Storytelling Tips From Kings Of Summer (2013)

Sometimes when you find out a story used to be called something different right up until the marketing team stepped in, the original name can offer extra insight. Kings of Summer was originally called “Toy’s House”. The main character is called Joe Toy, and I did spend a bit of time wondering if this is a symbolic name. The boys build themselves a house in the woods and set about pretending that they’re living off the grid. And it really is a pretence, because all the while they’re using a sum of stolen money to buy roast chickens from a nearby fast food restaurant. After learning the original name I realised this is basically a Doll’s House Story, in which characters play out a scenario in a form of play that becomes quite serious.

The Kings Of Summer movie poster

 

GENRE BLEND OF THE KINGS OF SUMMER

comedy, drama >> coming-of-age, adventure story

I will call this ‘quirky comedy’. Continue reading “Storytelling Tips From Kings Of Summer (2013)”

Storytelling Tips From The Edge Of Seventeen

The Edge Of Seventeen movie poster

This is a coming-of-age movie about an American girl called Nadine who struggles to fit in. That could describe many of us in our teen years, but with Nadine there’s a bit more to it.

STORY STRUCTURE

The film opens to a witty, high stakes dialogue scene in which Nadine rushes to her history teacher and tells him she’s going to kill herself. Mr Bruner is an excellent contrast to Nadine because he is calm and ironic and on the face of it, cruel. Nothing is a drama to him, not even suicide threats from students.

Next we have Nadine as storyteller narrator guiding us through her early life. This ends with her father dying two years back, and she sums this period up as ‘it was shit’ so she doesn’t bore us with the details. The father is grounded while the mother is not. Basically, the writers are taking a girl and doing the worst possible thing to her — taking away her father just as she enters the adult world. We’ve seen just enough of the father to fall in love with him ourselves, too.

When we’re in ‘the present’ the story starts in earnest, with Nadine talking to her best friend under a tree at lunch break, announcing her desire to have sex.

Continue reading “Storytelling Tips From The Edge Of Seventeen”

Adventureland Storytelling Techniques

adventureland movie poster

GENRE BLEND

comedy, drama, romance >> true life

Comedies in this sense always have happy endings, and they characters have sex.

It could’ve been a true life story because Mottola really did work at a theme park. But he was steered away from the True Stories genre and gave his story the Hollywood gloss hoping it would turn out like Superbad. But ultimately he chose to portray all of the messiness of his relationships, his stupid decisions, and grand failures as they really happened, which makes it more drama than comedy. It ends up being quite different from Superbad. As John Truby says, the story is both cathartic and believable — more a “memoir” than a “based upon.”

The True Life stories genre can surprise an audience by diverting from the expected because life is also like that.

STORY STRUCTURE OF ADVENTURELAND

Before I take a close look at John Truby’s story structure, this is one film Truby has taken a look at himself on his own blog. Here are a few things he has to say about it:

  • Constructed as a classical comedy, very like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Young people coming of age leave adult society to enter a forest (in this case, an amusement park) where they work out, after some false starts, their sexual coming of age and prepare to re-enter society. 
  • The move away from a comedy like Superbad makes Adventureland refreshingly authentic, if not tied up in a nice, neat bundle.
  • The battle and new equilibrium are there.
  • The hero and love opponent both complete arcs that the writer could have easily idealized, 20 years after the fact, having gone through several more relationships.
  • This could easily have been overly-preachy, filled with the banalities of a college grad acting as a fish out of water amongst the under-educated. In fact, Mottola went the opposite route.
  • The most intelligent character is poor [Joel] who has no plans for his future, but the hero immediately recognizes the kinship they will have and befriends his coworker. He makes allies with nearly all of his coworkers, and gets along well with his bosses, too. The effect was a strong character web from which most of the comedy of the story could grow — a style used commonly by Judd Apatow, a frequent collaborator with Greg Mottola. [See Freaks and Geeks for an example of Apatow’s excellent character webbing.]

Self-revelation, need, desire

1. James will learn how to treat a woman well, enough to begin his first romantic relationship. (No gossiping about her secrets when you’ve had a fight, no looking around at other girls when you’re keen on one in particular.)

2. He knows the difference between love and sex. Until now he has been waiting for both at once and is therefore still a virgin.

3. James is too naive to function as an adult in society.

Ghost (backstory)

The elephant in the room is James’s virginity, a symbol for general lack of maturity. This lack of experience is the thing that will hold him back. (A non-event rather than an event.) There’s also the ending of the 11 day romance which went nowhere — he has had his heart disproportionately broken by that rejection. The virginity comes out on his first date with Em, who asks if he’s ‘had a lot of girls’.

Em has the ghost of a recent troubled past and we soon learn that she’s in a horrible relationship with a horrible, married man.

Storyworld

This is an enslaving world, as most stories are. James is in a hole due to his parents no longer supporting him financially and his lack of life experience.

