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At first glance, the films of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy would seem an odd resource for storytelling.  They focus on a string of comedic events, and the enhancement of a storyline seems incidental.  (OUR RELATIONS may be an exception from the classic years, but I don’t know of anyone who watches it to enjoy a good story!)

Still, there is a lesson to be learned.  I’ll call it “Delivering on the Promise.”

There are many, many examples of this in the films of Laurel and Hardy, but the one that immediately comes to mind is the delightful short, TOWED IN A HOLE.  The Boys are refurbishing a boat to make it sea-worthy.  While Ollie is on a ladder painting the mast, Stan is in the hold trying to relieve his boredom.

Boredom is soon the last thing on his mind as he manages to wedge himself between a pole and the back wall.  No matter what he tries, he can’t free himself.  In desperation, he grabs a saw and begins to work on the pole that has trapped him.

Without needing to tell you, I’m sure you already know that the pole is actually the mast.  What follows are a series of scenes shifting back and forth between Stan furiously sawing away, and Ollie on the ladder…trying to figure out what the sawing sound can mean.

The moment when reality dawns on Ollie’s face is priceless.  This is instantly followed by a large C-R-A-C-K, toppling the ladder with its helpless occupant to the ground.

I have shown this movie to many people, and the laughter during this entire sequence is both loud and continuous.  Everybody knows what is going to happen, but that just makes it funnier.  (Will reality match the image I’ve already formed in my mind?)

Now, imagine if there was no pay-off…no Delivery on the Promise.  Maybe Stan was sawing a different pole.  Or perhaps Ollie climbs down from the ladder to investigate.  Either of these things would fit a story construction framework, but the audience would feel cheated.

Laurel and Hardy were masters of Delivering on the Promise, whether it was crossing a knee-deep pond containing a hidden pothole, suffering the rhythmic falling of bricks down a chimney, lighting a gas stove, or heaping indignities on a gout-ridden foot.  (In THAT’S MY WIFE, they even remember to resolve a loose plot-point involving a bowl of soup right before the fade-out.)

I was a student in an online Ethics training session that really brought this point home.  The example cited was a true story of a commercial airline pilot who must decide whether to risk a landing on an iced runway to save a passenger who has suffered a heart attack during the flight, or continue to a safer airport with ice-free runways and probably lose the passenger.

The purpose of the set-up was to invoke conversation…and it did!  Being an online course, though, the content moved ahead without telling what choice had been made by the pilot.  It was difficult to focus on the remaining content because everyone wanted a resolution to the intriguing plot point.

Delivering on the Promise also means that you must live up to your advertising.  I have often ended instructor-led classes at the lunch break with a promise to tell “The Most Unusual Claims Story I’ve Ever Heard” or my “Alfred Hitchcock Claims Story” right at a specific start up time.  The intent is to provide an incentive for folks to return to class on time.  If those stories don’t live up to their hype, I will lose credibility...and punctual attendance.

A key element of effective storytelling is setting up an intriguing situation that people want to know more about, and then Delivering on the Promise.  It is an invaluable aid in memory retention…and it will usually keep people hanging around for more!  At the very least, it will help you to avoid Another Fine Mess.

Thanks for reading!


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 4th, 2012 06:10 pm (UTC)
In tandem with storytelling....
I'm thinking of signing on "on- line class" in creative writing (non-fiction genre).
Don't exactly know where to go from here. Any suggestion will be appreciated... I really need to hone my interest in storytelling.
Thanks for sharing.
Mar. 4th, 2012 06:27 pm (UTC)
On Line Storytelling Class
Much of the benefit depends on what you desire from it. For instance, some courses concentrate on the "nuts and bolts" of structure. (There are quite a few good books out there that will help with that, too!)

Other programs act as a correspondence course, allowing you to share your work with someone and receive critiques. (There are a number of excellent sites for that if you are interested in screenwriting.)

If you feel comfortable with structure, there is absolutely no substitute for practice. The benefit of an online course is that it keeps you on a timeline. Other than that, there's no substitute for getting work down on paper so it can be revised.

Thanks for the question.
Mar. 6th, 2012 01:17 pm (UTC)
of all the people to example! Laurel and Hardy.. one of the best biographies I ever read has been Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy: The Double Life of Laurel and Hardy by Simon Louvish .

ah and the story of the boat and pole.. I remember it without problem..which is sort of amazing considering how much I forget!
Mar. 11th, 2012 03:22 pm (UTC)
The Roots of Comedy
Thank you so much for your comments. I am pleased that you enjoyed the posting. Mr. Louvish's tome is quite extensive and a very good read.

The boat and the pole were wonderfully memorable. It is a story image that easily recalls the event! Best Wishes!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )