Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Something There That Wasn't There Before (Disney Princesses on Plot): Reprise

This was my first ever post, way back from when I had, like, one follower...and it was my husband. So I figure most of you haven't read it...but it still makes me smile. (And, yes, waiting for Baby to come is making creative blogging more and more difficult. 1 1/2 weeks left until due date!) Enjoy!

One of the first questions I'm asked when someone finds out I write is: "How do you ever find time to write when you're already a mother?"
The whole answer deserves a post (or maybe a book!) unto itself, so obviously most people get a really abridged version. But one important aspect to making it work is to think about writing even when you're not actually writing.

So...if I have a two-year-old daughter currently obsessed with Disney princesses, I'm hardly going to overlook the opportunity this presents: plot analysis. You can learn a lot in unexpected places.
For example... The Little Mermaid has taken the title of favorite princess movie in unofficial polls for ages. After watching it over a dozen times now, along with the rest of the princess classics at least one or two times each, I'm beginning to develop a theory: even little kids get it. Better plots make better movies, period.

Here's my princess-by-princess analysis:

SNOW WHITE: Whole annoying voice thing aside, this girl does nothing for herself besides look pretty and maintain a sweet disposition. It's kind of pathetic that the villain(ess) has a more complex and intriguing personality than Snow White herself does. The queen's personality flaws provide the entire conflict, and the introduction of a random, cookie-cutter prince resolves everything.

CINDERELLA: No annoying voice...just plain annoying. Perhaps it is my overly-active mother-sense, but it seems to me as though Cinderella whines an awful lot for someone who is taking no action towards making her life better. And she's kind of, well, stupid. WHY does she run downstairs in her pretty pink dress the mice made for her and dare to ask her stepfamily: "Oh, isn't it beautiful?!" What did she think they were going to say? Then she dances and sings around at the ball about how she's finally found her true love, only to leave him with no hope or means of ever seeing him again. Lucky for her, the prince, despite being boring in all other aspects, has the naive perseverance to try the shoe-fitting tactic...

SLEEPING BEAUTY: At least she met her prince once, even if she was a baby...but, face it, she spends the majority of her story (chronologically) sleeping. The story really belongs to her fairy godmothers, not her. They're the ones who make difficult choices, who make mistakes and learn from them, who actually grow as characters. Briar Rose, in the meantime, has a nice nap before waking up mid-smooch.

THE LITTLE MERMAID: Back onto this one... Finally, Ariel is a princess with a brain and free will and a plan for her life. She is a good person with a weakness that leads her to make a foolish decision, upon which the entire plot hinges. (Aristotle would be happy.) Everything that follows is likewise contingent upon either a decision she makes or someone taking advantage of her decisions.
Secondly, Ariel is a lovable character. She's not afraid to be a little silly, she's really passionate about life, and she gives her love whole-heartedly. As an added bonus, what a great guy is Eric? He's fun, cute, musically gifted, really nice to his servants, sweet with his dog--and to top it off, he risks his life to save Ariel without thinking twice about it.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: This one's pretty good (Belle was my favorite as a kid--probably because she loved books), but fails somewhat in believability. I don't mean the dancing spoons, either... Rather, both the Beast's change of heart and Belle's reciprocal love don't seem to have sufficient impetus. Somehow Disney makes it all happen throughout the course of one song, so even if it is supposed to take a while, we miss out on experiencing it. I have to admit, though, Gaston was a great addition to the original version.

ALADDIN: Although technically "Laddy" (as my two-year-old calls him), and not Jasmine, is the protagonist of this movie, it succeeds where earlier movies failed--or did not dare to tread. At long last, both guy and girl have real, developed personalities, problems, and conflicts. They really fall in love, and together they experience enough hardship that it's reasonable for the audience to believe their love will last past the end credits. There is one aggravating plot flaw, however: the Sultan just up and changes the marry-a-prince law at the very end... Why, exactly, was he so blind to this law in the first place if all it took to change was a word on his part?

And an extra for the 2011 edition...
TANGLED: Not only does this plot hold up well to the other princess plots, it's a great plot to study in general. I love the way that Rapunzel and Flynn have instant conflict, a conflict stronger for the fact that they genuinely need each other to meet their goals. The subtlety of Mother Gothel's manipulation is sophisticated, and while not as "scary" as some of the other Disney witches as far as kids are concerned, as an adult she comes across as so psychologically evil that it makes me cringe.
Rapunzel is cute and lovable and truly multi-faceted--and her background gives her so many great quirks that you can't wait to see what she'll do next. She is understandably uncertain at the beginning of her adventure, but her character growth into a strong young woman ready to take on the role of princess is well-paced and believable.
My one gripe: I think the writers should have done something at our first introduction to Flynn to show us that he's a really good guy worthy of Rapunzel's love. Charming, yes; interesting, definitely....but worthy? I'm not so sure. It takes a long time for this to develop, so the viewers have to suspend their disbelief of this one aspect for a good three-quarters of the film.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Interviews of the Imagination: Anne Shirley

It being Spring, I've spent a bit of time learning from one of my best literary friends, Miss Anne Shirley, heroine of the novel Anne of Green Gables and several others. I asked her if she'd be willing to share her wisdom here in an interview comprised of quotations from the books, and she was happy to oblige. :)

Hello, Anne, and welcome! Tell us what you know about yourself.

Well, it really isn't worth telling... but if you let me tell you what I IMAGINE about myself you'd find it a lot more interesting.