1. This is a great arena — a cheesy, kitsch adventure park frequented by proto-Trump voter types and staffed by eccentrics.

2. Beyond the park there are hills and sea. We do get a glimpse of this — the characters can see that there is more outside the Adventureland — the main characters are all far too overqualified to be working in such a deadend job.

3. It’s summer — the classic time for university students to either finish their education or get a job. Summer is a more carefree season, where James will let his guard down just a little bit, smoking pot and socialising with people he wouldn’t normally see ever.

4. The man-made space of the Adventureland park is made up of many little islands of faux-fun. This place is supposed to be fun, but it’s really not. It’s repetitive and mindless and sometimes dangerous.

5. Technology — There are gimmicky games in the park, like games where you shoot a (glued-on) hat off a mannequin. Some of these are symbolic. For example, when Connell bursts James’s bubble, a balloon he’s blowing up literally bursts. Stuffed bananas stand in for manhood (with suggestions that James is lacking in it). The lightbulb montage in the opening credits perhaps symbolise ‘lightbulb moments’ for James, since this is a coming-of-age story.

6. The story is set in 1987, because this is a memoir. The clothes, drugs, food choices, possible venues of entertainment and the prejudices etc of the characters (no dating Jews for the Catholic girls) are specific to the era.

Weakness & Need (Problem)

James’s psychological weakness: He is naive in general after too much book learning and not enough life experience. He is the underdog among his male peers. He hasn’t grown up yet, still at the mercy of his parents’ financial situation even though he’s just had 4 years of college. He needs to grow up now. He is too ingratiating at times.

Moral weakness: He is too reliant on his parents. He is basically very nice to other people, but he throws a bit of a tantrum and does a lot of damage in this story.

In order to have a better life: James needs to learn to treat women with full respect and be less ingratiating to other people — men in particular. (This is a highly gendered story.)

Problem: The crisis at the beginning of the story is that James wants to go to grad school at Columbia to study journalism but his parents can no longer bankroll him. Nor can he go on the trip to Europe with his rich buddy. So he’s going to have to find a summer job, but he has absolutely no practical experience in anything except mowing the neighbour’s lawn.

Inciting Incident

The inciting incident (above) is revealed at the restaurant with his parents. It connects need and desire — the thing that’s the most wrong with James is that he can’t stand on his own two feet, but now he’s going to have to.

Desire

James’s goal is to save enough money to move to NYC and do a postgrad year of journalism. He wants to report on real events of the world, which is why a bachelor’s degree isn’t enough for him.

Ally/Allies

At his new job he quickly meets Joel, an even more nerdy and highly qualified version of himself.

He also meets Em, who saves him from getting knifed by some white trash guy who cheats to get a giant panda for his son.

Opponent

There’s a super annoying little guy called Frigo who, even though smaller than James, is constantly undermining his manhood by punching him in the balls and similar.

Mystery

Fake-Ally Opponent

Connell is the repairs guy who helps run the show. He appears to be an ally by taking James under his wing and giving girl advice but in fact he’s keeping tabs on Em, because he knows Em is going out with James. In reality, he’s standing in the way of James’s happiness with Em.

Changed Desire and Motive

This comes later: When James no longer has the money to study in NYC due to totalling his parents’ car, he still wants to move to NYC, but this time he’ll take a year off to continue his worldly education, focus on his relationship with Em, and perhaps attend grad school the following year.

First Revelation and Decision

Although he likes Em, Em doesn’t feel the same way about him (or isn’t in a position to commit).

So he decides to take Lisa P up on her offer to go out with her.

Plan

James’s plan is to ask Em out, be super nice to her and hopefully she’ll want to date him exclusively. They will then continue their relationship in NYC after the summer.

James will have to dig deep and come up with a better strategy because Em is already ‘taken’, and Connell is standing in his way. He’ll have to first uncover the truth of the situation and then grow morally alongside Em.

Opponent’s Plan and Main Counterattack

Connell wants to keep Em apart from James so that he can continue having sex with Em in his mother’s basement.

Connell’s plan is visible to the audience, but another opponent is Lisa P. We don’t see how gossipy and unreliable she is until James does. (Though we might guess.)

Drive

He will follow Em to see if what he’s learned about Em and Connell is true.

Connell is a strong opponent though, because he’s manly and he’s having sex with Em already.

This is when he has his meltdown, in which he is newly irresponsible in a way that shows us he has fundamentally changed after this experience of first real love. He’s never been hurt like this before.

Attack By Ally

Joel quits the place in disgust after being attacked by a guy over the glued-on-hats. So James visits him at his home. In the story, the reason for this is to try and persuade Joel to come back to work, but the plotting reason is so that Joel can confront James about how shitty it is to go out with Lisa P when the girl he really likes is Em.

Apparent Defeat

Em has also quit Adventureland, and it appears James will never see her again, either. By telling Lisa P about Em and Connell, he’s started a horrible gossip mill and has dug himself into a hole.

