Monthly Archives: April 2014

Getting Your Morals Across

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Today I want to discuss one of the most difficult aspects of writing- getting your point across. Writing means making a statement through your story, whether it be personal, social, or moral. Fantasies can be about courage and finding yourself, sci-fi can be about human potential and what we can or can’t do. But whatever your point, getting it to your audience is vital. Not doing enough or doing too much can ruin the impact of your story and unfortunately, it’s something even the best writers can do wrong.

In most cases, subtlety is the best course of action. The moral should never overtake the story, because the story should be how the moral is expressed. But overplaying the moral can also cause the story to be one sided and making the story one sided. A recent example is the second animated adaption of The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. Both adaptations tell Seuss’s tale of the dangers of deforestation and greed, but the first takes a moment to humanize the antagonist Onceler, giving him moments of regret for his actions. The story even has him make a strong argument against the Lorax, reminding him that shutting down his factory would put people out of work, a point the Lorax concedes. This causes the viewer to think more objectively and question the lessons of the story. But in the more recent adaption, this is ignored for a more pro-eco stance, which save for one moment of balance, paints all industry as bad and all nature as good, which weakens the argument and makes the message feel preachy.

But at the same time, subtly can be difficult as well. While it may not bash readers over the head with the moral, the point can sometimes be lost. A personal example come from the Mel Brook Wild West satire Blazing Saddles. The film is chock full of shots at racism, Western films, and Hollywood, while still throwing random moments of insanity (a man punches a horse. Really). One example is how the black sheriff first rides into town, which stuns the townsfolk into silence. However, they quickly recover and pull their guns on the sheriff. The irony of course, is that the people couldn’t defend themselves from bandits, but are all armed enough to kill a black man. This is a clever point, but flew over my head for many years. Another example is George Orwell’s Animal Farm, one of my favorite satires of all time. The tale is a point by point example of the rise and fall of communism acted out through barnyard animals. But it does require some knowledge of such a government to really be accurate. Still, these examples are less of a problem then overstating and can be either fun to discover or encourage further exploration.

So what can a writer do to get a moral across? For starters, never write it in a way that talks down to your audience. Teaching is one thing, demeaning is another, and only one of them works. And try to see more then one side of your moral. If you can’t put your idea against scrutiny, it’s not worth defending. Take the time to show the opposition, and what makes sense about it. It will make your moral stronger for defending and hopefully make a better case. Finally, DON”T LET IT OVERSHADOW THE STORY. The story is meant to highlight the moral- it can’t become you on a soapbox screaming your belief to the world.

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Writing Female Leads, Part 2

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Greetings once again. Today, I wanted to expand on something I’ve discussed earlier- writing good female characters. Since my first blog on this subject, I have mused further on some of the more popular ‘female-led’ films, and examples I’ve seen from reviews on different films. One thing has jumped out at me each time and that is what I wanted to talk about today- the cliché of the female lead.

Last time, I discussed how writers struggle to write a female character out of fear of making a ‘Mary-Sue’ (a perfect and unrelatable character). However, there is another problem for writers emerging. The old saying is that there are only about ten actual stories and we have simply been writing variations on them for centuries. And granted, readers can often predict a story’s arc within the first five minutes. But this is truly nothing new, and has been used in countless stories for both genders. So why is it a problem now?

Because these arcs are praised as pushing boundaries simply because women are the ones doing it. But in truth, these clichés are not new angles for women and they are simply placed into them because it makes appear strong and dynamic, but in truth makes them dull and familiar at best, or degrading at worst. And as a result, they can drag the story down with them. One example of this is the film Brave. This exemplifies the ‘rebel’ as lead character Merida is a Scottish princess that loves the outdoors, hates conventions, and continually argues with her mother about her royal duties. While Merida might stand out as a girl that wants to make her own way, her journey and motivation is a tired story that has been echoed in countless princesses before. Even watching it, I could predict her inevitable fight with her mother, the results that would force them to look at each other’s views and eventually reconcile, both having learned from each. The recent adaption of The Hobbit is another example, as the creators literally made up the elf Tauriel (who is basically a female reflection of Leogolas) because they wanted a romantic triangle; yet another storyline we have seen and been bored by. But they needed a female audience for the film.

Putting women through a story that men have gone through and calling it revolutionary is simply misleading. Inserting one to attract audiences and create meaningless drama is worse. These stories advocate that because the female lead at the forefront, ‘this old story is new now because a WOMAN is doing it.’ In other words, no woman has been different before, no woman has not wanted to go against the norm, and any woman that does is to be revered and praised. And inserting one for no reason then having a ‘tough girl’ that creates romantic tensions means that woman in adventure stories only exist as prizes for men to fight over. Promoting these as a move forward or even as good additions is wrong and dangerous- it insults the women that have done great things against societal norms in the past, paints them into corners, and makes them just another target group to hit.

To bring things up to date, the better thing for promoters, and for writers, is to simply present their story as a story, and let the genders be meaningless. By doing this, it says that this story is familiar to men and women, and both genders are equal because neither one has any impact on the story. In other words writers, if you sell your female lead as simply being a woman or inserting because you think you have to, then you’re just hiding a tired story that you couldn’t make interesting or begging for approval. And if you do that, you should just put your pen down now.