Mannequin Monday – Moving the Scene Along

SNL original member Laraine Newman teaches us about improv, about moving a scene along. We clothe our bare mannequin with purpose.

And I offer another character sketch, this one with a touch of humor. Enjoy.

What I’m Listening To

I am halfway through listening to a podcast with guest Laraine Newman. Newman is one of the original members of Saturday Night Live and a co-founder of comedy troupe The Groundlings. She now works as a voice actor. In the podcast Newman talks about her new memoir May You Live in Interesting Times. (Available on Audible.)

She is an advocate for improvisational theater: “the art of acting out a scene without anything but a prompt from the audience, and each other.”

“If I could say anything about myself in the context of improv,” Newman says, “it was that I could move the scene along and I could add information.”

I like that. Move the scene along. Add information. Isn’t that true of any effective character in a written story? In a book or screenplay? The right character moves a scene along. Contributes something to the scene.

Here’s an example. In Elle Marr‘s The Missing Sister the protagonist, searching for her sister in Paris, has come to visit a woman, only to find the woman’s dead body. She staggers out to the street, panicked, ready to run. She flags down a cab. The cab driver asks where she wants to go. She yells “Allez!” Just go. The driver complies, pulls out into morning traffic. Minutes later he brakes to avoid hitting a truck. The protagonist is thrown about, annoyed. She again says, “Allez!” He initially ignores her impatience. Then, “the driver has been muttering in French since he slammed on the brakes, and his stream of commentary ticks up in volume here. He yanks the parking brake, yells that if I don’t like it I should drive in morning traffic. Then he points to the door.” She gets the hint, pays him, gets out. As she slams the door, he shouts “Nous sommes arrivés, mademoiselle!”

The cab driver in this scene could easily have been invisible. A mere tool to get the protagonist away from a death scene. But the author uses him to deepen her anxiety, to add to the tension. As a result the protagonist is tossed out on the street before reaching her destination, furthering her own fear.

See an NPR article for more on Laraine Newman.

What I’m Writing

This week I wrote another character sketch for Kelsey Graf, the young woman who features in several of my books so far. Readers have said they want to see more of her. In the meantime, I continue to explore her character. Enjoy, and comments are always welcome.

The Missing Shoe

The store manager pointed to three cartons on the floor next to the freezer case. “Get these frozen pizzas in the case, Kelsey. The afternoon rush will start soon.”

Kelsey tore open the first carton. She smiled. Her second day on the job and so far so good. She needed the money badly after she threw her partner and roommate out. The woman was smothering her. Following her around all day.

“Excuse me.”

Kelsey turned to see an elderly woman, short white hair, a long sweater, holding on to a small shopping cart.

“Excuse me. Do you work here?”

“I do.”

“I lost my shoe.” The woman pointed down to her right foot, covered only by a tan sock. Sure enough, there was no shoe in sight.

Kelsey said, “I’ll be glad to help you.” She pointed to the left foot. A black flat with a bit of a heel.

“That’s what I’m looking for,” she said.

“Yes. I was in produce when I noticed it was missing.”

“Tell you what,” Kelsey said. “You finish shopping and I’ll get your shoe.”

“You’re such a dear.”

“No worries.”

Kelsey walked over to the produce section. She scanned the floors, saw nothing. She alerted two other store workers to watch for the shoe. A shopper overheard them. “Let me look outside the store. Maybe she lost it walking in from her car.”

“Thanks,” Kelsey said.

“Please watch my cart. I’ll be right back.”

The woman dashed to the exit before Kelsey could reply.

Kelsey tucked the shopper’s cart to the side, expanded her search to cover other aisles in the store. Again, no luck.

A voice over her shoulder. “Kelsey, why are those pizza cartons still not in the case?”

“An old lady asked for my help. She lost her shoe.”

“Unpack the pizzas. I’ll get someone else to help the woman.”

Kelsey went back to unpacking. Moments later, “Did you find my shoe?”

“No,” Kelsey told the elderly woman.  “Some of the other store staff are looking.”

“Please hurry,’ she said. “I feel so odd without the shoe.”

“You keep shopping. We’ll find it.”

The old lady strode off. Kelsey watched her. Something was odd about the lady.

Two other workers came up to Kelsey. “Can’t find the shoe anywhere. Not even in the parking lot.”

Kelsey nodded, kept watching the elderly woman walk away.

“Oh!” Kelsey yelled. “Duh!”

“What?” the other two said in unison.

“Look at her walking. Shouldn’t she be limping without one shoe?”

The woman reached the end of the aisle and turned the corner.

“Where’s the stepstool?” Kelsey asked.

“In the storeroom.”

“Be right back.”

Moments later Kelsey and several store employees surrounded the woman.

“Please sit on the stool for a minute,” Kelsey asked her.

The elderly woman sat. Kelsey probed her right foot.

“Here’s your shoe,” she said. She pulled off the old lady’s sock. The shoe was under the sock.

“Oh dear. Silly me. I put one sock on over my shoe.”

Kelsey reversed the shoe and sock for her. The woman stood. “Thank you so much.”

The store PA blared. “Kelsey found the shoe. Everyone back to work now.”

Customers around the store applauded.

“Kelsey, get those pizzas unpacked!”


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