Michaeline: Structure and Conflict in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”

Dissecting a story can reveal strange and wonderful things!

Dissecting a story can reveal strange and wonderful things!

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is one of the touchstones of American culture, and there are references scattered throughout literature and the pop scene to the passive-aggressive dreamer who escapes into his own world as often as he can.

I see the structure of the story as something like this: the five episodes of daydreaming take their details and themes from the underlying reality of Walter Mitty’s daily life. The underlying reality is a thread, and the daydreams are bubbles that rise out of that thread. The conflict in the daydreaming is manufactured, of course, but takes shape from real conflict in his life – conflicts many of us face, and are a little boring, to tell the truth. The daydream episodes raise the conflict into High Drama.

The basic thread of Mitty’s real life is packed with everyday conflicts. Continue reading

Michaeline: Passive-Aggressive

The term "passive-aggressive" dates back to 1946, and has its roots in military psychology.

The term “passive-aggressive” dates back to 1946, and has its roots in military psychology.

For some reason, my Girls in the Basement have been circling around Passive Aggression lately. We’ve been gently prodding the idea with a stick, and so far the tiger hasn’t come bursting out of its cage, but a quote from Lifehacker definitely made *something* in the Basement sit up and notice.

When you finally make the commitment to attack your side hustle for real, you will suddenly find yourself deeply compelled to attend to all sorts of random things instead of your side hustle. This is the result of several factors: fear at failing if you begin, passive-aggressive resentment of all the work ahead of you, procrastinating because you’re not sure where to start. – Brazen Careerist.

“Passive-aggressive resentment of all the work ahead of you.” Well, that explains some of my procrastination habits. But the quote also got me to thinking about the uses of passive-aggressive conflict in story. Continue reading

Michaeline: Talking About Topicality

Lydia E. Pinkham, "iconic concocter" according to Wikipedia.

A product, a song, a celebrity can convey setting, character, theme and more. Or it can date a story.

The other day, I was fact-checking some of my favorite quotes for  Michille’s post when I ran across this very interesting quote by James Thurber:

When I wrote ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,’  I had a scene in which Mitty got between Hemingway and an opponent in a Stork Club brawl. Helen [his wife] said it had to come out, that there should be nothing topical in the story. Well, you know how it is when your wife is right. You grouse around the house for a week, and then you follow her advice.

And my gut instinct was, “Yes, that’s right. If you want to write classic literature, don’t include references that are going to fade with time.”

But then I got to thinking. First of all, Hemingway hasn’t faded with time. And, there will always be celebrity clubs where gossip-fodder-type fights break out. Did Thurber do the right thing to cut it? Or was “topicality” just an excuse to excise a scene that didn’t feel quite right? I suppose we’ll never know. Continue reading