Category Archives: Rhyming Scenes

The Cat In The Hat teaches You Story Structure!

Story structure is story structure. What works has worked for a long, long time. Even children’s books have a hero with a problem, an Inciting Incident, Act breaks, a Midpoint, and an All is Lost moment, just like what’s playing at the OmniPlex or computer screen near you!

The Cat In The Hat is 61 pages. Double that and pretend it’s a feature script. Remember it was written in 1957 when scripts were 120 pages…

Page 1. The hero and his sister, Sally, are at home and already have a problem. It’s raining and they can’t go out to play. There’s no backstory. They WANT something. They want ONE THING and they want it badly. On page 1, they’re sitting at the window, bored out of their skulls, wishing someone would hurry up and invent video games.

Guess what?! There’s an Inciting Incident…! On page 5, something goes BUMP! and the Cat In The Hat steps in on the mat. He’s wildly different from Sally and her brother. He says, that zany goofball, “We can have lots of good fun that is funny!” The children (conflicted!) don’t know what to say, but they sure know their mother is out of the house for the day.

Fish knows what to say! On page 7, Fish ramps up the conflict and says, “No no!… “He should not be here when your mother is out!” A splash of cold water that slows Cat down… not at all!

The Cat In The Hat then has fun hopping up and down on a ball while balancing Fish and more and more and more and more household items and showing how much fun all this is… until… page 21 (a tad late, but never mind), at the Act I break… everything he’s done in Act I comes crashing down. Just like in a Hollywood movie!

For the first part of Act II, Fish continues to scold the children and warn them and generally harass them for the bonehead mistake they made letting this dude into their house. The children try to convince Cat to leave. He won’t leave. No lack of conflict here! Just before we get bored, Cat decides to take us in a new direction. When, pray tell, does he do that?

Page 29! Right in the very middly middle! A Midpoint! Just like a movie!

Cat blasts in the front door with a big red wood box. What’s this?! He yanks it open! Out race Thing 1 and Thing 2! Everything changes! This is Act II, so things get worse! Now three people are causing trouble for the home team! Thing 1 and Thing 2 do terrible things like fly kites indoors! They knock things over! They tear pictures off the wall! They have so much fun ripping up the children’s home!

Then, the Worst Possible Thing happens! Thing 1 and Thing 2 wreak their brand of havoc in… not the basement… not the laundry room, but… the mother’s bedroom! The stakes are now so high, the consequences are cataclysmic.

Terrified, the hero asks what would their mother say if she saw all this…

The very next page (46, right on schedule) is the end of Act II. We see, OMG, Mom walk up the sidewalk! She’s baaaaack!! Fish shakes with fear and worries what she’ll do!

Making a daring move, the hero catches Thing 1 and Thing 2 in his net. The Cat, who only wanted to have fun, feels terrible about what they’ve done and says, “What a shame!”

On page 54, The Cat shuts the Things in the box and leaves.

Hero and Sally and Fish stare at the wreckage of their home, shattered. No matter how hard they might try, they will never be able to clean up this mess. Depressed, they face utter destruction. This children’s book has a dark, dark All Is Lost moment!

Then, the Cat In The Hat zooms back in to show them another trick!! Driving a crazy cleaning-up machine, he completely tidies up the entire house! Everything he and his henchmen messed up is put back in place. And, with a tip of his hat, Cat scoots out the door — just before Mom comes in. Whewwwwweee!

The last page is a rhyming image of the second page, with the children looking out the window, Fish in his bowl at their side. Opening Image vs. Closing Image! As Mom steps in, all is right with the world — but the children have survived a harrowing journey, weren’t bored for a second, and their world is different.

The Hero asks if you would tell your mother what had happened… The End.

Dr. Seuss uses three act structure! So can you!

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Filed under Good Writing, Rhyming Scenes, Uncategorized, Writing Process

Rhyming Scenes

Wow, did I have a good one yesterday. And it made me think of you. Well, not you in particular, but the collective you who read my blog.

I took my watch to the jeweler’s because I’d bought a new watch band. The old one, which I’d bought pushing thirty years ago, had finally worn out. You buy something well made, it’s gonna last.

These days, since I have the time in my pocket on my cell phone, I don’t wear a watch. I do wear a watch on business trips, so when I’m in a meeting I can sneakily see how much longer I have before I have to leave for the next meeting without hauling out my phone and ostentatiously checking the time… I also wear a watch when I’m in Europe, because trains and things require punctuality and because I don’t carry a phone over there. So, this past month, in Europe, I had all kinds of trouble getting my admittedly frayed butter soft ancient leather watch band to even go on my wrist. Once it was on, I wasn’t worried about it falling off… but getting it cinched in place was a nightmare.

After nearly three decades of faithful service, the leather watchband had to be retired. I stupidly didn’t think to replace the watchband when I was in Rome. When I flew home, I realized I needed a new one. But no way was I paying for a leather watchband in this county. Too much money.

So, I’d gone to a couple of stores looking for those zippy cloth watch bands with stripes on them. Cheap, but decent. Finally found a blue and white one the right width at Brooks Brothers. Okay. And I took it to the jewelry store to get them to remove the old one so I could put the new one on.

Which takes me to rhyming scenes.

You have the first scene, which will be a bit like the second scene, except the character has gone through something, or changed, or grown or something… and the second scene reminds us of the first one, and we SEE how the character has changed.

In KRAMER VS. KRAMER, the dad can’t beat an egg, so he’s a terrible father. Later, we see him beat an egg like a pro, and we see he’s come a long way toward become Dad Of The Year. Simple but effective.

Two decades + ago, I was in Florence, Italy. I had the same watch. A Hamilton from 1955. You have to wind it every day. Keeps killer time. My father gave it to me and I like it. My watchband was wearing out, and I was in the city of leather, so hey, why not? On the way from the cathedral to the train station I spotted a tiny… watchband store. How cool!

The shop was less than six feet wide with ancient plaster walls, all ochre and peeling white. I took a step inside and saw cards mounted on the wall, each with watchbands on it, held in place with elastic. Hundreds of watchbands. Mostly leather. The gentleman in the chair behind the small counter was wearing a coat and tie. He was pretty damn old. And all he sold was watch bands.

Being a guy, it’s pretty easy for me to shop. I picked one out, and pointed. At this time in my career, I spoke zero Italian. He smiled and indicated for me to hold out my arm. I did, and he gently removed my watch from my arm. What service!

Then he began the elegant ballet I have remembered all this time.

He pulled out a thin metal paddle and pushed the pins in the watch that the old strap fit in — think the wooden thing your toilet paper hangs on — pulling them out of the watch, and slid them out of the strap and set them aside. Then he threw away the old strap, after looking at me and asking if I wanted it.
Then he took an orange stick and rubbed the whole watch, cleaning it.
Then he took the two little pins and cleaned the accumulated crud from them with a cloth. When he started, they were nearly black with dried goo. When he was done, they were shiny brass. Like new!
Then he got a cloth and polished the watch crystal.
Then he bent the new straps until they were supple.
Then he slid the shiny pins into the new leather straps and, with his paddle, popped them into place on the watch.
I reached out to take the watch, but he looked at me. Not finished yet.
He held my watch and indicated for me to hold out my arm. I did.
In a final flourish of genteel showmanship, he put the watch on my arm, did the strap, and smiled.

That is how to run a business! That’s how to keep a customer! Italy! What a country!

I left his shop on a cloud. For five dollars, I had been treated like a king. Of my entire life, it was the finest and most over the top satisfying business transaction I have ever made. What could ever compare to that?

Well, I’ll tell you.

I went in the jewelry store yesterday, in my own home town, which ain’t Florence. I needed the pins pulled out of my watch so I could put the new Brooks Brothers band on. I gave it to the woman and she took it into the back. She was friendly.

Then she brought the watch back, with the pins out. How was I supposed to slide the new band into place if the pins were loose? I explained this to her in my native language, which she understood perfectly. No nods or gestures required. A diminution of the magic that surrounds new watchbands, that’s for sure.
Then she took the watch into the back again.
I waited and wondered what the world had come to… (the change between Rhyming Scene #1 and Rhyming Scene #2… we’ve gone to hell in a hand basket.)
Then she came out. The pins were in.

And they were filthy dirty.

Gummy and black from years of use. Pretty gross, actually. The Guy In Back hadn’t even cleaned them! Did I remember the little man in the little store on the little sidewalk on the way to the train station in Florence Italy? You bet I did. With massive nostalgia and heartrending regret.

While she paid no attention, I cleaned the pins on my shirt tail — leaving it black and streaked — and then I had to fit the new watchband through the pins, myself, and, final insult, put it on my wrist. Myself.

No showmanship. No charm. No lasting impression. Zilch.

A rhyming scene.


Filed under Rhyming Scenes, Screenwriting