Reversals

In Poetics, Aristotle said — yes, I’m smart like that, quoting Aristotle — we move from ignorance to knowledge, from enmity to friendship, from neutrality to commitment.

Lynne Barrett taught this juicy class on plot at the International Women’s Writing Guild this week at Yale.

In stories, she said, everyone has to have a piece of the puzzle. No one character can hold the whole story.

Lynne gave us the timeline from the movie, Casablanca (which I’ve never seen) in which Bogart’s character moves from nonchalance to commitment.

The flashbacks in the story move the story forward. People don’t just ruminate on their past for no reason. The lover’s past (in Paris!) sparks an understanding that propels them to take action.

In all narratives, a reversal is necessary. Cinderella goes from low status to high status. I always taught this in my drama classes, that this is what makes for comedy — a high-status character becomes low-status — or visa versa.

This is why Lynne said the story of Spitzer is a better plot than the story of Schwarzenegger. He fell from the top, not when he’d left office.

But the reversal is not just “who’s up and who’s down.” A secret become public. A single person becomes married.

This class nudged me to reconsider the lame plot in my young adult novel from last year’s NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month).

When I mentioned to Lynne, I had a novel, written in one month, she said, “Yes, Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, wrote the book. No Plot, No Problem. No plot? Big problem!”

Incidentally, Barrett taught with my friend Dan Wakefield at Florida International University.

If it’s fun, it’s good

“We buy these difficult books because we feel that, while not very exciting, they are in some way good for us…It’s a sort of literature-as-bran-flake philosophy: If something is dry and unpalatable, it must be doing some good to our constitutions.” (No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty)

I have written about how I loved NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Such a creative, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, positive way to write a novel.

“With his startlingly mediocre prose style and complete inability to write credible dialogue, Chris has set a reassuringly low bar for budding novelists everywhere,” says Chris Baty about himself, the founder of NaNoWriMo. Awesome. http://www.nanowrimo.org/

I love that. So funny.

See, sometimes I feel — especially at work — that the most morose, the most academic, the most acerbic, that person wins. The one who puts others down? Yup, he or she  gets respected, if not promoted. But what about the nice guy/gal?

Hello! It’s harder to remain positive than to go negative.

It’s easier to be Debbie Downer than Ula Upbeat! Just because someone is negative, doesn’t mean they’re smart and right. And just because someone is positive, it doesn’t mean they’re dumb and wrong.

Ever since the leadership academy, I’m starting to see a shift in the culture of meetings and conversations at my workplace. People are affirming one another more. People are acknowledging that it’s okay to have fun at work. It’s okay to compliment one another’s work or unique style. It’s okay to be creative and, even, passionate.

At the library, I do have the impulse to choose the weighty, solemn and classic tome, but in fact, I should choose the fluffy, fun and juicy book. It’s more palatable. Just because a food tastes good, doesn’t mean it’s bad for you. Mother’s milk is very sweet.

And blueberries? Fun, yummy, good for you.

Just like “No Plot? No Problem!” Chris Baty’s funny, simple, profound how-to. Reading this book has got me psyched for next November when NaNoWriMo takes off again. Anyone want to join me? It’s more fun than eating bran flakes. And when the bar is set so low, everyone can cross!