Top Gun for Story Structure & Life Lessons

I watched a tutorial today based on the movie Top Gun illustrating how a story structure (or screenplay) loops around in a circle, where you are back to the state of equilibrium at the end after everything you throw at your protagonist. Of course it must include an arc that has led the protag from here to there and they are presumably much better off/more mature, etc.  Isn’t that how life is supposed to be? We are constantly seeking that equilibrium after life throws us for a loop? Pun intended. And we should get from point A to point B older, wiser and better?

But, if we look to the spiritual side of things (yes, getting deep here), I think in life’s lessons if God is out of the loop, you won’t reach the better end of the character arc. You will get from point A to point B and will not be better off, may be more immature, and certainly won’t be wiser.  You will instead be frustrated, angry, confused, broken or lonely.  Too many people end up there.  And that’s not a fun story to read let alone live through.

Thankfully, the story featured in the tutorial was one of my favorite movies of all time: Top Gun (1986, baby). But if Goose wouldn’t have died and Maverick didn’t have to go through somewhat of a spiritual struggle (with God, I’m presuming—in a secular movie, I like to make assumptions), it wouldn’t have been as transformative. And I’m sorry, but you can’t get a better story for learning the landmarks of story structure than Top Gun (this is my own analysis):

Hook—Maverick gets chance to go to Top Gun because top pilot has melt down

Set-up—Off to Top Gun Academy, romantic interest introduced

First Plot Point—Screws up and has to prove credibility

Midpoint–Goose dies, Maverick blames himself

Second Plot Point—instructor Viper tells him about his father, regains confidence

Resolution—graduation, ready for future

Climax—Best mission of his life, uses lessons he learned

Post-Climax—Buzz the tower, of course! And will come back as instructor

Maverick’s character arc is phenomenal. Plus the movie has Tom Cruise before he got weird and Val Kilmer at the top of his game—win win!

Would you look at that I just blogged in a loop.

Professional VS. Brutal (Who Would Win?)

As a hospital nurse, I educate patients to take their “medications as directed” and tell them why and common side effects, etc. Plus at discharge, nurses address lifestyle choices on the surface level and send patients out the door, hoping for the best and hoping the primary care offices can take over from there. We say what we are supposed to say and make sure patients and families understand all the instructions. But, has anyone ever tested whether brutal, frank, coarse honesty works even better? I bet that hasn’t been tested. Too risky. Hurts feelings. No one would consent.

Okay, but I’m using my imagination because it’s my blog.

For instance, instead of saying,” you must taper your prednisone as instructed or you can potentially experience weakness, fatigue and gastric upset,” we say, “if you don’t taper the steroid, you’ll feel like shit.” Which would actually work better? Instead of saying “you must quit smoking because it increases your risk of heart and lung disease,” we say, “if you don’t quit, we’ll be booking you a hospital bed in six months for a complication your bank account can’t cover.” Hmmm, might it be food for thought? Might it have planted a bigger, faster seed toward change? How about for alcoholics, instead of handing off the list of resources and keeping our fingers crossed that something might work, we say, “if this doesn’t end, you will eventually need a new liver, but you won’t qualify for one so better plan on turning yellow and having a beach ball abdomen we have to drain fluid from.” Hmmmm, again, totally inappropriate, but would it work?

Now, to be brutally honest with myself, I wouldn’t be the best person to deliver frank statements. My compassion and gentleness are gifts that thankfully surface while I’m working. Sometimes, though, I wonder if my smile and gentle nudges make a difference. Well, if they don’t, at least my prayers might. And with that, God please bless my patients, they know not what they do. (LOL, just kidding, sometimes).

Don’t Need Buff, Just Need to Move

Today’s daily prompt is the word “buff.” I’m not sorry to say that I pictured a buff male body first (we’re talking front of romance books, ya know?), my not-really-buff figure second (although I knocked out a 6:25 mile on the treadmill yesterday so I can’t complain), and buffing out wax on a vehicle third—just to come up with something other than nicely shaped bodies. But really, what is a buff body worth anyway?

