Structure.

A summary of some things I’m learning, and un-learning.

By Kalani Padilla

 

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It’s 1935, late February, and the worst of winter is melting from the bones of Chicago, Illinois.

Kenneth C. T. Snyder, just barely brought into the world, has been abandoned by his father, leaving him, his mother, and his siblings to brave the Depression all alone. Despite how grimly the next decade or so progresses for the Snyders, Kenneth’s older sister Marge makes certain that their family grows up with a love for all things art. He would later tell his son stories about finding shelter with his family in a room just above a movie theater, feeling the rumble of the cinema below, and wishing he could just drill a hole into the floor of that dirty room and see the films with his own eyes.

This desire takes hold of Kenneth all his life, and he eventually makes the move to Los Angeles, California with his little son Blake. There, he becomes a well-known, reckoned-with producer of children’s television. Kenneth hires Blake at the age of 8 to voice act for one of his children’s programs…and promptly fires Blake after his voice grows out of the roles.

But Blake’s ambitions were not to be crushed—not with a father and mentor as tenacious as Ken. No, Blake Snyder instead finds great success as a writer for Disney, and publishes one of the most infamous books in the film industry: Save The Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. In this book, Snyder does something no screenwriter before him ever dared to do: turn the art of screenwriting—the art of story—into a step-by-step formula. The formula consists of 15 major story “beats” that good screenplays tend to hit, and often hit down to the minute.

For 12 years since publishing the series, Snyder has been called an inspiration, a fraud, and everything outside and in-between. No matter what side you’re on, it’s hard to look at Hollywood’s films today, line them up with the beatsheet, and deny Snyder’s influence on the industry.

Snyder’s 15 beats have become a common language among the screenwriting students here at the LAFSC. We’re discovering that so many of the films we love follow/fit into a real formula. And that formula…works for us, too. I’ve studied it. Tested it. Can you imagine? A literal 15-step staircase to the “perfect” story. An answer. A structure.

Ah, I already hear disgruntled murmurs in the crowd. But hear me out.

I know many of us have an uncomfortable relationship with structure. We want to write something fresh that no one has ever read before. Something only we could write. We want to shock and wow our audiences and flip their worlds upside-down. But we’re also tired of making our own decisions, aren’t we? We want to be told what’s best. What works and what doesn’t. In my screenwriting class, I’m finding that good storytelling falls somewhere comfortingly in between. Artful stories require both anarchy and structure.

What I mean is this: Structure grants universality to individual artistic expression.

Structure allows me to take all those crazy ideas that are floating around like a cloud in my head, and turn them into something that other people can understand. It allows me to write every tiny thing on its own square of paper, and give it its own place on my bedroom wall. That same wall grants my roommate Natalie access those ideas so she can help me spot, and even NAME the problems so that I can work through them.

Jeremy Casper, our screenwriting professor, still takes great care to remind us that Snyder’s Beats are not the end-all be-all. “They’re just the pieces on the chessboard,” he says, “the rules everyone talks about that you have to know before you can break them.” And Snyder knew this. Snyder was a complex human, like you and me, with an intangible connection to his father and the world around him that he wanted to share. And how did he do that? He wrote about it in a way that others would understand.

This week, I plunge with uncharacteristic certainty into the enormous task of finishing a feature-length script in just two months.

(beat)

Wish me luck.

 

The British Isles Study Program 2018: Collect Memories

By: Emily Church

One of the most impactful things  one can do during their time at Whitworth is participate in a study abroad trip or program. While I’ve never been outside of the country with a Whitworth group, I still like to consider the three days that I spent up on Mt. Baker for my Adventure and Travel Writing class with Professor John Pell as my abroad experience. There is something about going somewhere new with perhaps an unfamiliar group of people that takes the act of learning and experiencing to a new level.

With the approach of the study abroad fair and the different informational sessions, there is one study abroad trip that should be brought to the forefront of any humanity studies fan’s mind: The 2018 British Isles Study Program (BISP).

