A Peek at Pecker and Lots of Other Stuff

A Peek at Pecker
Analyzing the script as fiction.
Art is….
Friends of The Whitney:
What fundamental elements go into the
crafting of just about any story, and how do
those elements function in this film?
Point of view
Language (style, tone, diction)
Plot, character, setting, theme—all intimately
enmeshed in Pecker !
What’s the story’s “narrative question”?
Will Pecker become famous artist? How will he develop as an artist? What
will happen to him, his community (Baltimore, family, friends), and his art as
he becomes famous?
Good and interesting stories often involve a character who is put into a
situation which will disrupt his equilibrium. In this case, we have a kid who
relies on his community and his connection to that community for his wellbeing, his equilibrium, and his art. His happiness (even joy) seems to come
from his ability to frame/control/actively make and embrace his world and life.
So what situation would put such a character to the test? What would amplify
his weaknesses or provide maximum tension--and therefore maximum
interest for us, the viewers?
Break or threaten to break his connection to his community.
Take away or threaten his freedom and power to frame or own his own
1. Exposition: long sequence of scenes in which
we are introduced to community and all people
closest to Pecker. Art and community are closely
linked, with Shelly at center. Pecker is an active
framer of his life. Art and life are one.
2. First “hook” or complicating action: Rory sees his
stuff on exhibit and he gets fired. (Or, even
before this, we see the community react to his
work.) First loss of control, ability to frame/make
own life; first loss of own vision. Disequilibrium.
Second complicating action: has a show in NY and sells work.
First signs of rupture: Shelly unhappy, homeless people
mistreated. With fame comes increasing loss of innocence.
Return home and further ruptures:
burglary of home;
Matt in trouble;
sister fired;
little sister changed;
mother used and abused;
Mi Mama rejected.
I.e., the people he cares about are being hurt, so his art is
suffering at its root. Also, the community is mad at him and
so his art suffers; needs love for his art to work. Note that the
art industry at this point is in control of Pecker’s art and
vision. Pecker relies for his well-being on art, which comes
from his community and his ties to his community. The
tension comes when those ties are severed or in danger of
severing—his character is put to a test, must find new ways
of connecting, regaining control and equilibrium.
6. Crisis, maximum rupture: Shelly sees
Pecker and Rory and splits. Loss of
Shelly = loss of his center.
7. Turning point: throws down camera and
says, “Cancel the Whitney.” Becomes
active agent again; not passive receiver
of his own life. His art comes from his
life and his life was appropriated from
him. He chooses his life over art and
thus regains his art.
Gets Shelly back in voting booth: notice how art +
Shelly are linked in Pecker’s well-being. (Note that, to
some extent, this story is really about Shelly, who
actually changes the most?)
Reverse show in Baltimore: Pecker regains (and even
enlarges) his community and thus his art. The
“embrace” of art is enlarged and tightened. Miracle of
art/community/love affirmed.
Notice too that the community actually becomes
involved in his art. Maximum art-community synthesis.
Mi Mama and Mother Mary: real art happens when
artist makes right choices? When art and world are in
proper balance? When artist is in control of his own
Balance restored. Or rather a new equilibrium is found.
• Standard, rising-action, linear
• Any plot devices?
– Flashbacks?
– Framing?
– Multiple, intersecting plots?
Do similar analysis of “Cathedral”
and “Sonny’s Blues”
1. Note initial situations in both stories: what is the narrative question?
What are we reading to find out? What question(s) keeps us turning
2. Again, how is character being tied to plot and theme? Who is the main
character and how is he being tested?
3. Outline the plot of the story. Where is the first main hook or complicating
action, where are some additional complicating actions, where is the
climax? Etc.
4. In “Cathedral,” “Sonny’s Blues,” and Pecker, at least one character is
taught by another to see art and imagination in a new way. Explain.
5. What view of art/imagination is finally affirmed in each story? What is
art? What and whom is it for?
6. What can you learn from these two writers? If you read as a writer, what
can you take away from the stories?
For Next Week
Look at more Fiction Project options.
“How to Tell a True War Story” (online) and
“How to Talk to Your Mother” (handout).
Review perspectives.
Look at a couple project options.
Finish “Sonny’s Blues” and “Cathedral.”
Selected weirdnesses.
Reviewing perspectives…
The improvement of
An escape from reality; a
sedative or distraction
A pile of crap; a
hoax; excuse for not
having a REAL job
The honoring of tradition
The subversion of
So: what are YOUR aesthetics and
standards of judgment?
What should/will be the standard of
judgment in this class?
(Maybe I’ll ask you that at the end of the
Where do stories come from?
Hint: there’s no such thing as writer’s block.
Writer’s block is a figment of your
• Harmonious Confusion
• What was I saying last week about plot
and character?
– Look at links on schedule.
• Look at passages of “Sonny’s Blues”:
Look at Fiction Project Option 1
Don’t confuse a first-person narrator of a story with the
author of the story!
A story isn’t an essay!
• It’s understood as “fiction,” not “reality.”
• No thesis statement.
• Meanings are implicit rather than explicit, resonant,
overlapping, multiple.
For Option 1, you are to draw heavily on fact and
autobiography, but still write a piece of fiction, a short
• Stop thinking in terms of action-centered plots, and focus
on other things: a person you barely know, an intriguing
small detail, a comment someone made, the way a
single street looks at different times of the day…
• Go home and look again. Sit alone in a café you haven’t
been in for awhile. Just sit, listen, and write.
