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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

by James Thurber

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Discussion Topic

Writing a new adventure for Walter Mitty in the style of James Thurber

Summary:

To write a new adventure for Walter Mitty in the style of James Thurber, create a scenario where Mitty escapes into a vivid daydream to cope with mundane reality. Use humorous and exaggerated elements, such as Mitty imagining himself as a daring secret agent or a brilliant scientist, contrasting sharply with his actual, ordinary life. Maintain Thurber's whimsical tone and sharp, concise prose.

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How might one write a short story, in Thurber's style, featuring Walter Mitty with three subtle daydream transitions?

Those are really good ideas for daydreams you've come up with. Now to tie them into a theme and larger narrative you need to think about why your character is daydreaming.

Walter Mitty daydreams because he is under his controlling wife's thumb. Ashley Kannan suggested a mother character who similarly wants to escape her lot in life for a more glamourous lifestyle. So, why would your male protagonist want to escape his life via daydreams?

Perhaps he's stuck in a job that bores him and he feels he was made for more. Perhaps he is in real life quite meek or weak; the daydreams you've come up with all imagine your protagonist as a stereotypical male hero (the boxer, the soldier, the athlete). For him to fantasize about becoming those things, he would probably be the opposite of those things in his real life. If he is a young man or a teenager, maybe he could be the victim of bullying.

Imagine his motivations for daydreaming and a narrative will become clearer in your mind. From there you should naturally see a theme emerge. For instance, that people are cruel to others they don't understand; that appearances can be deceiving; or that we should learn to be happy with our lot in life rather than escaping to fantasy.

Hope that helps you on your way, and good luck!

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How might one write a short story, in Thurber's style, featuring Walter Mitty with three subtle daydream transitions?

This exercise will be something that you are going to have write.  While you won't be able to get the exact written prompt here, I think that you can find some help here that might be able to get you pointed in the right direction.  In constructing this assignment, you want to make sure that you are generating stories that display in an exhilarating manner what might be in the banal face of what is.  The ability to dream is one of the critical themes of Thurber's short story and is something that has to be evident in your own work.

I think that you are going to have to make some critical decisions as to what you want out of a protagonist.  Thurber takes a man who is literally beaten down by so much of the world around him.  It might be interesting to capture the point of view of a woman.  Take the traditional woman who must tend to morning "duties," such as getting the kids ready for school, making breakfast, ensuring her husband is ready for work.  In the instant in which she is doing all of this, she captures a glimpse of herself in the toaster.  The silver chrome of the toaster is where she gets lost in her reflection.  Its bends alters the image, and as the toast burns, the smoke fogs up the vision so that she is taken to a glamorous home in Beverly Hills in the 1940s, where our protagonist has become a Hollywood actress on the silver screen, a la Rita Hayworth or Lauren Bacall.  This is one way in which you can transform the image of what is into the vision of what can be in her dreams.  This transition is subtle because it takes one item of the world around her and uses it as a portal into her own daydreams, similar to the style that Thurber adopts in transforming Walter Mitty.  It might be interesting to give it a modern ending, as well.  Whereas Walter faces a firing squad, the ending to our story might be one where the protagonist envisions escape.  After dropping the kids off at school, picking up the dry cleaning, and finishing the morning shopping, our protagonist is at a traffic light.  To her right, she sees the expressway, and almost without a thought, the light turns green and she veers over to the right on which she gets on the expressway and she simply drives, imagining herself on the Autobahn in Germany, where she is no longer in a minivan, but rather in a Ferrari Testarossa convertible.  She drives with a cigarette in her hand and a pair of sunglasses as the sun and the open road are the only things in front of her.  Once again, you are able to capture Thurber's themes of transformation between banal reality and a world of endless imagination with subtly meaningful transitions.  This style is entertaining because it gives a sense of power, albeit an escapist one, to the protagonist, one who, like Walter, earns our empathy.

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How would you write Walter's next adventure in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" using Thurber's style?

In all Walter Mitty's daydreams, he is a paragon of whatever field of endeavor he finds himself, a state that is in sharp contrast to his emasculated marital condition. So, in order to write Mitty's next adventure a la Thurber, you will need to place him in the position of hero. The "ta-pocketa-pocketa" sound is connected in the adventures to weaponry and machinery.  But, in reality, it must be a sound connected to Mitty himself.  While it could be the sound of the engine of his car in the first two daydreams in which it is used, in the third daydream that includes this sound, Mitty is seated in a hotel. So, the "ta pocketa-pocketa" can be the beating of his heart.

Now, after Mrs. Mitty arrives at the hotel, she scolds Walter as usual and threatens to take his temperature when he gets home. Perhaps, then, you may wish to write about his going to the hospital for tests in real life, but his daydream can be a continuation of the last one in Thurber's story as "Walter Mitty, the Undefeated" has been rescued from the firing squad by Green Berets (or Navy Seals) at the last desperate minute.  Since he is in a foreign country where he has been taken political prisoner, he must go to a substandard foreign hospital where one of the life-saving machines makes the "ta-pocketa" sound. CIA men enter to interview him.....In reality, it can be Mitty's heart beating as he nervously undergoes a MRI, for example. As a dialogue can be created around the rescue of the prisoner Mitty for the daydream, the reality can have one of the medical personel attempting to communicate with him.

Remember that the daydreams are outlandish in comparison to what really occurs because only in his imagination can Walter Mitty be heroic.

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