Obsessive Drive, Changed Drive, and Motive

After setting his sights on Em, he’s now going to have a go with Lisa P, for the experience if nothing else. He’s been absorbing the message that ‘men have needs’.

Second revelation and decision

On a date with Lisa P, he realises the two of them have nothing in common.

The next day, Em apologises to him for being non-committal and James realises he’s made a mistake. He will refocus his attentions on Em.

Audience revelation

The audience is aware of the relationship between Em and Connell long before James is. This allows us to feel sorry for him and empathise. But when Lisa P reveals to James that Connell regularly takes girls to his mother’s basement, we should feel a whole new level of disgust for Connell, and begin to feel a little more sorry for Em, who has also lost her mother recently and is dealing with an unpleasant step-mother.

Third Revelation and Decision

At this point James realises who Connell really is. This is shown in the scene at Adventureland where James sees him talking to a group of three, young, pretty women — we all know that Connell is already onto his next pretty young things. He also corrects Connell on a matter of music trivia, showing that Connell has been full of shit about playing with a famous artist back in the day — and James now knows he’s full of shit in general.

Gate, gauntlet, visit to death

James totals his parents car after getting drunk, when he realises the girl he likes has been seeing Connell all this time.

Battle

There’s a battle scene between James and Em after James follows her and asks her what the hell she’s doing with Connell and why didn’t she tell him.

Self-revelation

While sitting on a hilltop with Joel (the classic place for revelations, since Moses), they talk about nothing particularly significant, but it’s clear that James has had some sort of quiet epiphany. This is evidenced by the fact he stands up and gives Frigo a knee in the balls. (I assume that’s the entire reason Frigo is in the scene — to allow the audience to see how much James has grown up — he is no longer overly ingratiating)

Moral Decision

James has two choices: He can stay in his home town and go to a nearby journalism school, probably ending up with an internship on Mr Rogers — this is shown in a dining table scene with his parents — this would be tragic for James, as Mr Rogers is a children’s show and would symbolise a permanent regression to childhood. Or he can go to NYC anyway, embrace uncertainty and stand on his own two feet.

New Equilibrium

After a romantic speech in the rain after waiting for Em outside her new NYC apartment, both parties admit that they fucked up over summer. Now they will start again, on different turf, away from the Adventureland arena.

What Is A “Coming-of-age” Story?

coming-of-age

A coming-of-age is a genre that focuses on psychological and moral growth of a main character who is growing from youth to adulthood. Personal growth is the most important characteristic in this genre. It relies on emotional responses and dialogue rather than action. (How do you know who’s the main character? It’s the one who changes the most.)

There are many children’s stories (or stories about children) in which the child loses their innocence. When that character is a bit older (adolescent) then it’s called a coming-of-age story.

Sometimes people think they know you. They know a few facts about you, and they piece you together in a way that makes sense to them. And if you don’t know yourself very well, you might even believe that they are right. But the truth is, that isn’t you. That isn’t you at all.

— Leila Sales

Structure Of A Coming-of-age Story

At the beginning of the story, childhood has already been left behind, and the hero has concluded that the world is not a safe or blissful place. An event that occurred prior to the beginning of the story, or the hero’s overall situation, has made the hero feel lost or stuck in a world over which she has little or no control (the death of a brother in Stand By Me; a dystopian society in The Hunger Games; the social pressure and institutional indifference of school in The Breakfast Club).

After the hero’s introduction in the setup of the story, he is presented with an Opportunity that will either make life even worse (Katniss’ sister being chosen for the hunger games; the introduction of the bully in Karate Kid), or will hold the promise of some escape from his pain (the report of a dead body in Stand By Me; the Rolling Stone assignment in Almost Famous). In response, these heroes’ outer motivations are declared, and their pursuit of those goals begins.

As with any character arc, it is in this journey that their transformation occurs. But in coming of age stories, the conflicts the characters face force them to realize that they are now on their own, that parents, friends and society will not save them, and they must rely on themselves. And with this painful realization comes each hero’s individuation. They now define themselves and stand up for who they are – usually in defiance of parents or figures of authority.

So at the end of the journeys in the movies above – and in all coming of age stories – the world has not changed. It’s as painful and inhospitable as ever. But the hero is now equipped with the strength and courage and independence to face the world head on, and to move into adulthood living his or her essence.

— Michael Hauge, Story Mastery website

I have a friend who swears she can’t stand any kind of coming-of-age story. I think this is because her definition is a little narrower than mine — she’s thinking of the genre typified by the likes of American Pie.

In one sense, all memorable stories are coming of age stories, if what we mean by the term is a story about someone who moves from one stage of development to a more advanced one. […] Films explicitly labeled a “coming-of-age story,” however, are often about nothing more than someone’s becoming aware of sex.

