spent a lot of time over the past few months talking about the
“situation.” No, not the guy on Jersey Shore . . . the situation that
inspires authors to write comedies. All great comedic pieces (movies,
television and books) are built on situations beyond the primary
character’s control, and most have an easy-to-follow ten-step formula.
To clarify how this formula works, I’m going to share a real
“situation” that occurred in my life a few weeks back.
1. The Setup/Stacking
My story begins on a weekday afternoon. A friend called me on my cell
phone just as I pulled up to a local grocery store. We were talking
diets—specifically, about healthy eating, nutritional supplements, etc.
I got out of my car, used the remote on my key ring to lock the car,
tossed my keys into my purse, and headed to the front of the store.
When I reached the front door, I grabbed a basket, tossed my purse
inside, and then stepped into the produce department, ready to buy all
sorts of healthy goodies. I kept talking to my friend. Though
distracted—have I mentioned I have ADD?—I started adding things to my
basket: strawberries, blackberries, and so on. I caught a glimpse of
the fresh green beans in the distance and pondered how I might go about
loading a produce bag with them while still on the phone. Common sense
would dictate that I end the call and focus on shopping. But I’ve never
been known for my common sense. Pushing thoughts of green beans aside,
I eyed the organic carrots. Yum. I needed some of those and could
easily grab them while chatting with my friend.
2. The Faux Pas/Error
I turned away from my basket to walk toward the carrots. In the
meantime, the phone conversation grew livelier by the minute. I glanced
down, nabbed the carrots, turned back toward my basket, tossed them
inside, and then looked down at the spot where I’d placed my purse.
W-w-what? No purse? You had to be kidding me!
3. The Knee-Jerk
I went into an immediate panic. Told my friend my purse had been
stolen. Shoved my phone into my pocket. Where else could I put it,
really? Raced toward the door, convinced I must’ve left my purse in my
SUV. Only one problem. I clearly remembered locking the SUV. How could
I have done that without my remote? Still, I had to check the car, just
4. The Complication/The
I sprinted out of the store and headed toward my vehicle. About halfway
there, I realized I was pushing the cart! Oh no! The cart was loaded
with produce . . . produce I hadn’t paid for! I stopped in the middle
of the parking lot and pondered what this must look like on the
security camera. Frantic woman races from store toward her car with
groceries she has not paid for. Oh, help! If they called the police, I
couldn’t even prove my identity. After all, my identification was now
5. The I-Can-Fix-This
Phase/The Would-Be Solution
I looked back and forth between the front door of the store and my
vehicle, just yards away. My instinct told me to go to the SUV to check
for the purse and then go back inside the store to explain.
Unfortunately, my vehicle—as I’d suspected—was locked tight. I peered
through the windows, hoping to see my purse on the front seat. Nope. No
purse. If I tried the old-fashioned “stick a coat hanger down through
the window” technique, I would be accused of not only stealing fruits
and vegetables but an SUV, as well! So, I turned back to the store, my
thoughts in a whirlwind.
The Moment of
Relief/The Catch-Your-Breath Phase
As I approached the store—no police in sight—I breathed a sigh of
relief. I knew what must’ve happened! Surely, when I’d arrived at the
store in the first place, I must’ve slung my purse into one basket and
grabbed another. Why, sure. I would look in the basket area for my
purse and then I’d laugh about it when I went to customer service to
explain why I’d accidentally “almost” stolen the fruits and veggies.
7. The Twist/The
Only one problem. My purse wasn’t in the basket area. In fact, as I
took a step inside the store, I truly had no idea how I could possibly
fix this problem. I would simply have to put all of the food back and
call someone to drive me home. What a mess!
8. Gotcha!/The Punchline
As I stepped inside the store, a woman—probably in her early
thirties—stopped me. “Ma’am! I believe you’ve taken my basket!”
“W-w-w-what?” I stared down at
the basket, this time paying closer attention to its contents, and
realized the fruits and veggies weren’t exactly what I’d tossed inside.
Close, but not exact.
The woman pointed toward the
green beans. “There’s a basket over there with a purse inside.”
I looked that way and, lo and
behold . . . my purse! Oh, praise the Lord! Hallelujah!
The woman shook her head and, in
a motherly voice, said, “Ma’am, you really shouldn’t leave your purse
in a basket like that. It could be stolen!”
The Scramble/Playing the Fool
I felt like a fool, as you might imagine! Profuse apologies followed as
I gave the woman her basket. Several people gave me funny looks as I
sprinted toward the correct basket, but no one said a word—except the
woman, who continued to tell me that I needed to calm down. Calm down?
I’d lost my purse, stolen fresh produce, and played the role of a cart
thief, all within a five-minute span! How could I possibly calm down?
Instead, I raced through the store on the world’s fastest shopping
extravaganza, then got the heck out of Dodge, determined never to shop
in that store again!
As I drove away, I replayed the situation in my mind. Laughter
followed. Lots of it. In that moment, I came to an important
conclusion: people with ADD shouldn’t drink ’n’ drive—er, talk on the
phone and load a shopping cart. We simply don’t have the wherewithal to
do both at the same time.
So, there you have it, my
friends. A real-life “situation” broken down into the same ten steps
that are used in nearly every sitcom, comedic book, or hilarious movie.
The next time you’re in a wacky/embarrassing “situation,” take some
time after-the-fact to replay it scene by scene. You might just
discover those ten formulaic “steps” lined up in a perfect row.