Four Elements of a Great Story a la Tom Wolfe

1) constructing scenes

2) dialogue — lots of it

3) carefully noting social status details — “everything from dress and furniture to the infinite status clues of speech, how one talks to superiors or inferiors … and with what sort of accent and vocabulary”

4) point of view, “in the Henry Jamesian sense of putting the reader inside the mind of someone other than the writer.””

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7 thoughts on “Four Elements of a Great Story a la Tom Wolfe

  1. My mother had explicitly forbidden me from going out to see a late night concert. It was a reasonable concern—I was only five years old. Despite this ardent command, in the middle of the night, I was whisked away from my beach house bed, small curls askew and donning sparkly fish pajamas. I knew I was not allowed to see the concert, I knew what we were doing was against the rules, but could it really be that big of a deal if it was my father who was robbing me of my sleep in favor of a truly one of a kind musical experience?

    Allison Krauss’ sweet tones blasted from the windows of my father’s white 1992 volvo station wagon as I sat, in the front seat of the car—another forbidden fruit: sitting in the front seat of a car at only five years old. My eyelids slowly closed as Allison sang me to sleep.

    When I awoke, she was there in the flesh. I could see her and her blonde locks as I sat atop my father’s shoulders, besparkled pajamas and all. She seemed to sing to only me and her voice was raw, my reactions visceral.

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  2. Remy
    Thankfully, the floor was carpeted. Thankfully, the distance from the couch to the floor was not so great as to cause any lasting damage as my twitching, spasming body closed that distance with one great THUMP! I think that I had a carpet burn after — I think that I didn’t care. All I know is that I have never laughed so hard in my life.

    As sitcoms go, Cheers is pretty funny, with generally likeable characters and a spiteful humor that ranges from outrageous physical comedy to high minded and snooty sniping. But it wasn’t Sam’s witty banter that so forcibly propelled me to the floor. Nor was it Diane’s intellectually condescending manner. It was my mother.

    Wrapped up in comfortable bathrobe, perched on the edge of our sofa, she watched Cheers with an even mixture of nostalgia and amusement. While I had only recently entered into the world of where everybody knows your name, she had been there, and left, decades ago. Watching the memories return one rainy summer afternoon opened up a window for me into my mother’s past, much like the show provided a window into the relief of a fictional farce?

    My mother and Diane look nothing alike, the former tall with dark hair and a penetrating yet warm expression, the latter short and blonde and appropriately vacant for the mid 1980’s. But in an almost childlike fit of glee, my Mother, Karen, began quoting Diane’s lines with the same pseudo-snobby air that so enthralled her as a younger woman. “Yes, I will marry you!” Said Diane. “Yes, I will marry you!” Said my mother. And off the couch I went….

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  3. Ani DiFranco is a prime example of a trait that is common in all successful musicians, be they in classical, folk, pop, or anything in between: perseverance. A young Ms. DiFranco, fresh from a degree in poetry at the New School in Manhattan, was told that she didn’t have a marketable sound by many producers. She therefore decided to open her own record label in order to not compromise her artistic vision. She toured for nearly 25 years only stopping to have a baby and now owns and operates one of the most successful folk labels out there. 25 years of touring may make it sound like things could get stale, but it never did; not one single show. Imagine if you will a young gay boy, excitedly enters a beautiful old theater in Santa Barbara, CA with his best friend, who he had just come out to the day before. The curtain goes up to screams of a packed house. Ani takes the stage and lets it all rip, she leaves her heart on the floor, breathing new life into every song, every lyric. That young boy hears lyrics like, “I don’t care if they eat me alive, I have better things to do than survive” and “I’ve been a long time coming, and I’ll be a long time gone. You’ve got your whole life to do something, and that’s not very long.” He suddenly knows that everything is going to be okay and that he is doing the right thing in coming out and being his truest self. Because as Ani says, “If you like it, let it be, and if you don’t please do the same.”