— Howard Suber

This seems to be the common message of coming-of-age stories for a YA audience:

You’re not going to die. Here’s the white-hot truth: if you go bankrupt, you’ll still be okay. If you lose the gig, the lover, the house, you’ll still be okay. If you sing off-key, get beat by the competition, have your heart shattered, get fired… it’s not going to kill you. Ask anyone who’s been through it.

Danielle LaPorte, Canadian author

Features of a Coming-of-age Story

  • Coming-of-age stories tend to emphasise dialogue or internal monologue over action.
  • They are often set in the past.
  • The main characters of coming-of-age stories are typically teenagers. Almost without exception, coming of age stories are about the transition from adolescence to adulthood, from being defined by family or society to defining oneself. The main character is somewhere between 10-years-old (Elliott in E.T.) and late teens (the four heroes of American Graffiti). However, sometimes an adult main character is emotionally delayed. An example of a coming-of-age character in her late twenties is Ruth in I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore.
  • A psychoanalytic reading of a coming-of-age story done badly might “pathologize” childhood – i.e read childhood as a symptom to be overcome in the journey to mature adulthood. This is why in a lot of coming-of-age tales, the child (adolescent) grows a bit, but at the end demonstrates that they haven’t given up on childhood completely. We see it, for instance, in Monster House, in which DJ decides to go trick-or-treating after all, despite eschewing all boyish things at the beginning of the story.
  • In order to come of age, the main character will have to leave home. Coming-of-age tales therefore quite often conform to mythic structure.

What Is A Bildungsroman?

My friend who can’t stand coming-of-age stories is probably fine with the bildungsroman. (The plural, by the way, is bildungsromane.)

  • The bildungsroman is a specific subgenre of coming-of-age story. It is especially prominent in literature and focuses on the protagonist’s psychological and moral growth, and thus character change is extremely important.
  • The German translates to ’novel of formation’ or ‘novel of education’.
  • The genre evolved from folklore tales of a dunce or youngest son going out in the world to seek his fortune.
  • Usually in the beginning of the story there is an emotional loss which makes the protagonist leave on their journey.
  • The goal is maturity, and the main character achieves it gradually and with difficulty.
  • This makes the bildungsromane inherently Romantic, because it has an optimistic ending that affirms the main character’s entry into adulthood.
  • Another Romantic idea: belief in the individual. Romanticism is all about the individual taking responsibility for themselves, living their own best life, finding one’s own place within society and so on.
  • The genre often features a main conflict between the main character and society. Typically, the values of society are gradually accepted by the main character and he/she is ultimately accepted into society — the main character’s mistakes and disappointments are over. In some works, the protagonist is able to reach out and help others after having achieved maturity.
  • YA novels evolved from the bildungsroman.

In its broadest sense, every story is a bildungsroman, right down to toddlers who star in picture books. Doesn’t every character grow, outside those in series fiction (which Maria Nikolajeva calls ‘paraliterature’?) Some sort of character arc is a requirement for a full and complete narrative.

Some academics prefer to narrow the term to a more useful definition: Bildungsromane star characters who mature from childhood to adulthood. This, at least, is useful.

The guy who came up with the word (Wilhelm Dilthey, 1870), meant it to refer to stories in which

  1. There is a cultural goal
  2. Which is the complete unfolding of all the natural qualities
  3. Then there’s a clear path toward that goal

By this definition, the bildungsroman is a direct path from confusion to clarity.

Here’s another definition of the bildungsroman, by Jerome Buckley.

  1. A sensitive child grows up in a  rural setting feeling confined by his entire family (but especially by the father), and the father can’t understand the boy’s imaginative life (because these stories are traditionally about boys).
  2. School proves restrictive so the boy leaves home to go into an urban centre.
  3. He will have at least two romantic experiences.
  4. One of those has the potential to corrupt him and the other has the potential to purify him. (Can you see how sexist Betty and Veronica tropes are inherent in these stories?)
  5. His initiation is complete when he does a bunch of soul-searching then triumphs over the trials he faces with his parents/money/women and accepts his own capacity for work and for love.

Which is probably a bit too specific. Also, in the traditional bildungsroman, the main character is setting out to deliberately become independent. He’s trying to cultivate himself via novel experience. These are quest narratives. The quest is ‘to find oneself and grow up’.

But have you heard of the Entwicklungsroman?

  • Another type of story about the maturation process.
  • This is a very broad category in which an adolescent character grows (some). It’s subtly different from a bildungsroman because in the bildungsroman, the adolescent matures to adulthood.
  • Entwicklungsromane can be thought of as novels of growth or development, whereas bildungsromane are coming-of-age novels sometimes referred to as ‘apprenticeship novels’.

I suspect a lot of YA novels are more entwicklungsromane than bildungsromane, because rarely does a YA character seem like an adult at the end of the story. More likely they’ve overcome one particular problem, but still have a lot of growing to do before they can exist in the world independently and happily. Then again, when does one become an adult?

