incident, which, however small, represents a huge episode in our history— our family’s romantic, impulsive move to an 1812 mansion in small-town Connecticut. My mother had dreaded the move, as she had dreaded the small event that had happened while we were residents. STEP 6 STEP 6A After finding the dogs and the tree in which their prey was hiding, Kirkman is chosen to finish the quest. This returns us to the beginning of his story. STEP 6 STEP 6A Continue the story by restating the event that initiates the central plot. PAGE 25 So at three in the morning of a May day in 1946, he was struggling up a menacing poplar, fixing to bring back alive the fabled deadly devil-possum, which he had only just finished fabricating out of thin air. STEP 6B Here’s how Chappell’s story fulfills the series of events model. Instead of just three unfortunate-fortunate developments, he presents twice that. Climactic Events 1. Joe Robert is compelled to climb the tree. Cheered by men and dogs, it’s a thrill. 2. He does not climb high enough and he has to stop to catch his breath. He then manages to climb higher and get a glimpse of the creature that is his prey. 3. He can’t see. His friends help him hoist a lantern and he spots the creature. 4. The creature looks like the devilpossum. It’s not. It’s a bobcat. 5. The bobcat swipes at Joe Robert’s lantern and Joe Robert falls. He stops his fall by snagging his totesack on a branch. 6. He is slammed into the tree trunk. He manages to make his way to the ground, alive. STEP 6C While Chappell is developing the plot, he works in some of his remaining story elements. While relating Event #2, he tells about one of his father traits (3B—Trait 2) Up he went again, scratching and knocking his hands and head in the dark, We had been out on a drive—in fact, looking at homes to which we might move after the mansion had proven too expensive to maintain—when my father spotted a path that led from a secondary road into an unfamiliar woodland. “Let’s see where this goes,” my father said, and before long, branches were slapping against Betsy’s windshield, the forest path was narrowing and becoming less passable, and backing up was becoming less and less of a likely option. STEP 6B Plot out the series of three fortunate and unfortunate developments. In developing these story ideas, the storyteller makes things up since no one in his family remembers what happened after the branches slapped against the windshield. To do this, he follows his own clues. He has already written that the small incident had reflected the larger one of the move to Connecticut. That gives him a formula: the pattern of the Connecticut move equals the pattern of the side trip. He recalls three dramatic developments associated with the time in Connecticut: poverty, isolation, and a connection with nature. So, he comes up with these unfortunate-fortunate events. Climactic Events 1. The family begins to get very hungry, and they have little food on them. John finds wild foods. 2. The mother, Darla, finds an abandoned campsite and the remains of a butchered deer. A water-soaked sleeping bag indicates that the desperate camper is no longer there. 3. Ozzie gets lost. He is eventually found, carrying tales of animals that had not run from his approach. PAGE 27 though Lord knows he’d had plenty of practice climbing trees. He’d once worked two long years for the Carolina Power and Light Company, clearing land to install power lines through the ruggedest part of the mountains. He’d grubbed out bushes and topped trees and cut them down past Harmon Den and Laurel Fork and up through Betsey’s Gap and seen the inexorable alien march of towers over slope and ridge and rockface, the heavy lines swooping between them, bringing scientific electrical illumination to fleabite settlements in the mountains, where such light had never been heard of before. STEP 6C See bottom of previous page. STEP 6C The next card has to do with the older brother’s character trait. This trait fits in well with the next link in the plot line, the family’s hunger and the search for wild foods on the trail. The storyteller will write about the older brother’s search for wild foods. The subsequent card is about the father’s second speech trait: his penchant for asking rhetorical questions. A tree that had fallen across the path caused my father to bring Betsy to a halt, which elicited from Ozzie, my younger brother, a pent up confession of hunger. “Can we eat now?” Ozzie asked. “Why not?” my father said. “This looks like the perfect spot for a picnic.” We ate emergency car food—peanut butter crackers, LifeSavers, a bottle of warm apple juice. “Isn’t this great?” my father asked. My mother did not think so. The storyteller has not yet written about John’s search for wild foods, but it is coming. Slight adjustments are being made to make the story work. The storyteller lays out his remaining cards: 1. The father’s quest (step 4A) 2. The father’s lifelong dream (3A) 3. The youngest brother’s character trait (4B) 4. The sister’s character trait (4B) 5. The father’s second character trait (3B) 6. The mother’s character trait (4B) 7. The second anecdote about the car (4C) He also has the two remaining plot links (discovery of the dead deer and the youngest son’s disappearance) to work in. PAGE 29 Instead of using a metaphor to move his story forward, Chappell relies on pure action. However, given the symbolism of the