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The upcoming BISP trip will expand from February 14th until May 8th and allows students the opportunity to travel through England, Scotland, Wales, and the Republic of Ireland. The first module of the trip is British Isles Art and Craft led by art Professor Katie Creyts.  Students will see historic and contemporary Ireland through a creative lens by visiting unique architecture like abbeys, castles, forts and cathedrals, listening to folktales and songs voiced by the local Irish, and discussing the powerful visual graffiti in Belfast. The second module of the trip is led by Professor Corliss Slack on the Topics in British History. During this section, monuments will be used to tell the story of Scotland by taking tours to Loch Ness, Roslyn Castle, and the Kingdom of Fife. Then it will be off to Caernarvon, Wales were students will stay overlooking the sea and exploring Edward I’s castles. The third module explores Literary England with Thom Caraway who will take students to where William Wordsworth walked and wrote, and met with Percy and Mary Shelley, and Samuel Coleridge. See where J.R.R Tolkien dreamed of the Shire and the mysterious Moors of Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. The fourth and final module will be spent with theater professor Aaron Dyszelski to explore Fine Arts Culture in Britain Theatre by attending a performance at the acclaimed Royal Shakespeare Company, the Globe, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the Royal Opera House, and the National Theater.

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The 2018 BISP trip has a lot to offer, but as those who have been on previous year’s trips have said, sometimes it’s the moments that happen outside of the major touristy spots that continue to resonate months after the trip is over. One of the students from the 2015 trip, Aly Brooks, now a senior English major, shared her reflective podcast, “Collect Memories Not Things.”

Collect Memories Not Things

By: Aly Brooks

I didn’t want to get stuck in the tourist trap mentality of documenting every second forthe sake of having evidence to show others while forgetting to actually enjoy the experience of living it. Life is so rarely about the things I accumulate around me. I think of rich and varied experiences and the people who lived life to the full and enjoyed telling the tale afterward.

No more than a week into the semester, I considered this mantra once more. I was confronted with the option of using my day off in Dublin to go on a day trip or stay in town and take life at a slower pace. I had an hour to decide. I chose the day trip to the Cliffs of Moher on the west coast. To this day, the Cliffs of Moher are one of my absolute favorite places on the entire trip. I spent the best Valentine’s Day of my life with five friends exploring the Irish west coast, listening to folklore, and trying some of the best brown bread my tongue has ever known. I spent 50 euros on a day trip that I will remember for the rest of my life rather than a fancy trinket that will only take up space on a shelf somewhere. It helped me cultivate a habit that gave me more stories and less regret.

Months later, I spent the last two days of Spring Break on the French Riviera in Nice. Spring Break emphasized this lesson I was learning. I didn’t buy a single souvenir while in Paris, and yet Paris holds some of my most cherished memories from the semester. I remember nights making dinner together in the hostel, sharing a bottle of cheap red wine and dancing in the kitchen. I lost myself in the genius of impressionist paintings in the Musee D’Orsay. I read in the March sunshine at the edge of a fountain in the Luxembourg Gardens. In Nice, I swam in the Mediterranean Sea, and all it cost me was the cash to buy a bikini. I have a priceless memory that had nothing to do with the kinds of funds I had at my disposal.

Memories like this typify the wonderful experiences I took away from this trip. Most souvenirs can only point me to those memories and add to the clutter in my life. Living out of a suitcase for three months taught me how many physical objects I am able to go without. It is easiest to travel light and quick instead of letting myself get bogged down with tea cups or books. Instead, my memories only weigh as much as my moleskin journal can hold in between its pages stacked with ticket stubs, postcards, and words. That lightweight notebook was my constant companion, and now, it’s a better souvenir than anything I could have found in a tourist shop. It’s a time capsule of thoughts and feelings about my experiences. The British Isles Semester Program gave me a new perspective on the things I value. Trips are always more about the adventure than they are about the prize at the end.