There’s no room in the traditional definition of Bildungsromane for female characters. If a story stars a young woman, it’s probably an Entwicklungsroman. Most authors throughout the history of literature consider growing up female as a choice between auxiliary or secondary personhood, sacrificial victimization, madness and death (paraphrasing Annis Pratt, in Archetypal Patterns In Women’s Fiction). There’s no real psychological growth or maturity there. See also my lengthy post about the Female Maturity Formula.

That said, there are examples of female protagonists who seem to fit the bildungsroman perfectly. Katherine Paterson’s Lyddie is one example.

  1. Lyddie is emotionally orphaned by her father. Her mother’s out of the picture too.
  2. Though embarrassed about being illiterate she decides to journey from the family farm in Vermont. She eventually arrives in the mill town Lowell, Massachussets.
  3. She is educated in a straightforward literacy narrative by coworkers Betsy and Diana.
  4. She has two sexualised encounters with men.
  5. The first is quite debasing when her foreman harasses her.
  6. The other is more like a purifying romance in that Lyddie’s neighbour wants to marry her because he loves her mind.
  7. She returns to her home and recognises how much she has known.
  8. She decides to defer marrying Luke until she has graduated from Oberlin.
  9. Her initial reasons for leaving home have come from a self-conscious recognition that she needed to learn how to earn a place in the world.
  10. Her final decision is based on the epiphany that the only thing limiting her is her own self-image.
  11. She overcomes poverty, ignorance and personal pettiness. She learns to balance her own materialism with her love of others and love of learning.

Further Examples of Coming-of-age Stories

  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly — First of the three big novels which define YA.
  • The Catcher In The Rye — Second of the three big novels which define YA.
  • The Outsiders — The third. This book changed YA fiction forever, not least because it was written by someone who was still a teenager herself.
  • The Wonder Years – an adolescent boy comes of age in 1960s America, an especially good setting for a coming-of-age series because that’s when America herself was going through some kind of ‘psychological growth’.
  • Mad Men – in this show a number of characters come of age. Peggy and Joan are the ‘secret protagonists’, set against Don Draper who will never change much.
  • Freaks and Geeks – a ‘Breaking Bad’ kind of plot in which a good girl learns to break free of her nerdy reputation
  • The Breakfast Club
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower — the book is far better than the film, and I’m not someone who always says that
  • Malcolm In The Middle
  • Happy Days
  • Never Let Me Go
  • A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man — an example of Anglophone Bildungsroman
  • Sons and Lovers — is another, about a sexual awakening, which is one thing today’s worst teen coming-of-age movies have in common
  • David Copperfield is another stand-out Anglophone example.
  • A Mill In The Floss — there is no room in the original definition of Bildungsroman for female protagonists, but this is definitely a coming-of-age example.
  • What Maisie Knew – although Maisie is still very young she loses her childhood innocence.
  • The Secret Life Of Bees
  • Huckleberry Finn
  • About A Boy — in this case the main character is far too old to be living like a teenager and his young protege is more emotionally aware than he is. This, of course, is the point of the story.
  • Harry Potter — a boy learns how special he is
  • Gone With The Wind — the main character is older and of marriageable age, but still pretty inward looking.
  • Adventureland – The main character has just finished university, but as he says into the phone at the beginning of the story he has been so focused on academics that he has no life experience to speak of.
  • We Are The Best – a group of girls about 12 or 13 years old who go on a mythological journey.

Freaks and Geeks Storytelling Tips

Freaks and Geeks is a coming-of-age drama made in the late 1990s, set in 1980. Though it was cancelled after one season, that’s not because it wasn’t good. Perhaps the audience assumed  this was yet another high school drama done badly. This show did a lot of stuff you’ll have seen before, but did it extraordinarily well.

Genre Blend Of Freaks And Geeks

Freaks and Geeks is a:

  • coming-of-age
  • comedy
  • drama

This category of story is about the eternal adolescent quest to find out which version of yourself is the “true” one.

How This Show Is Different From Other High School Dramas

It doesn’t fall into the category of ‘cringe comedy’ even though teenagehood inevitably includes embarrassing scenes.

Lindsay's sceptical look
Lindsay’s teenage sceptical look

The creators were determined not to end each show with a typical “happy ending”. One notable exception is the pilot episode, which the creators purposely wrote as a self-contained story, in case the show was never picked up for production. This is also why you see a fully fleshed story in the pilot episode and why I’ve chosen to break it down as a story unto itself.

There is plenty of crossover between quite vastly different social arenas, with a main character weaving between all of them. (Though all the families are white.) Most high school dramas have set-in-stone cliques before the audience meets the characters, and the main character is usually an underdog, or a newcomer trying to work out which group to fit into (e.g. Mean Girls). Lindsay is more interesting than that, because although she’s not new to the school but she’s trying to actively switch groups.