I’ve been a nurse for nine years, and I’ve seen a lot of bodies. I can honestly say the buff bodies of fantasy books are few and far between, but I’ve had some patients truly impress me when they talk about staying in shape. The most impressive are the ones who are elderly or have chronic diseases who are still trying to do what they can to promote the health of their bodies. I had one patient in his late 80’s who goes to the gym three times a week and had never been in the hospital until something got in the way of the flow (if you don’t know what I mean ask an older guy). I had one patient have a goal to do a 300 lb bench press on his 60th birthday, and after his heart cath wanted to ask his cardiologist if he was allowed to still try. I had a patient with COPD who managed to walk five miles a day throughout the year to make sure he could do what he could to prolong his health. How I wish everyone had this kind of motivation! I love hearing people talk about going for walks or hiking or biking, but to be honest, I have a feeling there’s not a lot of follow-through.  It’s something to keep up with (and not just once a month, dearest hubby).

I go running regularly and find trails by nice homes and take the kids to the park when possible. It is amazing how few people are engaged in outdoor exercise or play when we go. I always wonder where the heck is everyone? This world is chock full of people, but very few are out even on nice days. According to the CDC (2013), “The U.S. government recommends adults get at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, or a combination of both.” And in the study of 450,000 Americans from all 50 states, SELF-REPORTED exercise habits were surveyed: 80% do not reach these recommendations. I emphasized self-reported because, let’s face it, perceptions are probably not very accurate, so the results could potentially be worse. I don’t like knowing 80% of my community might become patients even sooner or in worse condition due to lack of exercise. With parks and trails, home gym equipment, exercise videos, sidewalks, a variety of sports, classes and opportunities, what is everyone waiting for? A miracle?!?!?

God designed our bodies to move and work, and He designed nature and fresh air to enjoy. We might not need a buff body (although, if you got it, enjoy your blessing and forgive my second glances), but everyone must move! And move often before you end up in a hospital bed with side rails and a nurse named Emily trying to get you out of bed to “ambulate in the hallway!” Because I will.

Between Good Sleep and Bad

In the morning, I stand at a precipice

If well rested, I stand still

Keep my plans for the day, perhaps

A run, a story, at my will.


If well rested, I stand still

And oversee the day’s events

Grocery, laundry, never dawdle

Get things done—it just makes sense.


Keep my plans for the day, perhaps

Yummy dinner in the crock,

Vacuum, pick up, feed the dog,

But too soon, it’s three o’clock!


A run, a story, at my will

I had thought at start of day

And not waste a rested brain

On slick diversions, candid play.


In the morning, I stand at a precipice

If not rested, jump and blame

Poor sleep for lack of progress

Odd . . . the day still looks the same.

Wisdom in Repetition, A (Running) Poem

When shoes are laced for running,

Feet find a repeat rhythm.

Whether pounding hard or lightly jogging,

Feet usher, led by wisdom.


Feet find a repeat rhythm

As if they ‘ready know

Their control; they power forward

Down miles roads bestow.


Whether pounding hard or lightly jogging,

The cyclic duty steady drives.

And feet may tire, maybe protest

But their nature ever thrives.


Feet usher, led by wisdom

Only training can attain.

With nerve and guts and firm resolve

To strike the road, repeat again.

Hide the Boobies?

I normally write witty, silly things (just read my homepage if you don’t believe me) but today I’m digressing to a woman’s topic where I might just take the non-feminist side of the debate. Feel free to leave comments/debate/opinions, just not pictures of breasts please. According to the Washington Post, there was a mother who breastfed her 19-month-old in church and was asked to go to a private room, and was later told the church does not allow breastfeeding without a cover so that others will not feel uncomfortable. The mother posted her dispute on Facebook and she won’t return to that church because she feels unwelcome.

Now, I support breastfeeding. No argument there. I am even grateful that public places are making special rooms and providing laws to protect people who breastfeed in public. I loved the cozy little room at the Indianapolis Museum of Art that was specially designed for breastfeeding mothers. Hurray! But, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a mom to use a cover when she’s in public. I don’t. I’m sorry. Where it may be a baby’s food source, it is also a sex organ that visually causes reactions–ever since, well, Adam and Eve (thanks a lot you two). Now, if you have a wardrobe malfunction, that’s another (sort of humorous) situation. But not using a blanket or cover while breastfeeding might very well make people uncomfortable. Being discreet is called courtesy. Baby gets the very best nutrition in the world; boobies hidden and no one feels awkward. Sounds like a win/win to me.