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  4. Sam is sitting at a bar begrudgingly talking to a reporter from the Washington Post. “He’s not going to fire Josh!”
    “Come on Sam” “Ted I don’t know what you want me to tell you…” “What are you looking at?” “Sorry Ted, nothing, there’s a girl over there that’s looking at me,” Ted with no grace swiftly spins around in his chair to look at the beautiful woman. “I’d like to thank you for the sly way you did that just there. Goodnight Ted.” Sam takes his drink and walks over the woman. Fade in to the woman now in bed, presumably naked, smoking a joint. Someone’s beeper goes off and the toilet flushes. The woman picks up the ringing beeper and realizing it’s not hers, “Sam your beepers going off. POTUS in a bicycle accident.” Sam walks out of the bathroom gives the woman a kiss before quickly getting dressed. “Where are you going?” “Laurie, I know this looks bad and if I had a choice I’d stay. If you give me your number I’d like to call you sometime.” “Stay here and save yourself a phone call.”
    “I’m sorry I can’t.”
    “Well tell your friend POTUS he has a funny name.”
    “He’s not my friend, he’s my boss and it’s not his name it’s his title.”
    “POTUS?”
    “President of The United States. I’ll call you.”
    Scene ends with Sam closing the door behind him.

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  5. The third time I saw Spring Awakening it was the deaf performance. Micaela and I were 13 and 14 and we didnt know that it was going to the deaf performance. I’m not sure if there was a deaf performance every week or month or whatever. Maybe it was the only one that year.

    My mother wasn’t going to pay for another full or nearly full price ticket to the show. Micaela and I sat on my mom’s computer at the back of her store and looked on Craigslist for tickets. It was 2009 and Craigslist felt scarily cool and also totally unreal. We found tickets for a few days from then and my mom let us get them. We probably had an ameci’s pizza next to us as we purchased them online. Ameci’s is next door to my mom’s clothing/gift store and we got 10% off for being on the block. Also the diet cokes were just a dollar to begin with.

    using my mom’s email address we wrote to the guy selling the tickets. Did he live in Encino?no, but he would drive to us. He would drive directly in front of cpk, which was actually micaela’s and my first little food palace. It was in the Encino Center, which now looks like it has been spray-tanned. Then there was a merry go-round in the bottom level and families ate Wednesday night sugary crust pizza dinner together in a booth.

    It felt perfect that this man wanted to drop the tickets off in front of our cpk.My mom liked it too. “Really neutral” she told us. It wasn’t all about safety. It was mostly about creepiness.

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  6. I sat in my Victorian literature professor’s office with a cup of tea and some digestives on the table in front of me. I was there to talk about my essay topic for Jane Eyre: I planned to incorporate research about sexuality in Victorian science into a discussion of Jane and Rochester’s relationship, but talking about it brought up my frustration about Jane as a character.

    “She’s so close to being strong enough, but there’s something missing,” I said. “She’s still too submissive and shy. And the ingénue in The Moonstone is nothing: she’s just a boring pretty face. And Tess comes so close to being able to confront the unfair gender double standard, but she’s not forceful enough.”

    “But who are you comparing them to?” asked my professor, who was willing to humor me.

    “Elizabeth Bennet. She was all of those things. And she came earlier. That was the Regency Era. How is it that the kind of character Jane Austen created has been downgraded since then. How was that progress lost?”

    “Because, Elizabeth Bennet is just not pretty, that’s why.”

    I should explain that my professor’s character was a little bit crazy. She had a strange sense of humor and was prone to talking about Victorian literature in a weird, casual, modern manner. Outbursts like “But there’s just a lot of sex floating around in the air!” when talking about a scene in Tess of the d’Urbervilles that mentioned pollen as a symbol were common.

    “What do you mean?” I said incredulously. “The book says she’s the second prettiest Bennet sister. She’s considered a beauty.”

    “Nope, she’s ugly. That’s why she’s able to get away with being so strong.”

    I couldn’t tell if she was being serious or not.

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  7. “I’m thinking something totally original for this one,” John Bonham must’ve said, puffing a cigarette with one hand and twiddling a drumstick with the other.”

    Peter Grant–Led Zeppelin manager–wasn’t quite sure how to ask the next question inoffensively. “Huh. What exactly does that mean?”

    “The most epic drum solo ever recorded,” Bonham replied casually. “I’m going to make listeners hear the waves on the ship, the harpoons missing the whale, Captain Ahab’s angry yells–all with the six drums and four cymbals on my kit.”

    John Paul Jones, Jimmie Page, and Robert Plant couldn’t hide their enthusiasm, letting out a chorus of “Aww yeah!!” and banging their fists on the moth-eaten sofa arms in their studio den.

    “They must’ve just taken heroine again,” Grant thought dryly. But aloud he said politely, “I see. Interesting. How long were you envisioning this solo lasting?”

    “On the recorded version, I’d say at least two minutes,” Bonham said. “Live, man, I could go up to 30 min. I’m gonna go till the audience believes I’ll go forever. I’ll go till my hands bleed.”

    And such was–perhaps–the conception of Bonham’s legendary solo in “Moby Dick.”

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