Message Received?

In a movie review, Jeremy Jahns, a YouTube reviewer I usually watch, talked about social commentary in movies based on fictional stories in a way that I found very thought provoking. While he mentioned a specific film, what he said could apply to many films and other types of stories. Of course reviews are subjective, so take that with a grain of salt. Anyway, he said,

A picture is worth a thousand words. But this . . . movie would rather use a thousand words to paint a picture.

In other words, he felt the social commentary was too obvious and heavy handed and would have been better had it been more subtle and the story and characters better developed. I have heard statements like this about a number of movies. Though I didn’t see the movie he reviewed, Jahns’s statement got me to thinking about the messages I’ve noticed in some fiction books or on the screen in the last ten years or so. Obviously this is my opinion which you can take with a grain of salt, but sometimes the messages have seemed a little too obvious, with characters practically saying things like, “And that’s why _____ (fill in the blank) is bad.” Sometimes the whole reason for the existence of a book or film (again please keep in mind that I am talking about fiction, rather than nonfiction) seems to be to deliver a message.

I totally get the need to encourage change through a well-written story. That is the power of words. But I’m drawn to stories where the message doesn’t rest on top in a blinking lights kind of way. I like to glean the message for myself. I can read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and see the awful toll war takes on people, something Tolkien experienced firsthand, without having to be told by a character, “Do you see what disagreements like this could lead to? How awful everything is? How needful it is that we come together in peace and goodwill?”

What about you? Do you like messages that are a

and as obvious as this:

Or do you prefer the subtle approach? Are there some messages that need to be wrecking ball clear? Do tell! While you ponder that, Anne Westrick, get ready to receive a signed copy of Edie in Between by Laura Sibson! Please comment below to confirm.

    

Jeremy Jahns photo from famousbirthdays. Quote from August 27, 2021 review. Stupidly obvious messages from dreamstime and ebaumsworld.

Creating Conflict

I recently broke one of my rules by deliberately reading a spoiler-filled book. Though I have not yet seen the animated movie WolfWalkers (now on Apple TV), I read with delight the pages of The Art of WolfWalkers, a book by Charles Solomon that is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. The film (click the movie title above to learn more about the movie) has some fantasy elements, but is based on real events in history. Click here to read more about those events.

  

The book was given to me by a friend (thank you, Sharon). I don’t have Apple TV, so there is no telling when I’ll see the film. But I love the work of the studio that produced it (Cartoon Saloon), and the director behind it—Tomm Moore, an Irish filmmaker who has helmed some of the movies that are now among my all-time favorites: Song of the Sea (2014) and The Secret of Kells (2009). So I’m usually interested in anything that helps me learn about his creative process.

  

An exercise the book mentions intrigued me:

Tomm heard Jim [Capobianco, a story artist whose work Moore admires, who had the idea for the film Ratatouille along with director Brad Bird] say that when he’s trying to come up with ideas, he writes two lists: things he loves and things he hates. Obviously, all good stories have conflict, so he would make the lists to find the conflicts he needed. That’s what Tomm and Ross [Stewart, the co-director of WolfWalkers] did. (New York: Abrams, 2020. 15)

I found that fascinating, because the creation of conflict(s) in a story has always been challenging for me. Yes, I know that conflict is essential to the plot and comes from the way characters relate to each other, based on their characteristics and beliefs. And this is not to say that making these lists is the thing to do for every story. But if you’re stuck, you might give the list making a try. I plan to do so!

If creating conflicts comes easily to you, got any tips you’d like to share? While you think about that, I will move on to the winner of Rural Voices, an anthology of stories acquired and contributed to by Nora Shalaway Carpenter. For the interview with Nora, click here.

  

The winner of that book is Marie!

Marie, please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all who commented.

Song of the Sea DVD cover from dvdsreleasedates.com. Secret of Kells DVD cover from mysfreviews.com. Tomm Moore from purepeople.com. Book covers and author photo courtesy of the author. Photo credit: Chip Bryan. Other photos by L. Marie.