devil-possum, a metaphor may be in place: a man’s fall and salvation. With a rollicking plot, Chappell faces the challenge of controlling the pace. He does this in two ways: highlighting the critical moment with emotion and slowing down the action to make room for thoughts and feelings. Here’s the highlighted, emotional part. …He extended the lantern little by little toward the waiting shape of darkness. Then he wished he had never climbed into this midnight tree and he wished—with the cold sweat pouring off him all over—that he’d never told a lie, not even the most harmless fib, in all his life. Also he cried out, “Lord, Jesus, forgive us if you can!” A phrase that would stick in his craw for months to come. For there, enthroned on a limb not three feet away, sat the genuine and undeniable devil-possum just as my father had described the monster. To slow down the action, he incorporates his hero’s way of thinking (3D). In the first 2.7 seconds of his falling, the answer to the riddle of human existence flashed into his mind…It then occurred to him that he might try to do something to save his life… He drops his lantern, which, as it falls, illuminates a fleeing bobcat. Wylie Hazel tells him so. But my father, still busily falling out of the tree, did not reply to this grievance, pondering with avid attention some aspects The storyteller uses a metaphor to move the story forward, comparing his family to a ship in a storm. He expresses it as his own reflection rather than as a part of the plot. He then plays with the analogy. I’m sure that we all felt as if we were on a ship in a storm, not just with this trip, but also generally in our family. My brother John, responding to this unnamed feeling, went into survival mode and started searching for wild foods. Ozzie, who needed little provocation to start acting in a manic fashion, flew around the woods, shouting, “Whee, free!” Despite the attempts of my brothers to support my father’s adventure, I think he began to get a sense that his crew was abandoning the ship, already short one member because my sister had declined to participate before we had embarked. “We don’t know where we’re going, but we’re going, we’re going,” my father started singing to my mother in an improvised Iknow-you’re-upset-but-love-me-anyway song. “We’re going where we’re going, the happy wanderers.” “Did you see where Ozzie went?” my mother asked. Huh? Oh! “I’m going to look for him,” she said. The story elements and the plot lines come together. The storyteller makes everything seem authentic. There are techniques for doing this (see General Rule 4), but sometimes it just happens—and that’s the miracle of writing. What happened next I only heard from family members as they reported back. I couldn’t leave my father alone by the car, especially since he was sobering up fast, talking about having to get back to work. He was a book compositor, producing camera-ready copy for scientific journals (before the age of computers). Early and PAGE 31 of the problem of life and death…Then he noticed that he was not only thinking thoughts during these harried moments, he was also subjecting them to critical and aesthetic judgments. He had discovered a universal law, one that he thought ought to be enshrined in the physics textbooks along with those of Galileo, Pascal, and Newton: A man falling in space toward the nearest center of gravity will be attacked by a whole bunch of foolish notions. It was an imprecise formulation, but it would have to do for the time being. STEP 7 Chappell chooses ending 2. late, he labored in his basement office, surrounded by IBM typewriters and walls of specialized keys. John returned with blackberries, wild carrots, plantain leaves, and sassafras roots, and was upset that not everybody was there to benefit. My mother’s return changed the mood, for she came with a shout, saying she had run across a hobo’s camp. Crying, she reported having seen, wrapped in canvas, the partly dismembered carcass of a deer. “The hobo may have kidnapped Ozzie!” she asserted. My father took charge, John and I in his wake. We went to the hobo camp and detected that the hobo had left long ago. A waterlogged sleeping bag and scattered bathroom supplies and books attested to that. Each of us headed out in different directions, having been assigned distinctive shouting calls and given instructions on how to mark our trails. John’s call was “Hooo,” and mine was “Wiiiii.” I was the one who found Ozzie. He crawled out of a hole between boulders. “You disappeared for a long time,” I told him. “How many days?” he asked. STEP 7 The storyteller chooses endings 2,3, 11a, and 6. Here’s the strange thing. I can’t remember how we got past that fallen tree finally. Maybe it had been a sapling and we’d lifted it; or maybe it had been rotten and we’d broke through it with Betsy. I do remember coming out of the woods onto somebody’s lawn and experiencing about five guilty seconds as we trespassed, waiting to be apprehended. Betsy wasn’t chugging along too well as we headed home on a steep highway. We drove in the truck lane as my father had us in stitches, pulling his cheeks back and saying, “G forces—oh, the G forces!” Years later, Ozzie told me that when he’d gone down the hole in the rocks, he had come to a place where wild animals had not been afraid of him. “That’s a fairy tale,” I said. “Whatever,” he replied. I should go back and find the spot.