Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It’s what we have in common that makes a story work

I took my kids to see The Karate Kid when it opened Friday night. We’ve been waiting with baited breath to see this movie since we saw the first trailer several months ago. June 11th was engraved on our brains and my cell phone calendar. And, to us, the wait was so worth it.

If you hang out with me on Facebook then you may have seen my day-after status post. One of the kids gave it a 10 and the other gave it a 10.5. Mind you, though, the 10 was contingent on a pivotal plot device for that voter: My youngest actually said there was too much fighting in the movie and because of that, she initially gave it a 5. When I asked what she’d give it if there was no fighting, she said “10.”

I found her observation to be pretty astute for someone so young. But, as an author, it made me wonder how often one critical action, dialogue or scene element taints a reader’s perspective of an entire work. It also made me think about the elements that supported this central focus.

The “fighting” in The Karate Kid is bullying; it’s one child being relentlessly pursued by another who is more skilled and less merciful. For me, the emotions evoked by those confrontations ran deep and wide. I could remember being picked on in elementary school for totally random reasons (too tall, too skinny, I thought I was smart, I looked at the wrong person the wrong way – whatever), so I related to Dre, the soon-to-be karate kid.

As a mom, I’ve watched my own kids struggle through the challenges of growing beyond or in spite of friends and how tough that can be. I’ve had those days when you know something’s wrong and they don’t want to talk. When you’re in a bind because of work or life and your cache of “things to say at this moment” is empty. I could empathize with Dre’s mom’s attempt to make their world better and how that didn’t seem to be working for her son.

As someone who believes in giving back and making a difference, I appreciated Mr. Han’s reluctant protection of Dre. He had both the compassion and the ability to transform Dre’s life. And as difficult as it may have been for Mr. Han to give himself over to this scared, struggling child, he found a way to get past his own issues and help Dre overcome his.

Emotion ran rampant in this film and all of it resonated with me. But it all stemmed from the very unpleasant reality of bullying. The writers then surrounded those hard-to-watch, heart-wrenching scenes with universal connectivity: friends, teachers, parents, loneliness, insecurity, personal growth and victory. Together, they created a great story.

I try to weave common themes into my writing. My books revolve around second chances because I figure who hasn’t ever wished for a do-over? Even if you don’t claim to be a paranormal fan, maybe you’re enough of a life fan to route for my characters to get it right this time.

So, going back to The Karate Kid, what if you’re a person who was never bullied? Or you don’t have kids? Or no one came to your rescue in your time of distress? What feelings would the movie evoke if you were the bully? Or if you chose to walk away from your greatest challenge instead of facing it head on?

I believe it’s the common threads that bind the world community in real life and in fiction. What about you? Do you believe there are such universal threads? Do you weave them into your writing? Do you look for them in the books you read or the movies you watch? I’m interested in hearing the differing perspectives this blog on universal thoughts inspires.



Charles Gramlich said...

Absolutely. The common threads are what readers have to tug on to get the majority of readers involved.

Farrah Rochon said...

how often [does] one critical action, dialogue or scene element taint a reader’s perspective of an entire work.

This stuck out for me. As a writer, you can only write the story that's in your head and hope readers enjoy it. But you never know how it's going to affect readers. I do believe a lot of it is based on the reader's backstory--to use a writing term. Something you thought was completely innocuous could be one of those triggers for someone and affects their enjoyment of the entire book.

By the way, I absolutely loved The Karate Kid. :)