Monday, March 31, 2014

Plotting with Disney - The Song of Longing

Did Disney’s news yesterday freeze you with shock? Frozen has become the largest grossing animated film of all time – even more than Toy Story! I was shocked. Sure it’s a cute movie, but THAT cute? Clearly I’m not ‘cool’ enough to get it – though I do recognize great storytellers when I hear/read them.

Disney is known for its GREAT stories, amazing characters, brilliant voices, fantastic secondary characters, marvelous animation, and, of course, stupendous music. In fact, you could plot a book from the pattern of songs through Disney’s movies.


That’s what we’re going to do. Using the basic elements of Disney songs in a 3-part series (particularly from the ‘princess’ movies), I’m going to talk about the ‘melody’ of story structure. (I might have to slide in a fourth to give us that ‘happily-ever-after’ part. It wouldn't be Disney without it J

The basic three ‘songs’ we’re going to discuss in the 3-part series are:
The Song of Longing
The Song of Hope
The Song of Conflict/Antagonist
(and I’ll probably throw in a happily-ever-after part in here too) J

So, today, let’s talk about Disney’s Song of Longing.

It’s a staple for almost every Disney movie out there. If you don’t believe me, here’s a list of a few.

Some Day My Prince Will Come (Snow White)
When Will My Life Begin (Tangled)
A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes (Cinderella)
I Just Can’t Wait to be King (Lion King)
Belle (The song when she’s walking through town and their talking about how weird she is J
Out There (Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Reflection (Mulan)
Part of Your World (The Little Mermaid)
Do You Want To Build a Snowman (Frozen)

What do all these songs have in common? Each and every one of them is strategically placed in the story to express the main character's deepest longing.

Whether it’s a prince, the ‘lights’, an adventure, legs, self-discovery, or a deeper relationship with her sister, all of these songs express the main character's heart’s desire.

And YOUR story needs to express that too.

If your character doesn't have a longing and goal, then it is difficult for the reader to relate to her and stick with her to the end of the book.

What does your hero/heroine want? What does she dream about? What does she ache to obtain?
Usually there are two desires – an external and internal one. Many times one will directly relate to the other.

Let’s use Cinderella, for example.

External desire: Get to the ball
Internal desire: Have someone love her and take her away from her heartache

Clearly, these two are related since she wants to get to the ball to meet someone who might sweep her out of her glass slippers and into a wedding gown. In her song, A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, Cinderella sings:

“In dreams you will lose your heartache. Whatever you wish for you keep. Have faith in your dreams and someday – a rainbow will come smiling through. No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.” The song expresses her deepest longing.

What about Mulan?

External desire: Keep her father from fighting/fight in her father’s place
Internal desire: Discover who she really is

Yep – both are intricately related to each other. She discovers who she is, her worth, while taking her father’s place in the battle. In her song, Reflection, Mulan sings “When will my reflection show who I am inside?” CLEAR indication of her heartfelt ache.

One more?

External desire: See the lights
Internal desire: Self-discovery and freedom

Through the monotony of her song, When Will My Life Begin, we hear her desire for something more meaningful than what she’s always known.

Does it make sense? The songs reflect something much deeper. The beginning of the story and the heart of the hero.

So…back to you? What is your hero/heroine’s deepest longing? Can you tell us an internal and external desire they have? 

Let us know….or list one of your favorite Disney “songs of longing”?


Mary Vee Writer said...

Last night, I wanted to get a copy of Frozen for my sister-in-law who is recovering from surgery in the hospital. There were no copies in ANY of the stores in our area. Unbelievable.
My teen daughter explained her reasoning for the great response. It is the musical nature. According to her there hasn't been a great musical since Beauty and the Beast...and that, too, won awards. tie in with what you are saying here...those songs from the musicals stay with us. ...drawing us back to the great story.
As writers, we can use those alluring components in our story to do the same thing.

Pepper said...

I love most of the music from Disney. I have a post in the works (maybe as an extension of this series) to talk about 'writing tight with Disney songs'. One of the most unbelievably concise and visually stimulating songs I've ever heard is Hellfire from Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame. EACH WORD COUNTS! It's remarkable writing!!

Pepper said...