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Be on the look out for the information sessions and the application for the upcoming BISP trip!

 

There and Back Again: Writing Home from Oxford

By: Kristen Bertsch

I think that stories are the most important things we can collect in our lifetime. The more I explore my life, the more I am convinced that the joy and wisdom of life come through the accumulation of stories. Stories are how we learn about ourselves, others, and the world around us. I’ve said so before. That’s kind of the thesis of my own little blog, which I maintain during my travels . I use this blog to collect my own stories, my own as well as those I pick up in my adventures.

This time my adventures are taking me through Oxford. I’ll be here for three months, studying writing and linguistics (anticipate a future post about language and the formation of meaning). My last adventure took me through six countries in three months, and I spent no more than four days at a time in one place. This adventure is very different. I’ll be existing here for a little while. And that means it’s time to start writing home.Oxford Phtoo Kristen

I mean many things when I say “writing home.” First off, I mean that I will be writing letters to those I left behind in the States–my loved ones who together create “home” for me. As privileged and honored as I am to be taking this opportunity, it comes at the price of a temporary loss of home. To alleviate that loss, I spend my days writing. I write here, in my journal, in my letters, professionally, and academically. It’s what I do and I love to do it. It keeps me connected to my home, reminds me of what I will return to in three months time.

But the writing I do also serves the secondary but equally important purpose of creating a new sense of home where I am now. This is where I talk about storytelling. Narratives are the stories we tell to inform ourselves and others about the reality. The words I write are my narratives, and they inform the reality I am fashioning for myself here. To call Oxford “home,” I have to be a part of Oxford. I have to have stories that put me here and make this place and these people important. I am writing myself a role in the story of this new world with all the people I meet, the places I go, and all the beautiful things I see. Then I will be part of their story, and they will be part of mine. When I write home, I am writing myself “into home.”

This first week has been a gracious adjustment period. Despite having assimilated once before, I am still surprised by my own quickness to goof up here. Last year, in my first week of travel, I severely burned myself cooking, resulting in a trip to the local hospital (the scars are quite charming). This week I have only shattered a glass diffuser, committed two traffic violations, and insulted the tea staff by taking a cup too early. I do think I’m writing myself as a bit of a nuisance. But every home has one. I hope that by the end of the week I will have written myself into waterproof shoes.

To all of those who receive my letters and who read my blog, you are playing a vital role in the confirmation of my home here. Thank you for reading, and please write back.

 

Kristin Bertsch (’17) is a junior English/Writing major at Whitworth, pursuing a future in graduate school and a career in travel writing. Kristin studied abroad last year in Britain and Ireland and will study English at Oxford University during spring of 2016. In addition to her studies and contributions to the English Department blog, Kristin works as research assistant to English Professor Dr. Pam Parker and as archiving assistant to Library Director and Art Professor Dr. Amanda Clark. Kristin is an active supporter of local art and theater and a frequenter of Spokane Poetry Slam.

With Notebooks in Hand, Up the Mountain We Go!

Whitworth English Department Mt. Baker May Trip with John Pell

By: Emily Church

I never thought that through following my passion for writing and English, I would find myself on the side of a mountain. I’m sure that’s what many of us thought, and yet, that’s where we were. Three incredible days spent on Mt. Baker.

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Preparation Week

During the first week of class, while reading and analyzing the different writing styles of adventure stories like Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Nanda Devi :The Tragic Expedition, and  Points Unknown: The Greatest Adventure Writing of the Twentieth Century,  we were also being prepped for our trip up Mt. Baker. In order to learn to write about adventure, once must take an adventure themselves. In partnership with the U-Rec team and experienced mountaineer Brad Pointer, the class learned what it meant to wear a harness, how to tie a figure eight on a bight, a prusik, and a girth hitch knot with various types of rope, what to do with the string of carabiners on your tool belt, how to walk on a rope team, and how to use an ice axe to protect yourself from falling down the mountain. During one of our exercises on the rock wall, we were made to dangle, as if we had just fallen into a crevasse, and had to tie knots and move carabiners which allowed us to climb up the rope. It was a terrifyingly fun experience.To practice maneuvering around on rope teams, we took to the loop. I’m sure we looked pretty goofy walking around the loop of campus tied to rope teams and carrying ice axes and large backpacks.

