Monday, September 28, 2009

Are You Cereal? "Make It Work."

The subject matter of the last post reminded me of a real life story from college. In fact, it also reminded Bart of the anecdote, for he’s heard it from me probably one too many times. Bart said he didn’t want to bring it up. He'd been wondering why I liked this one and not the other? Hold on… I’ll get you up to speed.

Our writing class met on Tuesday nights in the Common Room of Old Main. [Shown here!] Anyway, I loved writing class. (Could you have guessed?) Well, one Tuesday, the class discussed what most of them found quite amusing. A fellow student’s story. Oh, don’t worry. He’d written it as amusing. Eventually Professor Sparrow turned to me. “Peter, you’ve been awfully quiet.” (Do I need to mention I’d usually be a little vocal?) “Well,” I said, “my mother told me that if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all.” At this point I recall a “gasp!” or an “oooo!” moment. (Or else I'd like one to have occurred.) Sparrow laughed, as I remember, and reminded me that a class is for critique, good or bad. “Ok,” I said. And I proceeded to tear the ‘story’ to shreds. Oh sure, I feel bad in the sense that I put a guy down like that. However, I’d greatly admired his past work. But this?? Schlock. And poorly written schlock. Again, I’m not being snotty. He’d produced well crafted stories before. But this piece had been a joke. Literally.

He’d taken the joke “There’s a serial killer on the loose. Cap’n Crunch is next.” and turned it into a story. As in, made a murder mystery out of someone killing the great cereal icons. Amusing? Perhaps. But not enough to base a story around. Or maybe it is… but his work had obviously been in haste. He just wanted to spill it out as quickly as possible to get to what he thought had been a prize. It didn’t read like a murder mystery. It read like someone who wanted to see how gruesomely gory he could describe the mutilated Honeycomb Kids. He just wanted Tony the Tiger to be Rambo. Complete and utterly cheap shots. No substance. No point, really. I may have used the word “garbage” in class, and do remember saying that I’d been a little perturbed that so much class time had been devoted to the drivel. Where had been the next installment of the spy drama about O.B.E. travelers he’d engrossed me in the week before?

Okay, so, now you might be wondering: Why did I like Brendan Douglas Jones’s Breakfast of the Gods and not the story for class? Simple: Execution.

For one thing, Jones is using a medium much more akin to the source material. Visual. Think about how much more satisfying it is to see the childhood icons depicted freshly and colorfully rather than awkwardly in black and white textual descriptions.

Characterization. Sure, Jones has Cap’n Crunch picking up a semi-automatic weapon, but all the while he’s behaving in, well, character. A Cap'n pushed to the end of his rope, dead on in his speech patterns and subtle touches like a raised eyebrow. The class story deliberately pushed them away from their known personalities for the sake of “humor.”

Setting & Utilization. If he’s going to recrate “cereality” in prose he could have tried to make it transfer to the page. As in try a little harder to include the feel of the atmosphere of that world. Oh sure, he had a few locations like the Honeycomb Kid Clubhouse. Relying, I suppose, on our remembrance of it. I’m not saying it would be easy to pour the cereal surroundings into prose. Just that it felt glossed over. A golden opportunity/challenge (and one that writing such a tale requires) wasted. Also, he’d not populated the entire world. What I mean is, Jones could easily show the relatively obscure Crispy of Crispy Critters cereal in the crowd. The prose, no matter how purple, could only tell you Crispy attended. Which would actually just become clutter, waving a red flag “Hey look! Another cereal reference, people!!” and thus drawing one out of the story. Okay, granted, the guy in class did not have a wealth of obscure information at his fingertips. But then, that would have only made it more cumbersome.

Which all harkens back to the visual medium being the way to go.

But there’s another major reason. The class story lacked depth. Depth in the sense of a broad scope and “psychological” purpose. He didn’t put much thought into the construction of the world in general. Whereas Jones pieced together the dedicated work of the men and women who created these iconic places and beings and fit them together like a perfect puzzle we all just never understood before. And then he took us on a journey of nostalgia, discovery and delight. Even without his visual triumphs, the Jones storyline, as a synopsis on paper, would still be fantastic. Jones did his homework. The class story? Nope. It just had Toucan Sam screech a bunch of expletives (and without the stuffy, “snooty” quality for which he’s known) and move on to the next senseless scene in a hurry to see a…oh never mind.

So there you have it, that’s the difference.

Once again, Bravo, Brendan Douglas Jones! Great work.

* The photo of the Common Room is by "biblio tyto" on Flickr. I hope you don't mind a Knox alum using your pic! Honor Code is intact, I'm giving you the credit. :) Thank you for putting up such a perfect picture of one of my favorite places! Cheers!

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