Storyworld of Freaks and Geeks

Detroit

  • Fictional William McKinley High School during the 1980–1981 school year in the town of Chippewa, Michigan, a fictional suburb of Detroit
  • A middle-class suburban home near the school
  • The surrounding neighbourhood, including some rougher parts of town
  • The bleachers are a good place to hide under, to do things teachers can’t see.
  • The corridors can be either a walk of shame or a place to parade down. Lockers lining corridors also provide opportunity for characters who hate each other to get together, since lockers are assigned from above.
  • The guidance counsellor’s room is a place for moral questions to be posed and discussed.
  • Upper middle class (Neal) middle class (Lindsay and Sam) meets working class (Bill) meets military class (Nick) meets houseos (Kim).
  • The high school is a miniature battle field, where the mottos are about conquer or lose and men must be men. The school cafeteria is a good venue for enemies to be thrown together by force, as everyone has to eat lunch. Classrooms are good venues for characters to be bullied and victimised in front of a small audience.
  • The suburbs are cosy at first glance, with their manicured lawns and a 1980s apparent utopia, but dangers lurk around the corner, where you could meet your high school adversary at any time.
dining room table
This cosy scene feels stifling to Lindsay.
Freaks and geeks sam cafeteria
Cafeterias and corridors are particularly hazardous.
a walk down the school corridor is like running the gauntlet
a walk down the school corridor is like running the gauntlet
Lindsay is being asked to make big decisions about her life and has no clue. In 1980 there was a strong professional/working class divide.
Lindsay is being asked to make big decisions about her life and has no clue. In 1980 there was a strong professional/working class divide.

Continue reading “Freaks and Geeks Storytelling Tips”

Wolf Children Japanese Anime

オオカミ子供の雪と雨

The Japanese anime Wolf Children is my seven-year-old daughter’s favourite film of all time. When she first watched it, several years ago, she decided that she herself must be half wolf. She has since developed an almost monomanical interest in wolves, and she’s not the only kid I’ve heard of to be affected thusly after watching this film: Wolf Children is an inspiring and engaging film for miniature nature lovers. I have recommended this film to people completely forgetting that it is basically a very sad story though, so consider yourself warned!

I wonder if the author of Wolf Children was inspired by the story of Amala and Kamala, two “feral girls” from Bengal who are alleged to have been raised by wolves.

Continue reading “Wolf Children Japanese Anime”

The Female Maturity Formula Of Modern Storytelling

When it comes to modern storytelling in Hollywood animated films for children, Pixar is at the top of the field. In fact, The Good Dinosaur, released late 2015, might have been their very first lemon, depending on what you’re looking for in a film for children.

What happened there? Interestingly, Christopher Orr of The Atlantic felt that perhaps The Good Dinosaur hasn’t been well received by adults because it is Pixar’s first film to explicitly target children (rather than doing the usual ‘dual audience’ thing), which leads me to my main point, as encapsulated by Roberta Trites (Illinois State University) in her book Literary Conceptualizations of Growth:

Disney has a long tradition of appealing to a dual audience. In Disney’s major releases, the story frequently includes adults who need to grow as much as adolescents do in a clear bid to pull parents into theatres along with their children.

This has lead to another shared feature of almost all of the Pixar films, unintended or otherwise: what Trites calls The Pixar Maturity Formula. It goes like this:

A mature female, who is coded as an adult, accepts responsibility for herself and for others. Even in the beginning of the movie, she can intuit how other people will react by anticipating their feelings and the relationship between cause and effect and […] she has a higher cognitive facility than the male characters around her do because she can accept death and control her sexuality.

Trites explains that Pixar characters can be easily divided into two distinct categories:

  1. Immature, insensitive, conflict-ridden, funny (and therefore very likeable)
  2. Mature characters (like parents/teachers — and therefore distanced from child)

Note that even though some Pixar protagonists are coded to look like adults, they don’t act like adults. So you can’t judge which are the ‘mature’ characters based on their onscreen age.

As you’ve probably worked out by now, characters from group 2 are pretty much always female, whereas characters from group 1 are pretty much always male.

Continue reading “The Female Maturity Formula Of Modern Storytelling”

Compare and Contrast: Twilight and Pride and Prejudice

Is Twilight the modern Pride and Prejudice. Don’t for a moment think anyone’s suggesting that. However, there are some interesting parallels.

Yesterday I listened to a lecture from the Kid You Not Podcast in which Clementine and Lauren discuss the appeal of dark paranormal romance among teenage girls. This reminded me of a lecture delivered by La Trobe University’s David Beagley.

Fiction For Young Adults, Lecture 9: What it is to be young and in love, available on iTunes U.

 

The Importance of Romance in Pop Culture

The lecture opens with a clip from South Pacific, Some Enchanted Evening

About 95% of all pop songs are about romance, the pairing up of people.

Twilight by Stephanie Myer is one of the most popular YA romances of the last decade or so

Pride and Prejudice is arguably the most popular romantic novel in the English language.

