Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dream recall and the window treatment

Just read an interesting article about new research in dreaming: who remembers their dreams, who doesn't, and how to improve your recall (thanks for the link, Lucy Snyder). I'd heard that waking naturally can improve recall, and at one time I kept a dream journal. I liked the journal because it gave me ideas for stories as well as helping me remember dreams.

But I'd never heard of the first exercise the article lists: "The Window Treatment". This strikes me as a great one for creating more vivid writing as well:

"For five minutes, watch whatever scenes unfold outside of a window. Observe everything: colors, objects, buildings, cards, people, animals, and movements. Everything from what someone looks like to the colors of their shoes to the speed that they are walking. If there are animals, pay attention to whether they are butterflies or moths, for example, or the specific breed of a dog. If a car is driving down the street, what kind of car is it? Are there any embellishments on it? The goal is to detail, in your head, exactly what you’re seeing — do not generalize.
Once you’ve done this, write everything down in a notebook. By experiencing the events and recounting them, you’re training your brain to remember details in real life, and eventually your dreams, too."

Since specifics are what make writing real, this is a great tool for learning how to notice and visualize. I'm going to have to give it a try.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Most Eloquent Love Story Ever Shown

Today I want to talk about one of the most effective love stories I've seen. It's told in sixty seconds, contains no dialogue, and I still tear up a little when I see it (granted, that might say more about me than the story). It's the epitome of show, don't tell, because there is no "tell". The first time I saw it, I wanted to watch it again, and again and again. So I decided to take a closer look. I wanted to learn how the story worked so well, and what I could learn about storytelling from it. So I'm going to break it down, piece by piece and discuss how the parts come together so strongly.

This heartstring-tugger is, of all things, a commercial for Budweiser. It's called Puppy Love and aired during the Super Bowl. In case you missed it then, here's the video:

So much cute! But any puppy video can radiate cute. Let's look at all the story components and try to figure out how they come together to leave me a huddled crybaby. I want to hear what everyone else got out of this video as well. If you see a great story component I missed, please list it in the comments.

Setting: The opening shot shows us we're at "Warm Springs Puppy Adoption". So we're already prepped for adorableness.

Characters: From the cluster of puppies, one breaks away. The character is instantly sympathetic (c'mon, puppy!), and has raised a question. Why is this puppy running from the rest? Where's it going when it digs under the fence?

Soon enough, puppy nudges into the neighboring barn, and we meet character number two, a Clydesdale. From the moment puppy raises its paw and Clydesdale nuzzles it, I'm hooked. They're friends! This is the sweetest! Yay on them for finding each other.

Conflict: Uh oh. Clydesdale's human sees what's up and takes puppy back. Of course he has to; puppy belongs to the lady at Warm Springs, not him. When puppy makes that face at :20, I almost break apart. Never has heartbreak been more clearly expressed. (As a side note, I have no idea if that face was real or if they altered it with CGI. I really hope it's the latter, because it crushes me to think what they must have done to that puppy to get it to make that face.) They've been driven apart!

Rising Action: But that's not the end for our hero(ine?). Puppy does not give up. It goes out in the rain, being brought back muddy, and tries to dig once again. Puppy's love for Clydesdale will not be denied.

Crisis: Warm Springs Lady sells puppy to an ominous man in sunglasses. Oh no! Now puppy and Clydesdale will be separated forever! Note that this was foreshadowed in the opening shot. Since this is a puppy adoption farm, we know the puppies will be sold away at some point.

Showdown: Note that up until this point, the affection has been largely one-sided. Puppy's the one who's been running to Clydesdale. But when puppy howls in anguish from the back of Sunglass Man's car, Clydesdale's the one who comes running. Clydesdale's just as much in love with puppy, and my throat's starting to clamp up.

While puppy scratches and barks at the rear window, Clydesdale jumps over its fence to catch up with the fast-retreating car. Then Clydesdale's friends join in. Soon the car's surrounded, and Sunglass Man is stopped in his tracks. When the Clydesdales return to the horse man with puppy at their lead, I breathe in relief. The crisis has been averted.

(Another side note: we never see what happened to Sunglass Man in the interim. I wouldn't be surprised to see a bloodied pair of shades stuck to one of the horses' hooves. But hey, he's the bad guy, right?)

Resolution: Puppy and Clydesdale have made it clear their love won't be denied. But will their humans accept this? Once puppy returns, Horse Man scoops it up. Clearly this is puppy's home. And in the final scene, puppy and Clydesdale run and play together at the horse farm, while Puppy Lady and Horse Man look on, and I try not to blubber all over myself.

Part of what makes this story work so well is that it's stripped of any unnecessary extras. It has to be, because of the time restraints. Within the confines of a word-free minute, the commercial writers have created a dynamite story in a highly effective emotional package.

What did you think of Puppy Love? Does this commercial's emotional punch give you any ideas to add poignancy to your own writing?