Btw, "Let it Go" is not one of my favorites - just because of the 'not Disney' feel of the song. But that's my humble opinion.
My daughters LOVE it!
That's why I'm singing:
"Get it out. Get it out. Get this song out of my head.
Get it out. Get it out, put another song instead.
I don't care if it's pop or sway
Let the hard rock come
This Frozen is causing me crazy-brain."

Unknown said...

Okay, I'm thinking I might be the only person in the world who hasn't seen Frozen. It's not that I don't like Disney cartoons...I generally do...I'm just slow on the uptake when it comes to getting around to watching the latest animated movie. :)

This post is awesome, though, Pepper! Such brilliant writing insight. One of my favorite songs of longing is the one you mentioned from Beauty and the Beast...which is one of my favorite Disney movies. Loooove. :)

Anonymous said...

This post was wonderful! {I do admit to looking forward to the Happily Ever After post!} #hopeless romantic
Mary--I agree with your daughter. Best Disney movie since Beauty & the Beast. I have all the Frozen songs stuck in my head & am driving my roomate/sister nuts. It's a toss up as to who loves Frozen more--me, or my nine year old sister!

Belle's line from her one song is a perfect example of the external & internal longing of her character: I want adventure in the great, wide, somewhere. I want it more than I can tell. And for once it might be grand to have someone understand. I want so much more than they've got planned.

Unknown said...

Seriously? Top earning movie? Okay, before I comment on that, I like the point about the "desire" song. But I wonder if they all come in at exactly the same place. 10 minutes in? 20? I may have to go back and watch a favorite and see.

Now onto Frozen. Characters carried the movie. What was up with that plot? Where were the overwhelming antagonistic forces? An act of love cured everything. There was no one to defeat but her own fears. Yeah, I know, that's okay, but it was a little weak here. Regardless, we had fun watching it. But no way is that Disney's best. Not even close.

Susan Anne Mason said...

Well, now I have to find a reason to get "Frozen". When my kids were young, we got every animated movie, Disney or not.

I miss those days!

Great post on the songs of longing! It makes it so easy to look at a book and find the same thing in the characters! Must go recheck my books for LONGING!!


Ashley Clark said...

Another AMAZING post from you! This one is not only adorable, but super helpful as well! I think my heroine's external goal is something I need to work on. She wants to write an amazing article and succeed at her magazine, and she also wants to see the world as a result, but I think my focus on that gets a little lost halfway trough. Thanks for this reminder!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Great post, Pepper!

I (Hangs her head) haven't seen Frozen yet. But I will. I have heard so much about it. :)

You brought up some great points, Pepper, especially making sure I know what my characters want both external and internal.

Let's see, my heroine wants to begin her new normal after losing her husband at age 29. That's her external. Her internal is to be valued for who she is, not defined by what others say about her past mistake (a rather big one).

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

I've heard so much buzz about this movie! I really have to get it out and have a movie night with our kids.

Love what you have to say about the song of longing. How have I never noticed that pattern before? What a powerful way to express a character's deepest desire. Great writing inspiration here. I want all my characters to have a "song of longing" that hums along beneath everything they do.

Pepper said...

I was surprised too. Cute movie, but best? Not from my POV -and I'm a BIG Disney fan!!
It didn't even have a great villain or villain song. That's pretty much a staple for me of top 5 Disney movies.

Pepper said...

thanks, Melissa
I LOVE thinking in 'Disney' terms because they have a formula that works fantastically for storytellers. Why not learn from the best?!? :-)

And Frozen is cute, but I'm a little surprised by the hype. Really great moral though

Pepper said...

GREAt reminder of Belle's song. Definitely a song of longing! And I have to say Beauty and the Beast is one of those top 5 Disney movies on my list - complete with stellar voices.

Pepper said...

I know! When my kids and I were chatting about Disney movies the past few weeks, this series starting forming in my head. can't wait to talk about the other songs :-)

Pepper said...

I have a hard time keeping my external goal in focus, so I completely understand. The internal goal is my usual 'driving force' in my novels.
But using Disney does add ;-)

Pepper said...

GREAT example of your character's 'longings'. I think, much like in the Disney movies, the strains of the songs play as an undercurrent to remind us of those longings.
I have to remember to do that in my story...weave it seamlessly in the undercurrent of the story.

Pepper said...

Ahh...Humming songs of longing, Karen. Yep, that's what I need to make sure my characters do too :-) More reason to whistle while we work? ;-) or write :-)