Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Random Snippet of What Happens In My Head

Okay, my computer is still throwing me for a loop, off and on.  And the temperature is getting HOT again. (Hot and humid.  And the overnight will be worse.)

So productivity went out the window.

Meanwhile a lot of scenes have been going on in my head. (As they are wont to do. I am a writer.)  They are not connected to anything.  Just my characters going about their lives.  Often such scenes lead to a story, but just as often they don't.  They're just there. Like real life.

So recently I decided that I really should just start getting some of these down.  Some of my series actually use scenes like that. Little bits of "business" that the characters go through as things are unfolding....

Even more recently, I have been doing two other things: I've been watching a lot of movies with Carole Lombard.  And I've been getting ready to do tomorrow's post on P.G. Wodehouse.

And then quite suddenly, I came to a realization.

P. G. Wodehouse really had a strong influence on me as a writer.

I'm not sure it's really that noticeable.  Now and then, sure, a particular character will have a Wodehousian feel. (As some people noticed with Plink.)  But most of the time, I suspect that a stronger influence is someone like Ben Hecht -- one of the great "fast and quirky dialog" writers of Golden Age Hollywood. (Who wrote a few of those Carol Lombard movies.)

I have no idea if Hecht was influenced by Wodehouse, but I am certain that a lot of the subsequent writers who influenced me were likely influenced by both Wodehouse and Hecht.

When I look at one of the odd little scenes I wrote of George and Karla (such as the one below), and then read some Wodehouse, I can't help but be struck by it.

(This is raw dialog.  Script-like, which is how they happen in my head.  For those who haven't read The Man Who Did Too Much, at this point, Karla is George's "life coach" because George doesn't know how to have fun and Karla doesn't know how not to.  She seems like a bit of a ditz, but she's the brains of the outfit.  George seems polished and reserved, but inside, he's an obsessive-compulsive action hero.)


"It was a dark and stormy night," mused Karla, out of the blue.  "Dead Cheerios littered the floor."

"Cheerios?" said George.

"Accidents happen."

"How can Cheerios be dead?"

"When they hit the floor they're dead.  No five second rule.  Because they've got milk on them."

"Are we speaking literally of real Cheerios, or fictionally?"


"Oh, good. I was worried."  Pause.  "Why are we speaking fictionally?"

"Do we need a reason?"

"No, I don't suppose we do.  But if we're going to make a habit of random fiction, I'm going to need a code word or something so I know it's not real."

"You were worried about my Cheerios?"

"I was worried about what killed them."

"Obviously the cat did."

"Not obviously at all.  It could have a home invasion or a mad slasher.  You are known," he added in a low voice, "to use foodstuffs as your weapon of choice in self-defense."

"If a mad slasher had spilled my Cheerios, I would not be telling you about the dark and stormy night."

"Of course you would.  That's what you always do.  Although I admit you would be likely talking a lot faster and making even less sense."



"You don't need to go all hyper-alert on me."


"I promise I'll let you know if there's a threat.  I'll say 'George! Help! A mad slasher killed my Cheerios!' and you'll know to get worried."  She paused.  "So I guess 'George! Help!' can be the code word.  Will that do?"

"Admirably.  Now, why are we talking about dead Cheerios, fictionally or not?"


In a story, this kind of conversation would have a definite purpose.  And likely I would first set it up by letting the audience know why Karla is making up spontaneous cereal-killer fiction (and no, she would not use that term -- Karla is not into puns).  Although, it can be fun to have Karla spring stuff like that on the audience and George at the same time, it can also be tiring.  It can be more fun for the audience to be in on the joke while the characters aren't.

This is something I learned from Wodehouse. He usually let the audience in on the joke ahead of the characters, and the built the humor up slowly.  (I learned this less so from Hollywood. Hollywood likes to overplay the unexplained nonsense trope.  They didn't always, but I think I learned to be tired of it there.)

Also, while Karla is not really a damsel in distress type, a scene like this might make me want to put her in a situation where she can use "A mad slasher killed my Cheerios!" as a code word, because Karla never quite sticks to the plan.

But this was not written for a story.  It's just the sort of thing that crops up in my head regularly.  It's like the ordinary conversations the characters have outside of the story.  When they're just chatting.

Tomorrow, I'm going to talk about my favorite out-of-print Wodehouse collection, and how it is kinda sort of available in a maybe piracy sort of way but maybe not, but the formatting is crap.

And maybe Friday I'll talk about Carol Lombard rather than Bruno Bettelheim.  Even though I should save her for when I have another George and Karla story.

See you in the funny papers.


Lee McAulay said...

Similar things happen when I write... the characters start chatting, there's a bit of banter, one of them usually starts to prepare food or a cuppa, next thing I know I've written 500 words on daily blah.
I don't mind. Sometimes I get good scenes out of the meandering, other times it sets up some foreshadowing I hadn't thought of before, or just gets my typing fingers warmed up.
Didn't happen so much when I wrote longhand, though.
Ref. Wodehouse, I know the TV Jeeves & Wooster back to front, but only recently started to read the stories, and noticed where the TV series had made subtle changes. Not sure I'll go back to reading them as the characters are so firmly stuck in my mind as Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie.

The Daring Novelist said...

The problem with all TV versions is that they miss the wonderful narration. However, I know what you mean.

You could start with the Mulliners or Blandings Castle. Or the golf stories. There are not Jeeves and Wooster, so you don't have to picture particular actors. (Though you can.)

And if you find you want TV versions of everything -- there was a wonderful "anthology" series in the seventies called "The Wodehouse Playhouse" which covered a bunch of Mulliner and other stories. (Hmmm, I'll have to go dig it out. I wonder if they did Buck-U-Uppo?)

Lee McAulay said...

You mean there's a whole world of Wodehouse that isn't J&W? I am going to have to seek these out now, madam...
Thank you!

The Daring Novelist said...

The main thing to watch out for is that most Wodehouse that's available in ebook form is his early public domain work, and that there are scammers who are trying to hook into the lucrative Wodehouse audience with crap ripoff books. (Retitling PD books to look like a different book, etc.)

So you are better off with paper, or at least checking the publisher of any ebook you buy. If it's a major publisher, it's fine. Otherwise, get your PD titles at Project Gutenberg.

There is one Mulliner book (Meet Mr. Mulliner) which is my favorite, which has a crap uncorrected OCR copy available at Amazon. It should not be in public domain, so it shouldn't be available at all. It is the best book, but I found the source at Archive.org, so maybe it is in PD. The only e-copy available is awful to read. I am correcting it just in case it really is PD.

My favorite Blandings story is "The Crimewave at Blandings" but I think they're all pretty spiff. Also, Leave it to Psmith is great, although I don't like the other Psmith books as much.

Lee McAulay said...

Thanks - I'll keep a lookout when I'm next in my local second-hand bookshop. An old copy somehow seems more appropriate...