Tag Archives: disney

Problem Child

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I have a problem character. He’s essential to the plot, with one ongoing vital role and one key act. He’s important to the main character. He’s ‘inspired by’ (as in, no longer similar in any way) someone I know and love very well.

And I can’t get him down on paper satisfactorily.

Last night, in exasperation, I filled in a character interview for him and came to a realisation – he doesn’t exist on his own. Up until now I’ve only ever really considered him in terms of how other characters interact with him, but actually that’s not enough. There needs to be a stand-alone individual behind it all. The trouble is that now I can’t very easily think of him on his own terms, having been so used to thinking through the viewpoint of the narrator character (who doesn’t really know him that well). The raptor volunteered to brainstorm him, and did a fantastic job. The character now has emotions, drives, and dreams. But he’s still a problem child because it turns out that he’s seriously messed up, and I’m really not sure how to write that from an outside perspective. Why do my characters always seem to end up with some kind of serious mental problem?!

This is something I’ve had issues with in the past, actually. Not the mental problem bit (well, no more than any other dreamer), but the ‘darkness’ thing. In my head, everything’s Disney Technicolour but as soon as I present it to other people it goes all noir and bleak. Very strange. This is particularly true in roleplay games I run, where the character party does suffer as a result of my obsession with consequences to actions. I’m not sure whether it’ll be true of my writing as well, since I haven’t shared a completed book with anyone yet, but I have my suspicions…

Everything Has Been Thought Of Before

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“… but the problem is to think of it again.” – Goethe

I have been asked to take a quick look at a serious barrier to entry: coming up with an original idea. You have the desire to write, character concepts and even a plot, but they aren’t shop-fresh and sparkling new. As the requester said themselves, ‘it’s a bit like music – there’s only 12 semitones in the western music system so every tune has probably already been written’.

This is broadly true, but I think it misses a fundamental point. People don’t particularly care about a completely original story. What matters is good writing and good characters. The stage is the same – only the set dressing changes. But the set dressing is important. I once asked a conference delegate whether the content or the delivery of presentations was more important. He said style wins over substance nearly every time.

The only difference here is the species.

Speaking for myself, I almost always start off with a fairly basic idea that has been done before many times. Once you are well into the writing process, however, your characters start taking on a life of their own and the story changes. The basic skeleton is still a warmed up version of (in my case) Sleeping Beauty, but the flesh over the top has made it nearly unrecognisable. In some ways, I think readers quite like the reassurance of a skeleton they are familiar with. It means they can concentrate on the details of the difference.

The absolutely crucial point is this – write. Write anything, write anyway. If it’s not original, it doesn’t matter. Write it for long enough and it will become original, even if the only thing different is your voice. This is a skill and it takes practice. Eventually the identikit characters and ripped-off plotlines will evolve into something beautiful.

The Trouble With Love

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Yesterday’s post was a little emotionally squishy, so I’m making it up to you by talking today about the trouble romance in storytelling can cause.

Let’s start with the obvious: Mills & Boon, et al. Yes, I read them as a teenager. It’s practically a requirement of being a girl (especially one at a single-sex boarding school). Leaving the plot and writing quality aside, the stories engender entirely unrealistic expectations of love and romance. The hero is always handsome, flawed in some way that won’t actually cause problems later, and fantastically good in bed. There’s usually an element of mystery, or some great trial / misunderstanding that the couple have to go through, but it all works out fine in the end. Oh, and there’s only ever one Mr. Right.

Yeah, right.

Even Shakespeare’s at fault with his whole ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’ thing (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 1.1.132-140). And, of course, there’s Romeo, Romeo. At least his protagonists have the mitigating factor of being complete idiots occasionally – I’m thinking primarily of the entire cast of Much Ado About Nothing here – but the expectations of love are still set at 1) fall in love, 2) some trauma, challenge or other excitement, 3) happy ever after / tragically glorious death together (more on this later). It’s such a pervasive technique of storytelling that it bleeds into our expectations of life. That’s very dangerous.

I have come across one piece of literature that I think covers this. (I’m sure there are others out there, I just haven’t found them yet). I’d like to share it with you. It’s by one of my favourite poets and it can be read as dismissive or depressing, but I see in it a simple sweetness. Make of it what you will.

Song by Rupert Brooke

“Oh! Love,” they said, “is King of Kings,
And Triumph is his crown.
Earth fades in flame before his wings,
And Sun and Moon bow down.” —
But that, I knew, would never do;
And Heaven is all too high.
So whenever I meet a Queen, I said,
I will not catch her eye.

“Oh! Love,” they said, and “Love,” they said,
“The gift of Love is this;
A crown of thorns about thy head,
And vinegar to thy kiss!” —
But Tragedy is not for me;
And I’m content to be gay.
So whenever I spied a Tragic Lady,
I went another way.

And so I never feared to see
You wander down the street,
Or come across the fields to me
On ordinary feet.
For what they’d never told me of,
And what I never knew;
It was that all the time, my love,
Love would be merely you.