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Perfect Storytelling

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As my year-end gift to anyone who reads these e-pistles, here’s a quick examination of as perfect a little gem of story construction as you’ll ever find, a 1964 hit from country music legend Lefty Frizzell written by Bill Anderson (himself a country star of no small popularity) and Don Wayne. Since the song is still likely protected, I’ll resist publishing the lyrics here, but other sites — like this one, http://www.cowboylyrics.com/lyrics/classic-country/saginaw-michigan—lefty-frizzell-14966.html — have them readily available for you to check out, and the song itself is can be heard here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqMCeA_1XW8.

Regardless of your love or hate of 1960s country music, a look at the lyrics should impress anyone with an interest in story construction. Consider:

) The hero is introduced and described in the first verse. He’s a working-class guy, which makes him a sympathetic character.

) In the second verse, the hero’s problem and his antagonist are both introduced. “Love thwarted” is a theme that’s captivated audiences since before Shakespearean times, so the situation further resonates with the audience.

) Hero sets about solving his problem in the third verse. We feel his struggles, we see him working toward a solution.

) Fourth verse: eureka! The breakthrough that allows us to move along toward the climax of the story.

) The final meeting between hero and antagonist occurs in the fifth verse. The antagonist’s greed, so nakedly on display, makes him seem even more dispicable than he was when we last encountered him.

) And then comes the sixth verse, with its final twist that provides the _real_ punch that makes this such a sublime little tale — evil gets its comeuppance, True Love prevails, all in an unexpected manner. A most satisfying climax and anti-climax, all delivered in four compact lines, with a two-line outro that allows the song to end gracefully and tie up the tale in a big red ribbon.

One may say, “Intro — problem — resolution; beginning — middle — end; too old school for me!” I’d caution, however, in these days when so many stories fail at the finish line, either delivering endings that are unsatisfying or so predictable the audience sees them coming by the halfway mark, that it’s no small feat to produce a successful story using those tried-and-true mechanics. The struggling “artsy” writer may wish to prove he can kick it old school and compete with Bill Anderson and Don Wayne before embarking on some elaborate, and ultimately unsuccessful, flight of fancy.

Happy New Year, and Happy Writing —

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Written by cnwl1

December 28, 2013 at 3:36 pm

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