Okay, well, to start with, what do wish were different about your life?
Red hair is my life long sorrow.

I can see how it would be a trial...but personally I've always thought red hair was pretty cute. Do you really think “life long sorrow” makes complete sense?
Don't you know that it is only the very foolish folk who talk sense all the time?

Hmmm, you have a point. Onto happier you have any ambitions you'd like to share?
Oh, it's delightful to have ambitions. I'm so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them-- that's the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.

Any crazy dreams or aspirations?
It would be lovely to sleep in a wild cherry-tree all white with bloom in the moonshine.

What do you see as your most important aspiration?
I'd like to add some beauty to life...I don't exactly want to make people KNOW more... though I know that IS the noblest ambition... but I'd love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me... to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn't been born.

What would be your advice to others pursuing their own ambitions?
When I left Queen's my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don't know what lies around the bend, but I'm going to believe that the best does...
..I've done my best, and I begin to understand what is meant by 'the joy of strife'. Next to trying and winning, the best thing is trying and failing...
...Don't let's ever be afraid of things. It's such dreadful slavery. Let's be daring and adventurous and expectant. Let's dance to meet life and all it can bring to us, even if it brings scads of trouble and typhoid and twins!

Most of our readers are writers; some of them may not know that you are an aspiring writer yourself. What's the biggest trouble you have in your writing?
Averil is such an unmanageable heroine. She will do and say things I never meant her to. Then that spoils everything that went before and I have to write it all over again.

I think we all struggle with that, Anne! I've found that as soon as one thing in writing—or life—is settled, I find a new one to take its place. What do you think?
They keep coming up new all the time - things to perplex you, you know. You settle one question and there's another right after. There are so many things to be thought over and decided when you're beginning to grow up. It keeps me busy all the time thinking them over and deciding what's right. It's a serious thing to grow up, isn't it?

I'll let you know if I ever do grow up! Well, I think we're just about done here. Any last thoughts you want to share?
Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive--it's such an interesting world. It wouldn't be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There'd be no scope for imagination then, would there? But am I talking too much? People are always telling me I do. Would you rather I didn't talk? If you say so I'll stop. I can STOP when I make up my mind to it, although it's difficult."

I think we'd all like you to talk forever, Anne. But in the interest of space, perhaps we should end for now! Thank you for gracing us with your lovely, red-headed presence!
I hope you enjoyed this little glance into Anne's life. Look forward for more imaginary interviews sometime soon....any characters you want to meet here?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Three things I needed to hear today

“It is the job that is never started that takes the longest to finish.”

-J. R. R. Tolkien

“Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it."

-Madeleine L'Engle

“The secret to getting ahead is getting started.”

-Mark Twain

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Is it ever okay to write something trendy?

As someone who writes mostly literary and historical fiction, it's always encouraging to hear the words: “Don't worry about trends. Just write a great book, something meaningful to you.”

But as someone who often critiques manuscripts with hooks much more instantly marketable than my own, these over-arching statements leave me wondering.

What if you have an element to your book that is trendy? And you're writing it not to jump on a bandwagon, but because it is the story inside of you? What if you feel compelled to tell the story of, say, a wizard or a vampire, even though those trends are all but over?

Do the wise words apply here? Is it still okay to write these books—if they are really great and come from your heart—even though someone may simply hear the word “wizard” and think, “Oh, here's another writer trying to jump on a trend”?

What do you think? Do trends matter when you look at them this way? Are there some trends that will be timeless? How does this apply to more "literary" writers? (Will "kid-with-a-dog" ever become cliche, for example?) And what question does "42" answer, anyway? ;)
I hope you have more answers than I do...

Friday, June 3, 2011

Go take a hike!

Today I took "Stop and smell the roses" literally. :)
No, seriously... you should go for a walk.

I confess I'm influenced by the amazing weather here in Connecticut today...we've had so much rain the past few weeks that a sunny, low-humidity, 75 degree day is not irrationally compared to Paradise. So I traipsed about the yard and garden with my girls for about an hour, enjoying the bit of heaven while I could. It's the best thing I've done for my writing all week. I came back in full of ideas I had to scribble down in my notebook, understanding things about my character that have confused me for ages, and simply more confident of my ability to do this “writing thing” anyway.

So I did a little Googling on the benefits of walking...are you ready? They include:

Physical benefits.... burning calories; toning muscle; intake of Vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium and boosts your immune system.

Psychological benefits... improved cognitive performance; better memory; reduced stress; increased feelings of well-being and self-esteem; better mood. (Taking a walk in nature increases all these benefits...preferably an area with lots of grass and trees.)

And as if that weren't enough...there's another benefit (not to be readily found through Google) peculiar to writers and artists: you have a chance to see the world more closely. When your business is recreating the world, you have to make sure you put in the research. I've just begun reading Fiction Writer's Workshop by Josip Novakovich (and highly recommend it). In his chapter on setting, he has the following to say: “Setting these days has fallen out of fashion at the expense of character and action. Perhaps this trend has to do with our not being a society of walkers. Big writers used to be big walkers. Almost every day, Honore de Balzac spent hours strolling the streets of Paris; Charles Dickens, the streets of London; Fyodor Dostoyevski, the streets of St. Petersburg. Their cities speak out from them.”

Here's a mini-setting to be found in my WIP...and sure enough, I first discovered such a place taking a walk when I was about 13 years old.

(This photo of an old Erie Canal lock is taken with permission from

I hope your weather is beautiful and you get a chance to go out and do some research, too! :)