• Drive around. Slowly. And just look.
• Consider the ugliest or most otherwise unfortunate
qualities of your hometown. Make a story out of them.
• Hunt down the oldest citizen or the person who has lived
there longest. Interview that person.
• Go to work one day with the garbage man, mail man,
mayor, grade school principal, road construction worker,
supermarket cashier, ambulance driver, town drunk.
Food for thought…
If you were to do the written equivalent of what Pecker
does…what would you be doing?
How might the art of photography translate into the art of
writing poems and stories? That is, how is writing like
taking pictures?
Portraits as interpretations. How do you wish the
community members to be seen? How do you see
them? What will you leave in and leave out?
Look at Fiction Project Option #3
Plot (on board)
Narrative question
Complicating actions
Pace (what speeds up pace? what slows it down?)
Devices: flashbacks, framing, foreshadowing, O’Henry Twist
Alternative ways of experiencing and
understanding TIME!
Multiple intersecting plots
Plot made up almost entirely of flashbacks
Circular plot
episodic approach
(Alain Robbe-Grillet)
pure interior monologue
anything that
happened to you
Questions for “How to Tell a True War Story”
1) Look closely at LANGUAGE in this story and comment in a brief paragraph, with
2) How would you describe the plot of this story? Remember that “plot” is the
sequence or order of events. Is this story’s plot chronological or linear?
Episodic? Circular? A montage? What plot devices is this writer using?
Flashbacks? Framing? Multiple plots? False endings? The story obviously does
not have a traditional plot—describe it as well as you can. (In Wed. group: go
over nontraditional plots first.)
3) What is this story’s narrative question? That is, what question(s) drive the plot?
What are we reading to find out?
4) Who are the story’s main characters? What is the main character’s chief
problem or issue? Who is the main character?
5) The title of this piece suggests that the story will ultimately explain or give
instructions for telling a true war story. So—how does one tell a true war story?
What are the particular difficulties, according to this narrator, in telling the events
of war? What is this narrator saying about “truth” and how we understand it?
6) Do you happen to know anyone in Iraq (or anyone who has been on active duty
there)? Do you know anyone who has been in any other war? Draw a
meaningful connection between your experience/ understanding of the Iraq war
and Tim O’Brien’s story.
Questions for “How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes)”
Look closely at LANGUAGE in this story and comment
in a brief paragraph, with examples.
Ok, so: based on this story, how DO you talk to your
Notice that these two writers have appropriated the
“how-to” genre in their titles (have evoked the “how-to”
manual or instruction guide).
What opportunities does this approach provide a
writer? How does it affect the story being told—its
narrative motion and tone? Its audience expectations?
Prompts, Exercises
(See also “Harmonious Confusion”
1. Write a 7-page story in class, taking no
more than 1 hour.
2. Write anything, non-stop for 30 minutes.
3. Write a paragraph imitating the prose
style of each writer we’ve read to date.
4. Locate a segment of your Fiction Project
which has the potential for a developed
scene. Write that scene.
Flash Fiction (Fiction Project Option #7)
250-300 words or so
Because we’re too busy.
We’re brain-dead; over-stimulated, desensitized, no attention-span.
Because we live in a “flash” world (fractured, media-saturated,
disjunctive, fast); TV and now the Web ask us to process the world in
bytes or chunks.
Because it’s an interesting, compressed, challenging and fun form.
Because it forces compression; awareness of the word as valuable
Because “good lit” isn’t necessarily long (Dickinson, sonnets, Herrick).
Works well in class with limited time.
Doesn’t waste paper.
Could be interesting hybrid of poetry and fiction.
Must evoke character, feeling, theme with few words. Art of the
minimal sketch, the telling detail. Iceberg principle.
Have to be aware of how language connotes. Heart of the “story” is in
suggestion and nuance—not explicit statement.
Show, don’t tell.
Provide fewer, but better, details. (Less
is more.)
Let only the tip of the iceberg show—
the right details will evoke the great
mass of what lies beneath.
Avoid platitudes, like the ones I’m
using here.
It roars down the road. The engine
howls, a caged animal begging to be
set free; plumes of bronze smoke blast
skyward with every scream. Dust
billows in airborne whirlpools behind
gargantuan tires. Its ominous shadow
bears down upon everything trapped in
its destructive path. Ever closer it
approaches, once a mere speck on the
horizon this beast becomes a veritable
It roars down the road. The engine howls,
a caged animal begging to be set free;
plumes of bronze smoke blast skyward
with every scream. Dust billows in airborne
whirlpools behind gargantuan tires. Its
ominous shadow bears down upon
everything trapped in its destructive path.
Ever closer it approaches, once a mere
speck on the horizon this beast becomes a
veritable leviathan. Once a mere speck on
the horizon, ever closer it approaches.
It roars down the road, a caged animal. Plumes
of bronze smoke blast skyward with every
scream. Dust billows behind gargantuan tires. Its
shadow bears down upon everything. Once a
mere speck on the horizon, ever closer it
It roars down the road. Bronze smoke blasts
skyward and dust billows behind gargantuan
tires. Once a mere speck on the horizon, its
shadow bears down.
A delicate wind blows from the south…
“stalks and beards”
“the wet sterile smell of humidity”
“It comes to rest just inches from the
“She shrugs, ‘dunno, but I hear the Hoof ‘n
Heel is due through here’…”
“Scooch over.”
Silences aren’t silent.
Being good with words means knowing when to shut up.
Silences aren’t nothing.