The debate on the Washington Post website is quite lengthy. But, what do you think?


Gateways to You-Know-Where

When I was a kid, I had a fear of escalators. The part that scared me the most was not the going up and down bit, it was the fact that the gray, ribbed stairs disappeared into some horrifying realm that you could only enter as flat and splat.  I was convinced that I could be sucked into it if I didn’t step off the darn thing in time. And of course I didn’t want to look clumsy as I stepped off; we were usually at fancy department stores after all. So the trick was to step off the escalator gracefully and confidently while secretly hiding the fear of being pulled into the abysmal depths of torture. My heart would race at each end of the horrifying trip, and would recover with overwhelming gratitude when the treacherous mission was accomplished.

What didn’t help was one of my earliest childhood memories was stepping on an escalator at my parent’s wedding at the (super classy) Hyatt Regency. My twin sister, who may have had similar angst, and I were wee little girls in beautiful dresses, holding our grandmother’s hands on either side as we all stepped onto an escalator together. The part I remember most was that there was a green glow from underneath the escalator. Not kidding. A green glow—the Goblin of Hell beaming his emerald light to distract poor escalator riders so that they would fall into the very pits of despair. And that is exactly what happened. We fell. All three of us. And Grandma wasn’t a tiny person. I don’t even know how it happened really, my mind blocked out the sequence of events, but I still blame the Goblin of Hell. Grandma Rose probably blamed the wee little girls.

The point is: Be careful on escalators. Okay? Especially the ones that glow green. And if you do fall, you may not be sucked into hell, but flat and splat won’t feel very good. Sorry, Grandma.

Chutes and Ladders

I had two kids home sick from school today, so we played some quick, non-mind-draining board games. Chutes and Ladders, anyone? But being the curious thinker that I can sometimes be, the non-mind-draining game struck me as worth thinking about from the writer’s perspective. Are those chuckles coming from you? Think I’ve caught a bug from the kids that made me delirious? Give me a second! Try to visualize the game as it’s being played, it shows your protagonist (you) moving along  toward a well-defined goal. You are more excited when you start the game in action–like spinning a one and getting to go up the ladder right away (the hook!). When you don’t move along at a good pace, it’s like the story that doesn’t go anywhere–boring. You move along the game, making good decisions and bad decisions and experiencing (inevitable) let downs and achievements. You fight against the antagonists (your opponents) who are also having their ups and downs–and sometimes acting almost heroic, like the villain you love/hate.  And on the very last row you can quite possibly run into three chutes which really ramps up the excitement (the climax!). So, now you can see how the Chutes and Ladders story structure works. Of course, like any book or game, it just feels better when the protagonist wins! Oh, sorry kids.

My Eyelid Has a Message

My left eyelid has been twitching for about two months. I like to work with objective data, so I’ve made some observations during an eight-hour drive home from North Carolina and during mass on Sunday: the twitch can occur up to 6 times in an hour, but mostly it’s about 3 times an hour. According to, “The most common causes of eyelid twitch are stress, fatigue, and caffeine. To ease eye twitching, you might want to try the following: Drink less caffeine. Get adequate sleep.” Excellent advice. Except when stress comes from work, kids, husband, or trying to get published, I’d like my eyelid to know I’m doing the best I can, give me a break. And fatigue? Well, that has a remedy, it’s called caffeine. Get adequate sleep? Actually, I usually do even though I’d love to say I stay up late writing, but every time I’ve tried it, I have to rewrite everything the next day anyway. Drink less caffeine? Where will my jolt of energy come from to deal with the work, kids, husband, and writing? In other words, the eyelid twitching is here to stay. Just hope it doesn’t affect my writ-it-it-ing. Oh, sorry, my eyelid was twitching.

Later Means Lost

I’m gonna sing later.

I’m gonna skate later.

Dance later.

Create later.

I’m gonna draw later.

I’m gonna swim later.

Enjoy later.

Win later.

I’m gonna laugh later.

I’m gonna play later.

Call later.

Stay later.

I’m gonna sip later.

I’m gonna give later.

Read later.

Live . . . later.