Writing

Writing Friends

 

28c79aac89f44f2dcf865ab8c03a4201So, in the mid-1990s (which was twenty years ago—OMG! How did that happen? I feel like Rip Van Winkle!), I attended law school at night while working full-time during the day. As you can imagine, this did not leave much room for fun activities like sleeping or watching TV. I completely missed the first few years of Friends.

Thank goodness, Netflix gave me a little New Year’s gift. All ten seasons of Friends are available to stream, just in time for hibernation season. I mainlined the first two seasons (I’m right at the end of season two as I write this).

I do know, in broad general terms, how it all ends and the major plot points along the way. But, I’d never seen a single episode of the first season. And, as I watched, I considered all the writing lessons I could draw from it. Multi-tasking like a boss 🙂

1) Archetypes with a twist:

I haven’t figured this out yet for the girls but the boys are classic Kirk/Spock/Bones archetypes. Their traits are not as exaggerated as in Star Trek. Joey is a good-hearted womanizer (Kirk), Ross is a socially awkward scientist (Spock), and Chandler is the wise-cracking guy covering his vulnerability with humor (Bones).

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It’s just like how Golden Girls and Sex and the City are the same show. I doubt Joey, Ross, and Chandler are going to boldly go anywhere other than Central Perk but the basic character types are the same. Understanding tropes well helps to create a set of characters. The trick, of course, is giving them your own unique spin.

Lesson learned: Base characters on archetypes but be sure to give them a unique spin.

Here’s the link to TV Tropes about the trio. But, I warn you, it’s a greater time sink than Tumblr and Facebook combined.

2) Backstory:

Even though the show focuses on a group of friends who’ve known each other for a while, it’s not immediately clear how these individuals know each other at all. In the pilot, we learn that Rachel and Monica were friends in grade and high school. Pretty quickly thereafter, we learn that Monica and Ross are siblings. We don’t find out until the second season that Chandler and Ross were college roommates. I still have no idea how Joey and Phoebe became part of the group, though I know that Phoebe was Monica’s prior roommate.
So far, it hasn’t been necessary to know any of that. So the writers haven’t shared. It helps to sustain interest on the part of the viewer.

Lesson learned: Only give backstory out when it’s essential to understanding the current story. Not before.

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3) Character combos:

There are six main characters in the ensemble. It’s not uncommon to see Chandler and Joey together as well as Rachel and Monica. They are roommates so lots of scenes there. We see ensemble scenes frequently too. Now that Ross and Rachel are on (for the moment) we see scenes of them together often.
They also break along gender lines occasionally so we have a few scenes of the boys and some of the girls. One of the best is the one when Rachel tells Monica and Phoebe about her kiss with Ross while Ross bonds with the boys over pizza.

So far, two seasons in, it’s rare to see Ross and Joey have a scene on their own. Or Phoebe alone with Ross. One of the funniest scenes so far was Phoebe and Chandler having dual break-ups together in Central Perk but we don’t often see them either. The writers play with these combinations a great deal.

Lesson Learned: Use unusual character combinations to keep the story fresh and interesting.

4) Couples

Even if I didn’t watch the show on the first run, I’d have to have been living under a rock not to know about Ross/Rachel. I remember watching an episode with my friend (I think it was the season two one after Ross and Rachel’s first kiss) with my best friend and saying to her, “So Monica and Chandler are a couple?” It was not my ever-reliable ESP but rather that, even in the early seasons, Perry and Cox are usually positioned in camera shots together. The show runners claim that the early positioning was due to Cox and Perry’s on screen chemistry and they do have great comedic chemistry. Still, it’s difficult not to see it as foreshadowing. Perhaps the writers of Friends didn’t do it deliberately but, as a writing lesson learned, it’s hard not to see it as foreshadowing.

Lesson Learned: Figure out the end game first and then use foreshadowing to get you there.

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I wondered if the show would feel dated. And it does a tiny bit. The fashion and the hairstyles are very unintentionally funny. (Did we all wear those high waisted stone washed jeans?) They are perpetually dashing into each other’s apartments to use cordless phones the size of bricks. And every time they show background shots of the twin towers I feel like I’m bleeding internally. But the situations and the relationships are timeless and relatable even twenty years later.

I can’t wait to see what happens next—hey, do you think Ross and Rachel will break up again?

Disney, Photography

Cruising on the Disney Dream

So, since I got hit with the plague in December, I forgot to tell you guys about my Disney cruise over Thanksgiving. Fox, the Pilot, and I sailed on the Disney Dream out of Port Canaveral for a four night cruise of the Bahamas.

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We stayed on deck five in a deluxe stateroom. I chose deck five because of the extra large veranda which we loved having but it also turned out to be on the same deck as the kids areas and close to the restaurants. I highly recommend this choice. The staterooms are very narrow and I hated that we had to walk past the bed to get to the living room. I seemed to constantly be tripping over the bed. The bathrooms are split, with sinks in each which really helped get ready to go in the morning.

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Our first port was Nassau but, on the wise advice of our travel agent, we decided not to go ashore and enjoy our day on the ship. Fox loved the Aquaduct, a clear waterside that goes around the ship. I rode it once but found it challenging to ride with contacts in and am still mourning the loss of my favorite hair clip. They spray water in your face at different points. Fox did not view this as the challenge that I did and adored riding the Aquaduct at every opportunity. He also loved playing in Nemo’s Reef (an adorably themed water playground) and the two pools.

