Monday, May 2, 2011

Column: It's The Story by Debbie Meldrum

A few weeks ago, I visited Disneyland in California with my nephew, his wife and their six-year-old daughter. Everywhere there are stories. Each ride is a mini-story. The performances are stories. Even the fireworks tell a story.

This is very different from the last time I was at Walt Disney World in Orlando. The fireworks existed as something to distract people standing in line. Now there is music and narration. The theme of the year--another recent addition--is "Let the Memories Begin." The fireworks story is about that theme. About the first time you came to a Disney theme park, the first Disney movie you saw, the first Disney television show you watched.

Okay, you could say it's a fifteen minute advertisement for their movies, etc., but it was so much fun to watch. As was the photo show on the side of "It's A Small World." Still photos and home movies from family visits to the park, interspersed with images from television and movies. We just happened upon it the first night and stood, transfixed as it played out.

In California Adventure they have "The World of Color" show. Dancing waters with images projected on them. Again, very much like the fireworks story and the photo show at "It's A Small World." Just done differently, and with breath-taking results.

Why were they so much fun? The story of Walt Disney and all he created is inspiring--whatever you, personally, think of the result. The story of the families who have made a visit to one of the parks their vacation of a lifetime is moving. The story of the memories we all Disney movies--our first, our favorite, or the one we watched and realized we'd grown up too much to enjoy it (I haven't reached this stage yet, thank goodness) are something we all share.

I think we writers tend to get too caught up in all the rules and advice. We must have a knock-out opening so the agent/editor/reader doesn't put the book down halfway through the first page. Every word has to count. Each scene has at least six purposes for being included. Dialogue must sparkle like we Turtle Waxed it.

But what we often lose in all of that is the story. What we're really doing is telling a story. And if the story is good enough, the readers really won't notice the other stuff. Because they'll be entertained.

In one of my previous critique groups, I'd often find myself saying to a talented but sometimes too clever for his own good writer," Just tell the damn story."

I think I'll apply that advice to my own writing. How about you? How important it story to you? Can a good story overcome otherwise flawed writing?

Debbie is a daydreamer. A fact that caused her much grief during her school career but has served her well as a writer. Her short fiction has appeared in Apollo’s Lyre, The SCWP Marathon Anthology, and The S’Peaker. In addition to being a member of PPW, she belongs to Creek Writers Council—a tough but fun critique group.

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