Monday, May 26, 2014

Right and Tight - Succinct Crafting From Disney
Okay, I think I’ve waxed long on the Disney theme for now, so this is my last post using Disney works in story crafting. If you want to check on my previous posts related to plotting with the songs of Disney, you can start with this one.
Today, we’re going to chat about two important aspects of writing in which Disney reigns pretty supreme ;-) Tight Writing and Emotional Writing.

Here is a brief definition of how I’m using these two terms:
This first one is my kryptonite for sure. Tight writing does not mean the shortest distance from the first letter to the final sentence marker. It DOES mean using the fewest words to express what is needed to move the story forward.

Emotional writing is not related to the letter you send after a breakup. It is the ability to draw the greatest power from the words you’ve conveyed. The specific words chosen not only create vivid imagery, but also encourage an emotional response.
One of the ways Disney does this best is through its songs. Let’s look at a few:
I’m malicious, mean, and scary

My sneer could curdle dairy
And violence-wise my hands are not the cleanest

But despite my evil looks and my temper and my hook
I’ve always yearned to be a concert pianist.

Can’t you see me on the stage performing Mozart
Tickling the ivories ‘til they gleam

Yeah I’d rather be called deadly
For my killer show-tune medley

Cause way down deep inside I’ve got a dream.
Okay – this was the one my 14 year old mentioned as giving a lot of great info in a few words. In fact, it gives an entire backstory and a surprising yearning in this tough guy’s heart.

We have some power words for emotion too. I’ve bolded them. If the song had only used the words “mean and scary”, it would not have the same reaction as malicious. ‘sneer’ is a great word because it carries a visual as well as an emotion.
The difference we could transfer from this song to our prose writing is to convert as many helping verbs to action (more emotional/stronger) verbs.  Of course, the writers for songs are not only trying to write tight, but make the songs fit in rhyme and rhythm.
How about this one with some beautiful imagery?
Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest
Come taste the sunsweet berries of the Earth
Come roll in all the riches all around you
And for once, never wonder what they're worth

……. For whether we are white or copper skinned
We need to sing with all the voices of the mountains
We need to
paint with all the colors of the wind

You can own the Earth and still
All you'll own is Earth until
You can paint with all the colors of the wind

Can you ‘see’ the power words in this song from Pocahontas – and some of the phrasing is fantastic and tight? The phrase in italics is a great example of tight writing, in which words were used succinctly to make a fabulous point (and of course, it’s also rhythmical ;-)
‘sunsweet berries’ is such a fabulous phrase. It not only gives a visual response but also a tactile one. ‘roll in all the riches’ – is a visual as well as tactile. See how the right words can carry a lot more power in shorter doses than more words?

Okay, I HAVE to use this one – ONE OF MY ALL TIME FAVORITE Disney songs for writing tight and powerfully.
Hellfire from The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Yes, surprising choice, but the phrasing, words, and imagery in this song are AMAZING.
Frollo sings this of the gypsy Esmeralda (and Frollo is quite the self-righteous and somewhat murderous fellow). I’ve included almost the entire song just because it’s SO GOOD at proving the points of this post.

Tell me, Maria, why I see her dancing there
Why her smold'ring eyes still scorch my soul
I feel her, I see her - The sun caught in raven hair
Is blazing in me out of all control

Like fire. Hellfire
This fire in my skin
This burning Desire
Is turning me to sin
It's not my fault! I'm not to blame
It is the gypsy girl - The witch who sent this flame

It's not my fault! If in God's plan
He made the devil so much stronger than a man

Protect me, Maria! Don't let this siren cast her spell
Don't let her fire sear my flesh and bone
Destroy Esmeralda -and let her taste the fires of hell
Or else let her be mine and mine alone

WHOA – anybody else feeling a sizzle in the room? Sheesh, this song is ‘smokin’’ with power words ;-) Even in this song, you can see that there is a heavy amount of action verbs used (another tip to remember for increasing the emotional impact of your writing).
A bonus about this song is its use of uncommon words, so they resonate with us more. Our brains naturally stop on them because we don’t’ see them as often. (I’m NOT advocating using really weird words as much as possible, btw). ‘Siren’, ‘sear’, ‘flesh and bone’, ‘cast her spell’. They are not as common as ‘burn’, ‘temptress’, etc.

A few quick tips:

1.       Get rid of words like ‘very’, ‘just’, ‘really’, ‘that’ or ‘some’.

2.       ‘ly’ is not necessarily a bad tag on a word, but check to see if you can change some of those ‘ly’ words into something BETTER. There are times when they are fine…maybe even needed, but check that you are not overusing them.

3.       Less is sometimes more, even during lovely descriptive phrases. If you can say the same thing, more powerfully, with fewer words – use them.

4.       Replace as many weak verbs (mostly helping verbs) with more action/descriptive verbs. Again, helping verbs have a purpose in your writing, but if you have more of them than less….change some to increase the impact of your sentences/phrases.

5.       Take a tip from our clothing choices: Too tight is uncomfortable. Too loose is usually unflattering and uncomfortable. But just right is both flattering and comfortable.
Okay - time to end our Disney chats with a solid  (and classic) 'happily-ever-after' kiss pic. Of course :-)
Pepper Basham writes Blue Ridge Romance peppered with grace and humor. She’s a mom of five, a speech-language pathologist, and a lover of chocolate. She writes in a variety of genres, but enjoys sprinkling her native culture of Appalachia in them all. She is a regular contributor to Christian Fiction Online Magazine as well as developing her own blog at Words Seasoned With Salt. She is represented by 2012 ACFW Agent of the Year, Nicole Resciniti.


Anonymous said...

This post was so helpful and to the point. I love the use of Disney as it's something I "get" right away.

Casey said...

What amazing examples! I love that song in Tangled, but to be honest never really thought about the words behind the song and how they use it to draw out my emotions, etc. A visceral reaction. :)

Way to go, Pepper. This post is packed with all kinds of good stuff!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Can't believe I missed this! Fantastic!!! I think you just changed my life :)