Question: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Answer: To save a stitch in time.
I’d bet you’ve heard both of these phrases before. I’d also bet you’ve not heard them together as presented. History is full of these sayings and while they are rare to hear today, they are a powerful writing tool.
I heard both of these, and many more sayings, as a kid. One of the advantages of being brought up by the pre-computer “older” generation. An advantage because within these quaint sayings lie abundant story seeds and themes.
What if the chicken (protagonist) did cross the road (the journey/plot) to save a stitch in time (what stitch and why)?
Here’s another: What is the difference between a duck?
Yep, that’s it. Corny, I know, but let’s think about it for a minute.
A duck and what? Where is the duck? What is the duck doing that makes one want to draw a (or this) comparison?
What is the difference between a duck (love) and a wolf (hate)? An exploration of love and hate is a solid thematic throughline. Revealing the differences is the story. So is revealing the similarities. And the “duck” and “wolf” are the two characters that will explore the situation. A new story seeded. Oh, and theme is not only included it is the engine to create and drive the story. All from one corny question.
Does that project you’ve been working on lack or have an elusive spark? The story is good. The characters are good. But the color on the screen seems a bit, well, dull or under-powered? There are many good stories out there, but the ones that have a strong, well-defined theme are the ones that resonate long after the last word is a distant echo in a readers mind.
How do we use folk sayings on a story or work-in-progress to help refine theme?
Try a bit of reverse engineering. Look over the story, the actions of the characters. If you could sum up the combination as a wise phrase or bit of folklore for others to understand, what would that be? Not an easy question, but one worth the effort because the answer will reveal the heart and soul – the theme – of your work. For those that understand loglines (the one-line pitch concept), think of this as a thematic logline.
Even if you already feel you know the theme, applying the above test is a good idea. Sometimes we think we know what we are saying, but it is only in review that we discover what we truly wanted to say. Like all aspects of story, theme shifts and adapts over the course of one or more drafts. Taking this one step allows us to see how our theme has matured over the course of implementing the story.
Mixing and matching the phrases of folklore, historical insight and the sayings of the famous, can be both entertaining and provide ample ways to generate story. They provide a solid road into thematically-charged situations and a way to “proof” our themes.
And the phrase for this post?
“Why did the chicken cross the road? Because, a penny saved is a penny earned.”
Ever used folklore to create story? Any thoughts on having a thematic logline or proofing a stories theme? Can you think of any great folk saying combinations? I’d love to chat with you (smile).