Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Infuse Hope in Your Writing

It's a key ingredient in storytelling: hope. It’s worth thinking about for a few minutes and how it enters into your particular writing project. Think about whether you've included it in the elements of the story for the reader.

PursuitofhappynessTypically during the holidays, my wife and I get to a movie or two. This past week, we caught The Pursuit of Happyness which is based on a true story. The movie trailer looked interesting and like something we would enjoy. My wife had seen Will Smith and the real Chris Gardner on the Oprah Winfrey Show. It looked like an interesting storyline. Chris Gardner struggles to survive in the world. He loses his marriage and his place to live (a couple of times) during the story. Yet the story is about the drive and genius and survival skills of Chris Gardner. He breaks into a position as a stock broker and in the final two or three minutes of the film, you learn that today he's a multi-millionaire.

There's my key phrase for you--in the final two or three minutes. Most of The Pursuit of Happyness is painful and struggle. Yes, you have to have some of these elements in good storytelling but almost two hours of pain was too much. Because this movie spends so few minutes on hope, you walk out of the film feeling overwhelmed and almost depressed. Now maybe you like to tell those types of stories but it’s not where I want to spend my days writing. I want to infuse hope into my writing and storytelling. The Pursuit of Happyness left a bad feeling with the viewers. My wife and I were eager to get to another film.

TheholidayLast night we saw The Holiday, a romantic comedy. I noticed right away that I was one of the few men in the audience. Little groups of women came together to see this film. Our local newspaper gave it a two-star rating (out of a possible five stars). We were wondering about our selection. Before I tell you about the film, when we walked out of the movie, my wife said, "I could watch this one over and over. I'm ready to get the DVD version when it comes out." That feeling was in stark contrast to the first film.

The storyline for The Holiday evolves around two women. Amanda lives in Los Angeles and Iris lives in the snow-covered English countryside. Both of them are caught in horrible relationships and need a change of scenery. As the movie website explains, they discover a change of address can also change your life. While the adventure of trading homes on the spur of the moment is engaging, it’s what happens next that entertains and drives the plot. The characters are well-formed and the dialogue was engaging and I liked the plot twists. The newspaper reviewer probably didn't like the predictability of the resolution yet the feelings of hope were infused into this film. It made it a hit in our view and something that we could enjoy again and again.

The storyteller has to choose their themes and plot twists for each tale. Some stories lend themselves to including hope more than others but I'd recommend you include a healthy dose of a solid resolution in your stories. Think about what lasting feelings you want to leave with your readers. Ironically both of these films came from the same studio (Sony) and the feelings it left in the viewers were distinct. I'll take something like The Holiday every time.

9 Comment:

At 11:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous Left a note...

Terry, you're right--infusing writing with hope is a gift to readers. Nick and I saw The Pursuit of Happyness also, and loved it. I hope it cleans house when it comes time for the awards.

Happy New Year!

At 1:04 PM, Blogger Crystal Laine Left a note...

I've been evaluating books that I enjoy, trying to find that "thing" in stories I wish to tell. In doing this little exercise, I also evaluated movies that I love and like your wife, want to see again and again. You nailed it when you said most people want stories with hope. That is what I want. And those are the kind of stories I choose to tell. Thanks for pointing this out using these movies as examples. Things to think about as I write.

At 1:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous Left a note...

My wife and I saw The Pursuit of Happyness last week as well and I left with the same feeling: despair. It was such a well-made movie that I wondered why I felt depressed and hating my job. You're right on, Terry, there's so little hope offered. I hope my stories never leave readers feeling the way I felt walking out of that theatre. I'm gonna go see The Holiday.

At 3:25 PM, Blogger Vicki Caruana Left a note...

I completely agree with your wife, Terry, about The Holiday. It is a great movie...I could watch it again and again. Happy New Year!

At 8:22 PM, Blogger Bonnie S. Calhoun Left a note...

I loved the Persuit of Happyness like MacoMoments did. But that's probably because I too, saw the interview on Oprah, and knew what chris accomplished through all that pain.

It really gave me a fist-pumping high to see what a man could accomplish when he rose from a place that couldn't have gotten much lower!

I should probably have prefaced the whole thing by saying "chick flicks" are not my cup of tea...or coffee, for that matter! LOL

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Heather Ivester Left a note...

How fun! Thanks for writing these movie reviews. I read about The Holiday and thought it would be interesting to see (although I don't like some movies Cameron Diaz has been in, like There's Something About Mary).

I seem to always have a book in my hand, yet seeing movies helps me understand STORY better -- and I'll be on the lookout for what makes The Holiday a keeper.

At 3:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous Left a note...

I agree. I got lambasted for thinking the third "Lord of the Rings" movie is too much suffering, too much defeat, too much fighting -- not enough hope. I also feel that way about the "Meet the Parents" movies, and in the literary world, "The Corrections" by Jonathan Franzen.

At 8:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous Left a note...

Give me a book or movie with strong messages of hope anytime. Your insightful words are appreciated.

At 9:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous Left a note...

Great point, my goodness.
I'm sure this is a huge problem of my own.
It's easy to think that writing 'honestly' means dealing with the brutal truth. But then, life is full of brutal truths. When we read, we want to escape life. We want to transcend and escape life.
Thanks so much for writing this piece of wisdom.


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