A lot of the elements – the crowded room, the fly to her side – can be found in Some Enchanted Evening. These are nowadays clichés, the standard building blocks of the romance story which are used over and over.

References

Lee from Marvels and Tales Guilty Pleasures: reading romances as reworked fairytales (2008) looks at the form and structure of the typical romance novels.

Greenfield’s Absent Minded Heroine or Elizabeth Bennett has a thought, looks specifically at Pride and Prejudice and looks very much at the idea of absence: how to fall in love when the person isn’t actually there. The idealisation of the other person, love at first sight, the unreliability of appearance.

Leisha Jones writes about Bildungsroman and the ‘prosumer‘, a new word which has come out after analysis of the Twilight series. Jones looks at how the modern stereotype of the girl in love is a carefully manufactured product that is marketed very heavily toward its target audience, and how the target audience is starting to take control of that image, with the fan fiction, the blogs, sharing their impressions of the story without that mediation of the commercial product (the prosumer – a proactive consumer). (Here is a blog post about the article from Latinas Coming Of Age.)

Jasna, the Jane Austen Society of North America, looks at the Twilight movies and their relationship to Pride and Prejudice.

 

About Jane Austen

One of the few drawings we have of Jane Austen done by her sister Cassandra. One of the problems with studying Austen is that despite her copious letters, her family destroyed them soon after her death. There are only a few remaining, so it’s difficult to get prime evidence about her as a person.

Austen died at 42 which was not particularly old but not all that unusual for her time, though it was still young for her class. She was a clergyman’s daughter.

Pride and Prejudice [at time of broadcast] has just reached its double century and is now considered one of the best books of all time, just behind Lord of the Rings in big polls. There have been many adaptations.

For women who grew up in the 1970s and early ’80s — nurtured in the fictions of Ms. Blume, Paul Zindel and Norma Klein among others, writers for whom an urbane brand of social realism was the only reasonable métier — the arrival of the “Twilight” franchise a decade ago, with its enormous success, signaled a gloomy period of regression for the young-adult novel. The first of the “Twilight” books appeared in 2005, two years after Arnold Schwarzenegger became the governor of California amid sexual assault allegations that prompted relatively little of the outcry now bedeviling Donald J. Trump. A distinct product of Bush-era gender politics rather than a renunciation of them, the series ultimately has its heroine forfeit a chance to go to Dartmouth to stay home and tend to her half-vampire baby, one conceived after a night of violent sex that leaves her body bruised with a husband who is at least 100 years old.

Now, though, the appetite for paranormal lunacy has abated, and issue-driven fiction set very much in a universe of urbanism’s chief concerns is having a renaissance.

Ginnia Bellafante, NYT

The Bildungsroman

Originally ‘bildungsroman’ meant a romantic story but we’ve narrowed the definition right down to refer to a type of  story which follows a character as he or she grows from adolescence into adulthood. Harry Potter is very much a bildungsroman. Pride and Prejudice probably isn’t because it only takes place over the course of a single year, but it does show a change of character.

Bella Swan, in Twilight, is followed from late adolescence into adulthood so the Twilight series is indeed a bildungsroman.

Bildungsroman is a type of coming-of-age story in which character development is emphasised.

What do Pride and Prejudice and Twilight Have In Common?

A young adult girl as protagonist

Independent minded, pretty, intelligent, speaks her mind. (Bella Swan is an unsubtle use of names. Think of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling. Bella means beautiful, swan shows that she is beautiful – it is only to herself that she is less than beautiful, yet she is popular with boys [and suffers no prejudice regards beauty], so within the world of the story is obviously beautiful  and exotic from anyone else’s point of view.)

This is similar to Elizabeth Bennett, who sees Jane as the beautiful one.

These are characters who are the standard bearer of what it means to be an attractive female in their own milieu.

Both protagonists live in rural backwaters, not quite the loving, supportive family. Each is the sensible one who keeps it all together.

Family of Lizzie Bennett is not rich within he social circle of Hertfordshire, in a little village Longbourne, out in the sticks (even though these days easy to access by train from London).  Bella lives in Forks, North Washington, moved there from Phoenix Arizona, a totally different place where you get to wear short shorts and tank tops – she’s moved to the misty mountains, miles from the decent shops, she has to plan a shopping visit for a full day to do some decent shopping for dresses. Her parents have separated. Mum’s got a baseballer boyfriend for a second husband and Bella is having to choose between her mother and father. She is the one being sensible and deciding. Instead of the sisters she’s got the ditzy fashion mad boy crazy friends at school. All they care about is who is aligned with who.

Well-meaning but ineffective fathers. Mr Bennett and Charlie Swan are very similar, each locked into a lifestyle that prevents them doing much for their daughters. Charlie is so used to being on his own that he can’t even cook. All the parents in these stories are largely ineffective.

