Finding Dory in You (and Me)

If you saw Finding Nemo (2003) and the sequel Finding Dory (2016), you know that Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) is a blue tang with short-term memory loss. In the first movie, she accompanied a clownfish named Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) on an impossible journey. In the sequel, she went on yet another impossible journey that I won’t spoil here.

    

I thought about Dory recently, because I acquired this Dory vinyl figure.

Dory had some of the funniest lines in Finding Nemo. Though her character was endearing, I found her a little annoying, because she would rush off without thinking through anything. That aspect didn’t change in Finding Dory.

On the Dory wiki, I found this description

[H]er optimism proves an invaluable quality to help overcome the impossible. To Dory, the glass is always half-full.

Marlin, the doubtful dad ruled by fear, is pretty much her opposite. While Dory’s motto could be, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” a good one for Marlin is, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”—Murphy’s law. I can relate to that.

I’m like Marlin—cautious to nth degree. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. After all, some of the greatest achievements come through taking a risk.

Dory knew that. She would rush into action, never once doubting that she could accomplish what she set out to do.

In Finding Dory, two characters in trouble asked each other, “What would Dory do?” They admired Dory’s ability to think outside the box and persevere through incredible obstacles.

I have to admit that Dory’s can-do spirit annoyed me at times. But if I’m honest, I have to say I’m not really annoyed with her. I’m annoyed with myself. Can do? It only takes one rejection to turn my can do into “I guess I can’t,” which leads to “Nope. Not trying that again.”

But Dory never met a challenge she didn’t accept.

With Independence Day coming up on Tuesday, I can’t help thinking of the risks taken and the battles fought to bring about this independence. What would Dory do? She would have taken any risk to be free.

So it’s time for me to shed my Marlin approach to life. Time for me to turn the “Not trying that again” into “You know? I think I will.”

What about you? Do you think of yourself as Dory—can do, will do? Or Marlin—don’t try and you won’t fail? Or are you like Nemo—ready to do whatever Dory does? Or maybe you’re like Becky—just carrying a bucket ’cause somebody asked you to? (See the movie if you’re wondering who Becky is.)

Maybe, like me, you’re inspired to find the Dory in you.

(Having internet problems right now, so I will sign off for now.)

A great article on blue tangs: http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/06/03/480556852/please-lets-not-find-dory

Finding Nemo poster from funny-pictures.picphotos.net. Finding Dory poster from disneymovieslist.com. Becky from ohmydisney.com. Marlin from beafunmum.com. Dory vinyl figure photos by L. Marie.

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The Stanton Effect: Write from Experience

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Today on the blog is a guest post by the awesome Laura Sibson. You know her from her blog, Laura Sibson: A journey toward writing dangerously. As an added bonus, Laura writes young adult fiction. Welcome, Laura!

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Many thanks to the inestimable L. Marie for creating this series and offering me an opportunity to be a part of it. I graduated with her from the Vermont College of Fine Arts program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. As I work toward the final draft of a contemporary young adult novel, Andrew Stanton’s TED talk helped me think more deeply about the elements of storytelling. The final point that Stanton makes in his talk, Clues to a Great Story, is to write from your experience.

I knew from the time that I was a teen that I wanted to write novels. The problem was that I didn’t think I had anything to say. It seemed that everywhere I turned, the advice was WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. I was a young white woman from a middle class family. What the heck did I know? I grew older, worked, married and had children and I guess by then I knew some stuff, but it didn’t seem to be stuff that would make for a good story. So I still did not write.

Then I got an idea in my head to write a story about two sisters who find out that they are witches. Obviously, I wasn’t a witch (maybe that’s not obvious, but trust me) but I did (and do) have a sister. As I wrote that story, I was able to infuse a paranormal fantasy with real sisterly love and real sisterly rivalry. Those aspects of the story were some of my favorite scenes to write because I could write them from my truth.

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The next novel I wrote was about a teen girl whose mother dies. The main character decides to fight her uncle to keep the house that she’d lived in with her mom. My own mother is very much alive and I do not now nor have I ever had an evil uncle attempting to toss me from my home. But I lived for a time with my grandmother in the Baltimore house that inspired the story. Here again, I could write from my own experience. I’d walked those streets; I remembered the cherry tree in the back yard and the maple gold hue of the hardwood floors in that house. I believe it was the details from my experience that made the setting come alive for my readers.

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The house that inspired the novel

The story I’m writing now is different from any other that I’ve written. A while back, when I read a scene to a group of writer friends, the whole room went silent. It was a good sort of silent. I’d moved the listeners with my scene and it wasn’t because I’d jumped through verbal hoops with my prose. And it wasn’t because I’d ended the scene on a suspenseful cliffhanger. It was because I’d written a moment of emotional truth. The situation I’d written was fiction, but the feelings were authentic.

Andrew Stanton shared in his talk that he bears two scars from his premature birth. He wasn’t expected to live. But live he did. In fact, Stanton said that the knowledge of his premature birth galvanized him “to be worthy of the second chance he was given.” In time, Stanton gave those scars to a tiny fish and he named that fish Nemo.

