Please welcome back WU community member and author Carol Newman Cronin to Writer Unboxed today! When Carol asked if she might contribute a post on both the WU UnConference, which she attended this past November, and The Princess Bride, we couldn’t resist — two of our favorite things, after all!
Invisible Structure: What The Princess Bride Teaches Us about the UnConference
I’ve seen The Princess Bride so many times that I’ve memorized several of its best lines. Like many of you, I have my own personal favorite (which, unlike many of you, has nothing to do with killing fathers, or preparing to die). For those who haven’t yet had the pleasure, here’s the basic story line: a boy is sick in bed, so his grandfather comes over and offers to read to him. Despite initial doubts that a book could possibly be as interesting as a video game, the boy quickly becomes lost in the grandfather’s favorite fairy tale: following the quest of Wesley to win back (the way too passive) Princess Buttercup.
No matter how often I watch that movie, I always get lost in the fairy tale right along with the young boy. It isn’t until the action is so rudely interrupted—to discuss kissing, ick—that I remember the “real” story taking place within a nondescript kid’s bedroom.
What I’d never once considered (until Keith Cronin’s session on The Jenga of Story, at the 2019 UnConference) was how this extra “frame” of grandfather-bonding-with-grandson deepens the movie’s impact. In fact, I’d never thought about the damn structure at all, because I was always too busy getting lost in the story itself. Now, it’s so obvious: without that exterior layer, all we’d be left with is a sappy love story interrupted by sword fights. Hardly something I’d be inspired to watch, over and over and over again.
What does a fairy tale have to do with the UnCon?
Like The Princess Bride, the 2019 UnCon’s invisible structure was a huge part of what made it so memorable. First let’s discuss the structure itself, which was meticulously plotted out in advance by UnCon’s “author,” Therese Walsh. We were greeted with a well-organized welcome packet that spelled out the schedule and introduced our fellow writers—as well as name tags that spared us inevitable embarrassment (and also provided clues to each writer’s genre). Over four days, 120 of us were given a choice between simultaneous sessions, each one offering a deep dive into different aspects of craft. The conference timeline minimized potential conflicts, while leaving plenty of time afterward for lingering discussions. Most sessions started and ended on time, no matter how often presenters had their pre-planned thoughts derailed by audience enthusiasm. Lost in the conference “story,” we never had to think about what would happen next, or when.
Now, here’s the “invisible” part: [Read more…]