No personal blog crapola.
Just one guy's quest to unlock the mysterious art of storytelling on screen.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"What Fuels Story" -- The Comment They Couldn't Stop

So apparently Blogger only allows 4,096 characters in a comment on a post.  Fair enough.  "Nobody will ever need more than 4K for a comment" shall not thwart the ravings of a story guy.  Here's my comment to Go Into The Story's "What Fuels Story" article.  Any comments, please add them to the Go Into The Story article instead of here.  Thanks.

@James -- You can have Wants/Needs (goals).  You can know what the obstacles are in your way.  You can have Wounds that fuel those Wants/Needs.

I *want* to pass the grueling selection process and be one of the admired few to make it into the city's elite firefighter special unit: the Vapor Squad.
I *need* to save people's lives.  Snatch them from the jaws of certain fiery death.  I need this because at the age of eight I watched my six-year-old sister soak herself in petrol and set herself alight.  I didn't know what to do to save her.  My parents say I'm not to blame, but we share moments of silence that speak otherwise. 
Right now I work a day job at an accounting firm.  I'm living with my pregnant girlfriend Gloria and there are bills to pay.  Although she doesn't press the subject, she wants to marry me.  On my bad days I wonder why.  Sure, I make money, I socialize with our family and friends, I treat her well, we make love, we laugh, we cry, we have a life.  But more and more I sense things in the silences between us... those same silences I get from my parents.  Gloria wants me to be who I need to be.  That's what's written in those silences.  I know I'm letting her down.  I need to stop doing that.  That's the day I'll marry her.  On our wedding day I'll be the man she knew I could be.  I try to visit the gym to shape up, but most nights I come home tired and it's easier to sink into a chair and chase away the flashbacks with a quarter bottle of scotch.
I'm going to get started.  Soon.  Hit that goddamn gym like a machine.  Burn the weight.  Clear my head.  Hit the books.  Be ready for next year's Vapor Squad try-outs. But for now...

You can have all those things simultaneously.  You have them today.  You had them yesterday.  A week, a month, ten years -- they've been there for some time, and so far you've never been compelled sufficiently hard to follow through.

What changed today to force you (the protag) to act on those goals after you successfully put off doing anything about it for so long?  What changed today (in our first act) that made it impossible to sit idle another day, hour, second?

Today's a Saturday so I went to the pub to bitch about life with my usual group of probie wannabes.  Those guys have as much chance as me of passing the entrance test.  Sweet F-A.  Yet all of us talk like we're *this close* to getting serious, *this close* to committing 110% to the challenge.  We know we're talking crap, but nobody calls anyone on it.  That's the unwritten rule.
I get there and the usual smiles and backslapping is gone.  It's all grim faces and huddled whispers.  Most Saturday nights a couple of the boys from Vapor Squad -- real firefighting heroes -- drop by to share a beer and talk about their week.  It's the real reason us wannabes get together.  We wallow in the real firefighter stories of near misses, strange situations, and heroic deeds.   We listen to the Vapor Squad guys, we joke around, we nod our heads and drink our beers.  Then we go home to our meaningless lives and dream we're the ones telling the stories.
Anyway, so it's like somebody died in there, and I'm not wrong.  I hear that Eric -- a Vapor Squad guy and a regular at our Saturday night booze-ups -- is back at the firehouse, planted on the bumper of Truck 17, crying like a lost child.  That got my attention.  I've never seen Eric anything but dopey happy or crazy energized like a baboon in a nunnery.  What's going on? I ask.  Eric's crew just got back from a call, I'm told.  Six-car collision in the tunnel joining I-23 and I-30.  Mangled metal and body parts mashed to gravy for 200 feet.  The Vapor Squad arrives, Eric spots one of the crumpled sedans, stops dead in his tracks.  His eyes flick to the registration plate.  Scorched and buckled as it is he still recognises it.  His wife's car.
Now, Eric is a special bro to me.  I've always had the feeling he sees something in me.  Something he doesn't see in the other wannabes.  Something I can't see in myself most days.  That maybe I've got what it takes, deep down, to earn a place by his side in Vapor Squad one day, battling blazes and saving souls.
So I hightail it for the firehouse.  Push my way through the crowd of cops and firefighters... and a chaplain.  They're all keeping a distance.  Eric's where I was told he'd be, sitting on that bumper, rocking back and forth like a metronome.  Little gasps and echoing sobs pricking the silence.  I didn't realize I was standing in front of him until he looked up at me through those wet red eyes.  He wasn't rocking now.  His hopeless gaze held mine.  You can imagine the look.  All I'll say is, for one scary moment I was right there with him, dropping like a doomed planet into that bottomless black hole of despair.
My hand went to his shoulder before I could think what to do -- speak to him or hug him or just... just be.  Then he was on his feet, and he was hugging me, his body jolting with a thousand tiny spasms.  Every muscle in his body contributed to those heaving sobs.  His wife was dead.  He loved her more than anything.  This morning he woke up by her side, went to work, and by the end of the day there was nothing left to go home to.
Gloria was alive.  In that moment I knew I loved her more than anything, even if I was stupidly guilty as the next guy of not showing it enough.  Some days not showing it at all.
What had I done to earn a place by Eric's side at this darkest moment, embraced like a brother?  Surely that belonged to one of his Vapor Squad buddies.  I was nothing to him.  An occasional drinking buddy and, probably, object of pity.  A coulda-been-if-only.  If only.
That's not true, of course.  Not at all.  Eric never looked at me as an object of pity.  During those loud nights of beer and teasing he would shoot me these long, amused looks, as if to say, Kid, one of these days you're gonna grow up, but I can wait.
And it hit me: that's what Gloria's been doing this whole time.  Biding her time.  Forever hinting in her cute but annoying way that I should stop being content with being content.  Patient as a saint, she was waiting for me to grow up.
When Eric released me from that desperate hug, I did.
I went home.  Without saying a word I gave Gloria the longest kiss she's ever had, guaranteed.  I think she liked it.  She looked kinda stunned.  That was nice.  I got a calendar and marked off the date of the next Vapor Squad intake.  Three months from now.  Gloria watched from the bedroom door -- eyebrows arched, almost smiling, her thumb and forefinger gently twining and untwining a braid of her hair the way she does when she watches a foreign movie with no subtitles -- as I surfed the web, jotted down information about firefighter training, mapped out a schedule, packed my gym clothes in a bag, and organized the SHIT out of my life.
I wasn't sure how Gloria would react when I told her I planned to married her the day after I get accepted into Vapor Squad.  I didn't say if.  Ifs and me had abruptly parted ways that day.  I suppose me and Gloria would also part ways if I didn't make good on this grand promise.  This was definitely a 'bet the farm' kinda deal.  If I let Gloria down this time...
At first she was worried.  I can't blame her for doubting. She searched my eyes for the old me and saw him gone.  I don't think she quite trusted the new resident.  This guy was focused.  Determined.  But she was finally happy.  I could tell.  Because that night she screwed the bejesus out of him.  

Something earth shaking happened today.  Something that took away all your options for doing nothing.

What happened today is the stakes suddenly grew critical, and the immediate pain required to achieve your goals is now less that the approaching pain of what will happen if you continue to do nothing.

In other words, you (the protag) now have something critical at stake.  And with those stakes comes a ticking clock.

That's where the story begins.  And that's why I think 'stakes' deserves its own place in that 'What fuels story' diagram.  :-)