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Stanton says, “Use what you know,” but he goes further than the old adage with which we are all familiar. “It doesn’t have to be plot or fact. It means capturing a truth from your experience.”

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We all have scars of some sort. Rather than being burdened or shamed by those scars, we can take guidance from Andrew Stanton. Let’s allow those scars to inspire us toward creating work that resonates with people on an emotional level.

Thanks, Laura, for this fabulous post. Other posts in the series can be found here, here, and here.

For all who are reading this post, here are some questions: How has your experience helped shape your writing? How have you allowed your own scars to be shown in your writing?

Author photo by Marvin Dangerfield. Euodora Welty jpeg fromblog.writeathome.com. Nemo from fanpop.com. House photo courtesy of Laura Sibson. Truth image from pinterest.com.

The Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk

Just to give you a head’s up: I’m postponing my third giveaway until next week. (Sorry. I won’t tell you ahead of time what this giveaway involves. Mwwwhahaha!) Since this post is already long, I’ll post again this weekend to let you know who won the gift card and a preorder of Kate Sparkes’s book, Torn. Now, on with our regularly scheduled broadcast. . . .

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The other day, my friend Sharon told me about a TED Talk by writer/director Andrew Stanton. Since I was familiar with his Pixar movies (Toy Story 1, 2, 3; A Bug’s Life; Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and others), I was eager to hear what tips he had for telling great stories. (I didn’t see John Carter, the sci-fi film he co-wrote and directed [2012], though I read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.)

The TED Talk in question is below. There is, however, a small amount of graphic language early on. Just want to warn anyone who might be offended.

Because of its rich tapestry of information, this is one of my favorite talks. Here are some of the storytelling tips Stanton mentioned that really resonated with me:

• Make me care.
• Give a promise that your story will take the reader somewhere worthwhile.
• Invoke wonder.
• Capture a truth from your experience.

There were many other points. Because of that inspiring talk, I have decided to host a series of guest posts on the points Stanton discussed. I’m calling this series the Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk. I’m excited to have such a stellar line up of bloggers and authors coming to the blog in the next few weeks to share their thoughts. From time to time, however, I will break away from the series with a post or two about a giveaway. But don’t worry. I’ll get right back to the series.

Today, I’m leading off with Stanton’s first point—make me care. It captured my attention, because it is the number one reason why I usually stop reading a book or watching a film—I simply didn’t care enough.

Make me care. In grad school, my advisors told me the same thing over and over and over again: “You have to make me care about this story.” Yet forging a heart connection with a reader is tricky to do. Tricky, but not impossible. Think of the last story you really connected with. We connect when we can relate to a character’s struggles or hopes.

If you watched Stanton’s TED Talk, you saw a scene from Finding Nemo that absolutely tugs at the heartstrings. The scene below is the beginning of that scene.

We connect as we think about the losses in our own lives. Though Stanton made a different point when showing the scene, I can’t help thinking of how the filmmakers caused me to care without making me feel manipulated.

DarkestPartoftheForest_coverI also think of a book I’ve read twice now: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. In the opener, Black describes a glass coffin that is pivotal to the main character’s story. (You learn that fact on the book jacket.)

It rested right on the ground, and in it slept a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives.

As far as Hazel Evans knew, from what her parents said to her and from what their parents said to them, he’d always been there. And no matter what anyone did, he never, ever woke up. (1)

Black made me care, because the unusual image of a boy in a glass coffin stirred my curiosity and reminded me of fairy tales I love. But most of all, I cared because Black showed me what Hazel was interested in right off the bat. I cared, because Hazel cared.

Another way Black made me care is through her obvious concern for her characters—good, bad, or in between. She cared enough to show them at their strongest or most vulnerable without making a judgment call either way. I can’t help contrasting her efforts to the number of times I’ve heard an author admit to disliking a certain character in his/her own book—usually the antagonist. An author’s dislike of his/her character is always a red flag for me. I need to care even about the most morally repugnant individual in a story. If I don’t, I’ll head for the exit quickly.

If you saw the series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, on Nickelodeon, you’re familiar with this dude:

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Prince Zuko

Avatar-Episodes-Book-1-Water-300x300Slight spoilers in this paragraph to follow. (Be warned.) Throughout the first book of the series—Water—Zuko is clearly working against the heroes. Though he has his own agenda, I couldn’t help caring about him, because the writers (including series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko) made him a well-rounded character. They showed the physical and emotional wounds motivating his actions. They also gave him an antagonist. I cared, because they cared.

If we want to make readers care about our work, we need to love our characters. We don’t have to approve of their actions, particularly the bone-headed ones. But we definitely need to understand why they do what they do. Caring about them is what makes a story great.

Black, Holly. The Darkest Part of the Forest. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2015. Print.

Andrew Stanton from zimbio. Zuko from earnthis.net. Avatar book 1 DVD cover from avatarthelastairbenderonline.com.