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The day before our early morning departure, the gear and supplies were loaded into backpacks that we were going to have to carry from the parking lot to base camp, an altitude gain of around 3,000 ft. The backpacks were well stuffed with tent gear, ice axes, helmets, cooking fuel, sleeping bags, extra clothes, food, and toiletries. Those on the U-Rec team who had done some backpacking cautioned us to pack as light as possible, for ounces equaled pain.

Day One

The students of El 396 Adventure and Travel Writing, the U-Rec volunteers, and John Pell arrived at Whitworth to depart at 5:30am. After a seven hour van ride across the state, our glacier that we were going to summit lay before us. For almost everyone in the van, that was the moment where the climb became real because that was when we came face to face with our goal. At the trailhead, once the van was unpacked and our fifty pound backpacks were loaded onto our shoulders, Brad gathered the group to pray before the long hike up to basecamp. For endless miles together we crossed waterfalls, dirt trails, and a brief encounter with snow before reaching our basecamp.

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Basecamp was an island of rocks in the middle of the mountain. The summit was only a mere 4,000 ft. away. That night the group ate our freeze dried mountaineering food by light of the sunset, astounded by the view of our classroom for the next two days.

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Base Camp

Day Two

Day two was a day of taking it easy with a little bit of snow training. It was time to put what we learned in the context of the U-Rec to real use. While we didn’t go jumping into crevasses, we still got to practice catching ourselves in the snow with our ice axes and simulated group rescues in our ropes teams. That evening by the heat of the cooking stoves, we sat together eating dinner and telling funny stories. Danny started us off by asking “Does anyone have any embarrassing poop stories?” Of course the group had many to contribute. Poop was a common topic on the trip because whatever you brought up to the mountain had to come back down with you, which meant that we were going to have to carry our wonderful blue bags down with us. One of the joys of mountaineering for sure. We built community in our new classroom as we bonded over blue bags, awesome blisters from the hike up, aching muscles, fears surrounding the summit climb, and the beautiful views.

 

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Sun set from base camp

 Day Three

A 2am wakeup call brought the class out into the starry morning air to begin the climb towards the Coleman-Demming Glacier summit. Hooked into our three rope teams, we ascended up the mountain. We coached each other through fear and doubts as we hopped over crevasses and looked down into the depth of the mountain. Pell kept us going with words of encouragement and his general humor. When they had talked about crevasses and had pointed to some on the side of the mountain in the distance from us, I thought that we would be steering clear of them. It was much to my surprise when I found myself staring down into the depth of a crevasse that was right in front of me. I froze, which meant that my rope team was forced to stop because I was the leader. I knew we were going to have to jump over, but I wasn’t sure if I could make it. Then I heard John’s voice from the other side, “Its ok Emily. You just got to give a little hop.”

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The group taking a moment to rest

The views were breathtaking. Looking back we saw the vastness of Mt. Baker stretched below us.

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Our great leaders, John Pell and Brad Pointer

In the end, three members of the class made it to the summit, located at about 10,700 ft., but everyone succeeded in reaching a new limit of their own. The trip demonstrated to us the amazing places that writing could take us and the value in sharing a story like that. I don’t think any of us will forget that trip any time soon.

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Emily Church (’17) is an English Writing and Sociology major at Whitworth University from western Washington and dreams of one day traveling the world. She enjoys writing, reading, painting, collecting journals (not writing in them), fall leaves, summer warmth., and adventure.