Mark Terry

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Which Story To Tell

January 16, 2007
Thanks to some jackass car commercial, I've got that "Auf Widersehen" song from "The Sound of Music" in my head. My brain went off on a tangent and it occurred to me that it might make a good post here. I haven't seen TSOM in years, but even at a much younger age, I realized that choices had been made when this story was told.

To give a real quick summary: a young nun falls in love with a German widower with a bunch of kids, leaves the convent, then the entire family has to sneak out of Nazi Germany and hike over the mountains to freedom.

Ahem. All while smiling, singing, whistling and being just as sweet as pure cane sugar.

Underneath all this somewhat true story, it seems to me, is sex, religion, violence, danger, and rigorous physical adventure.

But that wasn't the story chosen to be told.

Had I been telling this story in this day and age, it would have been a lot edgier and a lot more realistic. I've often thought of how horrible it must have been for that family to escape into the mountains. The movie gives you the notion that fleeing into the mountains with a couple adults and about 8 children, some very young, was like a picnic with flowers and hampers of food and Bambi cavorting alongside.

If that's how the Van Trapp family actually made their escape, there must have been a hell of a lot of hardship, complaining, whining, and fear.

Sneaking out under the noses of Nazis at the end of a performance would have been terrifying. What if one of the children was stopped? Would they all get out?

Well, it's hard to argue with the success of "The Sound of Music," but it strikes me as being demonstrative of how the choices the writer makes affects how the story is told.

Deciding why you make those choices, however, is called ART.

Mark Terry


Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I never thought of that. And I kind of wish I hadn't!! I have to say, I've nver met a musical I didn't like but probably Sound of Music comes closest. Oh no...Edleweis...

9:44 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

"The hills are alive..."

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Barbara W. Klaser said...

Choices in storytelling, that is a good topic. I'm sure that we make different choices as individual writers, or when we have different kinds of stories in mind.

Then there are the stories that fizzle out. Sometimes starting over is the only solution, but ---

I've noticed that there come certain points in writing a story where I just stop and feel frozen, can't get any further. It used to stump me and make me think I didn't have a story after all. But now I go back a scene or a chapter or two and find where I felt the turning point occurred. If I go back to that point and make different choices about what comes next, many times I find that the story picks up and I unfreeze myself.

I wonder if this is the source of a lot of writer's block, simply a choice or turning point made somewhere in the story that led to a dead end.

Oh, that commercial drives me nuts. I think she was a novice in the story, not a nun. Novices haven't taken the final plunge. It's not one of my favorite movies --- except for the first seen where she sang with that backdrop of the alps. As a kid, when those movies were made, I much preferred Mary Poppins.

BTW, the problem with commenting on Blogger that I mentioned here before was MY problem, using an add-on feature for my browser. Sorry about that.

1:35 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I recently put together a proposal for a YA novel, probably middle school thru high school age readers, and I'm working on a novel for kids that's probably younger, say late elementary through middle school, and this issue of what kind of a story to tell strikes me as being even more important to these readerships than in adult books.

Although, with adult books, I can see that a lot of it depends on what readership you're considering. If you're writing cozies, then you probably need, by definition, to avoid direct violence and keep your sex and swearing to a minimum.

These choices, I think, have a lot to do with who you think your readership is, and what kind of story you're telling.

1:47 PM  
Anonymous spyscribbler said...

Maria Von Trapp always laughed about that ending, because if they HAD gone into the mountains, they would have been going the wrong way. :-) As a movie, though, the mountain thing was a better ending.

I'm pretty new to the suspense/thriller/mystery genre, and I'm torn. I'm always confused about these choices:
Reality vs. Perceived reality (in which readers will think you're wrong when you're right)
Reality vs. What Makes for an Interesting Story
What Makes For Good Story vs. Perceived Reality

Any advice, perchance?

4:05 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I think ALL fiction exists in a kind of alternate reality. Although the Derek Stillwater novels are built on what I view to be a certain level of reality, they are, ultimately, fantasies.

Even police procedurals like Ed McBain's aren't really based on reality. As Ed once commented, if he based his 87th Precinct novels on reality, most of the books would have been about drug-based crimes committed by people who were caught with the weapon on the scene or who were snitched out by someone they knew like a family member.

I think there are sort of two versions of fictional reality with a big gray area inbetween. One is to set things in as much reality as possible and make everything perfectly "real." The heroics of the characters or the behavior is completely real. Imagine, for a moment, if Stephen King's books didn't have a woo-woo element to them. There you've got his characters doing pretty much normal things. Think, say, Tom Hanks in most of his films.

Or, you create a kind of alternate reality by putting as much realism and facts into it, but some of the behaviors and events are so dramatic that in all likelihood they would not happen--but perhaps, they COULD happen.

4:52 PM  
Anonymous spyscribbler said...

Thank you, Mark!

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