Making a Timeless Story
Greetings once again. This week, I found a surprise announcement- that Disney is planning a relaunch of a beloved program of my childhood, Ducktales. While I was glad to hear that a new generation could enjoy a favorite of my childhood, I also found myself thinking about why Ducktales, along with so many other of my childhood favorites, found the strength to return in recent years. So today, I want to explore an aspect of writing that is both simple and impossible to achieve- timelessness.
To start, no writer can ever say if their work will be considered timeless. A large part of what makes a story timeless is the strength of the tale, and therefore the ability of the writer. The tales of Charles Dickens and other Victorian writers endures because the stories themselves are strong, with characters and themes that have survived the ages, despite the fact they are set in an era some two hundred years removed from modern times. A more recent example is the film They Live, which John Carpenter made in response to the greed and corruption of the 1980s. But obviously, greed and corruption are notions that live on, which is a large part of why the film still resonates with people today. The satire and message of the film, (in which an alien invasion is sublimely wiping out mankind), still works, especially in today’s post-Recession world.
So having a universal theme that people of any time can relate to, is a strong part of timelessness. But time itself can also be a role. Getting back to Ducktales, I originally watched the show as a part of the Disney Afternoon, a syndicated block of television owned by Disney. For many of my generation, the block is a hallmark, with it’s programs remembered fondly as intelligent, well-written, and genuinely well done children’s programming. In large part, this was because these shows each existed in their own worlds, and made no attempt to alter them to fit the era. Even the shows that existed in ‘modern times’ made their setting general, so that viewers would focus on the story. In fact, the Nostalgia Critic pointed out in his review of the block, that things began to go downhill when Disney attempted to make Disney Afternoon more ‘current’ and to fit the interests of children in that era. Some copied animation style (Schnookums and Meat), while other followed popular trends and movies (Goof Troop, Mighty Ducks, Aladdin). This resulted in a lessening of quality and shows that either pandered or imitated, until the Disney Afternoon finally ended.
But the original shows, as well as some highlights of the later years, are still spoken of high regard, simply because their concepts were not tied to the early 90’s, but could be retold again and again for any generation. Even many of today’s ‘reboots’ such as Transformers or Ninja Turtles have succeeded by taking a solid core concept and applying it without pandering to the current audience (though some healthy nods are given to older fans). So for any author looking for a timeless story, work hard but remember, have a strong core concept, and keep the focus off events of today, so that readers can enjoy them tomorrow.
And as a last reminder, this upcoming Saturday, March 7th, I will be appearing at the Big Apple Comic Con in New York’s Penn Pavilion. It’s a short walk from Penn Station so if you can make, be there!