Plots ... The Training Ground

I think I was … um … mumble mumble years old before I realized that not everybody reads every single word describing every single movie that was ever made.

Actually, this realization didn’t dawn on me until yesterday. Sort of like if you love vanilla ice cream, you assume that everybody else must love it, too. Or Agatha Christie mysteries. Or coffee.

Meaning that in my egocentric universe, my favorite forms of substance abuse (movies, books, caffeine) are shared by everybody.

Which, of course, is silly.

And which also brings up the question of why, with no apparent provocation, I am suddenly thinking about movies. Particularly old movies. Not on the silver screen, but as they are encapsulated in the few shorts sentences that advertise them in catalogues that sell DVDs.

The answer to that is easy. I am promoting a new book. Therefore, as I go here and there giving talks at bookstores, schools, and in libraries, I am often asked two questions: “When did you decide to become a writer?” and “Where do you get the ideas for your books?”

Briskly dealing with the first question, I became a writer because I love to read, and figured that the best way to continue reading – incessantly – was to string together words as an occupation.



Moving on to the second question.

Long before I chose to become a writer, I was reading movie summaries in TV guides. I was addicted to them. Even now, if a friend says something like, “Remember that film about the man who falls in love with the department store mannequin?” I can snap out, “One Touch of Venus,” even if I never saw the movie.

Here is how that movie is described in a DVD catalogue: “Fantasy comedy about a young window dresser who kisses a statue of Venus, which then comes to life in the form of Ava Gardner. The problems begin, however, when Venus falls in love with him.”

Now, that’s just plain enchanting, isn’t it? Here are some more:

Death Takes A Holiday - Death decides to see what it is like to be a mortal and spends three days at Duke Lambert’s estate. The beautiful girl engaged to marry the Duke’s son falls in love with Death even though she knows who he really is.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan - Boxer Joe Pendleton dies 50 years too soon due to a heavenly mistake, and is given a new life as a millionaire playboy.”

The Shop Around the Corner - Two employees at a gift shop can barely stand one another, without realizing that they’re falling in love through the post as each other’s anonymous pen pal.

Cyrano de Bergerac - Embarrassed by his enormous nose, a swashbuckling poet pens pseudonymous letters to his beautiful beloved cousin Roxanne – who is smitten with another man.

Ball of Fire - Sugarpuss O’Shea is recruited to teach slang to professors. Bertram Potts and his equally stodgy colleagues are fascinated by her. Complications ensue when Sugarpuss and “Pottsie” fall in love, she runs from her mobster fiancé, and the klutzy intellectuals have to take on the mobster’s henchmen.

Multiply those brief descriptions by a few thousand, and you’ll see the most important training ground for me to become a writer: Plots. Plots. Plots. Which translates to: Stories. Stories. Stories.

Although some movie synopses may seem a bit tired, that’s only because the ideas were so good they have been remade time after time. Cyrano de Bergerac became a fireman in Steve Martin’s “Roxanne.” Frederic March in the original version of “Death Takes a Holiday,” became Monte Markham in the TV version, and Brad Pitt in the re-titled but essentially same movie, “Meet Joe Black.”

Ava Gardner’s “One Touch of Venus” was remade as “Mannequin;” James Stewart’s

”The Shop Around the Corner” became the delightful musical, “She Loves Me,” and later the truly terrible Tom Hank’s movie, “You’ve Got Mail;” Barbara Stanwyck’s “Ball of Fire” was turned into a Danny Kaye musical “A Song is Born;” and “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” was remade first by Warren Beatty as “Heaven Can Wait,” and then by Chris Rock as “Down to Earth.”

All of which means…what?

That a good story is the backbone of good writing, and good writing is the backbone of … oh well.

I hope … me!

Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com. Copyright © 2013, Shelly Reuben.

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