Both meet a dark, brooding, handsome man. With Lizzie it’s Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy. Both Fitzwilliam and Darcy are names that imply a station within the nobility. Darcy would have originally been D’Arcy, an old French name, just as his aunt Lady Catherine D’Burg was named. They were not Germanic peasants. To have a name with French origins meant an old, established family. The Fitz of Fitzwilliam means that one of his ancestors was the illegitimate son of a noble. It was better to have an heir than not to have an heir, so illegitimacy wasn’t seen as a major problem, mainly because most marriages were not for romantic love but for convenience. If one wife can’t produce a male heir you just keep going through wives until you get one.

Edward Cullen. Something mysterious about Darcy and Edward when first appearing. So much emphasis is put on the appearance of Edward, very little on Bella. We only get brief physical descriptions of Bella, mainly from other characters, but every couple of pages there’s something about Edward’s muscular, fine appearance. Darcy is defined by his facial expressions and his moods.

At first Cullen appears to dislike Bella and she him. Same with Darcy and Lizzie. Darcy is out of sorts at the party because he’s just had to buy Wickham off after Wickham got his younger sister into a heap of trouble, and his rudeness towards Lizzie is displaced. Edward Cullen appears to be distant but really he finds Bella irresistible and is feigning disinterest. Both stories are about the unreliability of initial appearances.

The absent-minded heroine: she is thinking of absence. Lizzie only falls in love with Darcy when he is not there. Between her rejection of his proposal when apparently he was the ‘last’ man she would marry and then his reappearance at her house having solved the problem, Greenfield has worked out that Lizzie has seen him for perhaps three hours total. Yet she has fallen in love with him. She builds her epistemology upon how things appear, and it’s only when there’s no appearance there that she learns what Darcy is really like.

Darcy falls in love with Elizabeth when he sees her in her natural state, after tramping across a muddy field. Likewise, when Elizabeth sees Darcy again after reassessing his character he is walking across a field (unlike in the BBC adaptation in which case we have Colin Firth in a wet shirt).

Similarly with Bella it’s when she’s being tracked by a group of guys intent on raping her who is saved by Edward who takes her to a coffee shop that Bella is separated from her ditzy friends who are off shopping. The two are alone, and later they’re in among the flowers in the woods. In both stories, the natural environment is important. Get rid of artificiality then let nature take its course.

But, there are warnings. Lady Catherine D’Burg is a very snobby and titled character who intervenes. She wants her own daughter to marry Darcy (her nephew). Just because you have a title doesn’t mean you have a never-ending supply of money. It’s important that her sickly daughter marries rich.

In the case of Bella the warnings come from a slightly related connection of her father – Jacob and his grandfather Billy’s warnings. Not social suicide but literal suicide – it will kill you. Both characters realise they are in love and they press on. With Bella the predator is James, another vampire, who turns up when they’re all playing baseball in the middle of a storm. (Woebetide any guy with a blonde ponytail – look at that character from the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice – they’re playing the same trope.)

Disaster threatens but all is saved by the handsome brooding misunderstood man. With Lizzie disaster is averted because her younger sister is no longer living in sin – she’s at least married (which is a happy ending for the times, even though Lydia is married to a man of questionable nature). Darcy saved the social standing of the Bennett girls. In the case of Bella it’s Edward who solves the problem in that they entrap James and rips him into pieces and burns them. (The dance studio burns down so we assume that’s what’s happens.) Who actually has the capacity to enact change? In both cases it’s the dark, brooding, handsome man. The girl is passive. Edward has the power over Bella. She is the bait to catch him. Darcy is the one who goes away and solves the problems. Lizzie doesn’t even know what he’s up to. She only finds out later, just in time for the big celebrations.

In Lizzie’s case it’s the wedding and in Bella’s case it’s the high school prom, which is almost as big in American cultures.

Has Stephanie Myer simply copied P and P or are these standard elements?

Both characters are outstanding – gorgeous, intelligent, able to solve problems… but don’t think they are.

There is something at first sight… not necessarily love. But yes, I notice you, you’re something.

Appearances are deceiving. Love at first sight is too corny even for most novelists [and is rejected as such in Pixar’s Frozen, for a young audience], so there’s misunderstanding to begin with.

Lizzie Bennett needs three hours to fall in love with Darcy. Edward need only ask Bella to sit with him in the canteen and wow, we’re in love. How gendered is this? The girl has to wait for the boy to solve the problem until they can live happily ever after.

How set up for sequels is each story? Jane Austen never wrote a sequel to Pride and Prejudice (possibly because she died five years later?) but others have done so. [My favourite synopsis is Colleen McCullough’s version, in which she doesn’t think Darcy is the perfect hero, but rather a grumpy old sod, in which case the marriage is a disaster.]

SEE ALSO

“It’s time to re-examine the decade-old culture surrounding Twilight-bashing”, from Lindsay Ellis.