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The second port was Disney’s private island at Castaway Cay. We loved spending the day on our own private beach. I highly recommend renting the inner tubes in advance, though we were able to do so on the island. We enjoyed a restful day at the beach before heading back to our giant floating hotel.

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Our third day, Thanksgiving, was at sea. As our travel agent correctly predicted, the pools and amenities were far more crowded that day. It was also windy and cold on the deck as we sailed up the Atlantic. That night, though at sea, we could see stars for miles. Even though it was cold and breezy, we loved identifying constellations from our balcony

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Fox really loved the Oceanears club. He still talks about the different activities, especially the dance parties, they had there. Because we sailed on a Very Merrytime Cruise, the ships were already decorated for Christmas. They did an amazing job with a life sized gingerbread house and gorgeous garland and trees everywhere.

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So, how was Thanksgiving dinner? It was the best one ever. They served perfectly moist turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, and roasted veggies. I loved the roasted parsnips as an addition to the meal and think it will be making an appearance on our Thanksgiving table next year. There are three dining rooms on the ship and your assigned servers rotate with you every night.

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Animator’s Palate is a fun theme that uses the latest technology to give the kids an interactive experience with Crush, the turtle from Nemo. He chatted with Fox and it’s still the highlight of his cruise experience. He’ll tell anyone that will listen that he talked to Crush. Our second night was our least favorite restaurant. It’s the Enchanted Garden. The restaurant itself is pretty but the food is reminiscent of the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom. Just okay, not great. The Pilot and I loved the Royal Court restaurant, decorated with a Cinderella theme and with the best food of all.

For me, one thing that I struggled with was not being able to be connected much while at sea. When I worked in an office, I would have welcomed the chance to be incommunicado. Now, as a full-time writer, I did not like feeling out of touch. The Pilot and I cruised for our honeymoon and I never worried about safety but I have to admit to a touch of vulnerability and anxiety about something going wrong while we were sailing with Fox.

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If you ever have the opportunity to take a Disney Cruise, do it. It’s well worth the fun and the memories. Fox wants to go on the other three ships (Fantasy, Magic, and Wonder) and even informed his grandparents over the holidays that he’s spending his birthday in Alaska (probably not this upcoming one though 🙂

Parenting, Writing

Snow Day Fun

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We’ve now had four snow days in a row here. That’s right, after a two week holiday vacation, the kiddos had exactly two days of school before enjoying another six days in a row off. In many ways, this was super-convenient for me, the stay-at-home writer mom, because all my careful new year goal setting went right out the window the first week of January. How stress-reducing for me! Take that, resolutions! I didn’t even make it to the 5th before I blew it. With the holiday next Monday and a teacher work day the following one, Fox won’t have school on a Monday for the rest of January–that means a three 4 day work weeks in a row for me.

Remember when you were in school how a snow day seemed like a gift from God? No homework, no stress over where to sit at lunch, and if today was one of those god-awful Presidential Fitness days where the gym teacher actually expected you to run a mile. I mean, I changed into my gym clothes. Wasn’t that enough? Now I was expected to ruin my makeup on top of everything? Or, even worse, having to play that crazy crab version of kickball in the gym where all the guys crowed over seeing your undies up your gym shorts. No? Just me with that fun memory then? But back to snow days—as an extra snow day bonus, you got to stay home and see what mom was up to all day, relaxing at home. Snow days. They were the best, back then.

And then, once the work-a-day grind commenced, a snow day meant sleeping late before curling up on the sofa to read a whole novel or watch a movie or, once paired off like the animals in the ark…well, let’s just say, there’s always a baby boom nine months later for a reason, am I right?

And now? Now that I work from home, what is a snow day like with a six year old? Well, first of all, he’s still at the age where he adores school and is furious that he can’t go hang out with his friends for story and snack time. My little social butterfly is in kindergarten this year and still thinks school is awesome!

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Also, because of the reflection of the sun on the snow outside, his bedroom is lit up like a magazine cover photo shoot so he’s awake at the ass-crack of dawn. My little darling is a breakfast eater—adores breakfast and it’s the one meal he’s guaranteed to eat—so sleeping late is out the window. Then, he’s expecting a non-caffeinated Mommy to bounce of bed trilling circle time songs and ready with a convenient craft time activity. That’s so not happening.

After I negotiate time for Mommy to sip coffee by swearing to play Legos all afternoon, he’s got every Thomas the Trackmaster train he owns running across our hardwood kitchen floor (the noise alone is enough to make me weep into my coffee cup) and then I get to trip over one of Thomas’ 45 closest friends on my way to brew a second cup. Eventually, I feel awake enough to read Fox a story which I do wrong so he takes the book away and looks at me expectantly. Oh, yes, I still have to come up with an activity, don’t I? Last Wednesday, we made banana bread, cut out 3D snowflakes, and built Legos–all before lunch.

At some point, he’ll say, “Mommy, lunchtime!” And I look around for my mother to show up with my favorite snow day lunch of grilled cheese and tomato soup. Then I remember, I am the Mommy and slap together a crustless PB&J before trying to sneak another chapter in my book (currently the fabulous Yes, Please by Amy Poehler. It’s more a series of comedy essays than a memoir but it’s great. I want her to write more books all the time but I know she’s the single mom of two kids so I kinda get how it is. Snow days and all that equate to no writing time.)

 

Now, after lunch, Fox informs me that it’s recess time. It’s time to struggle into the snowsuit for a bracing three minutes of outdoor fun that will take us thirty minutes to get undressed from and re-dressed in our jammies (which I never wanted to get out of in the first place!) Better go find the snowsuit…and pray for warm weather.