What hot water and Ani Difranco can teach you about story

What Hot Water & Ani Difranco Can Teach You About Story, #365Strong Stories by Marisa GoudyEvery once in a while, a woman with small children will have a chance to shower without anyone poking the curtain or worrying over the distant screams. She'll get to shave her legs and wash, rinse, repeat if she wants to. This is the chance to put on some of her own music so she doesn't find herself singing "Baby Beluga" (again!) as she scrubs her back.

Thanks to the endless spring twilight and a husband willing to take a shift searching for worms under all the backyard stones, I had twenty steamy minutes to myself. I practiced my ablutions (wow, how often do you get to say that in a sentence) and I listened - really listened - to the album that got me through that summer of crappy 60 hour workweeks.

Ani Difranco's Little Plastic Castle  is just as wonderful. And the title track has a lot to teach us about a well-built story. See the lyrics and my annotations below.

In a coffee shop in a city Which is every coffee shop in every city On a day which is every day I picked up the magazine Which is every magazine Read a story, then I forgot it right away

The ordinary world. (So terribly, terribly ordinary.)

And they say, "Goldfish have no memory" I guess their lives are much like mine And the little plastic castle Is a surprise every time And it's hard to say, if they're happy But they don't seem much to mind

Just enough details about our heroine/narrator to be curious. Show, don't tell. Intriguing and allowing us to fill in the blanks and entertain our own goldfish memories.

From the shape of your shaved head I recognized your silhouette As you walked out of the sun and sat down And the sight of your sleepy smile Eclipsed all the other people As they paused to sneer at the two girls from out of town

Here's the rising action. This is where setting and character exposition becomes plot.

I said, look at you this morning You are, by far, the cutest But be careful getting coffee I think these people want to shoot us Or maybe there's some kind of local competition here To see who can be the rudest

Oh, the conflict!

And the turning point. This is where Ani takes us from story to commentary - much like a good blog post that begins with personal anecdote and brings the reader into the heart of the message. In this case, how does Ani really feel about being a feminist icon in an ordinary, hypocritical world that asks so much of women like her and yet offers nothing but forgettable magazines and rude coffee drinkers.

And people talk about my image Like I come in two dimensions Like lipstick is a sign of my declining mind Like what I happen to be wearing The day that someone takes a picture Is my new statement for all of womankind

And I wish they could see us now In leather bras and rubber shorts Like some ridiculous new team uniform For some ridiculous new sport Quick someone call the girl police And, and file a report

In a coffee shop in a city Which is every coffee shop in every city On a day which is every day

Your turn. Listen - really listen - to something by your favorite bands or singer-songwriters and see what you can learn about storytelling. Long, hot shower optional, but highly recommended.