Thursday, January 10, 2019

A Lesson On Subtext from Mary Poppins

Last night, I finally got a chance to see the new Mary Poppins movie-- wow! I loved everything about it. (And all the heart eyes for Ben Whishaw, right? I've been a fangirl since he played John Keats.) But one thing I found particularly interesting about the Mary Poppins story, and this movie particularly, is its ability to pull the subtext out from the behind-the-scenes, straight to the forefront of the storytelling.

What does that focus on subtext mean? In this case, colorful costumes, whimsical songs and dancing, and a plot structure that borders on eccentric. Somehow--amazingly--the movie pulls these elements together without crossing a line into the absurd. Through it, I think we can see not only the value of subtext, but also how we as writers can do it well.

So what can we learn about subtext from Mary Poppins Returns?

  • You have a story within your story. Tell it. Your characters are always moving from Point A to Point B. Your job as a storyteller is to fill that journey with intention. Is your character getting ready at the start of a scene? Then what subtext could you use to either foreshadow, express suspense, or convey characterization?
  • Your readers want your story to resonate. "A cover is nice, but a cover is not the book"--I mean, HELLO--does it get better than this song?! One of the reasons we all love Mary Poppins is because she's full of whimsical idioms... they look charming and colorful from the outside, but man do they pack a punch! Your readers want the same. Give them a moral and someone they can cheer for. It's best if you can use what you're learning in your own life. But be honest. Be vulnerable. Seek the Lord, and whatever you do, never talk down to them.
  • The impossible is possible with fiction. Use this fact to your advantage. Play with POV, order of scenes, etc. to tell the story in the freshest way you can.

What about you? Did you see the movie? Do you have anything else to add to the list?


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram at the_handwritten_story. She is represented by Karen Solem.


kaybee said...

Ashley, didn't see it (YET), but I learn so much from watching a well-constructed film or PBS series. A good film or episode is ALMOST as good as a good book.
Kathy Bailey
Reading and watching in New Hampshire 'cause it's cold

Danal Gerimon said...

Being a writer myself at Content Writing this is very great and useful and I really enjoyed alot.

Jorie said...

Hallo, Hallo, Ms Clark,

One of the most inspiring parts of being a writer is re-fuelling ourselves with brilliantly executed films! I find this is true for recent releases as well as Classical ones you can find via TCM (Turner Classic Movies). It is so true too how you described how you can see the components of the craft etching out into the background / foreground of a film when you can cleverly spot the 'layers' of how the story was put to foundation.

This was also true of "The Greatest Showman" with Hugh Jackman -- did you see that one as well? It befits what your describing from Poppins; sadly I generally don't see films at the theater anymore but opt for library and/or RedBox so I've yet to see this lovely but I knew what you were referencing all the same!

* Telling stories which are intrinsic to your own heart is such a good writerly affirmation!

* I purposefully seek out stories which fit into this category as a reader - the ones which resonate and wash over me. Where the heart of the story and the soul of the character(s) truly give me something to chew on whilst I'm reading whilst I have the full immersion effect of where it is set and the timescape in which I am endevouring to experience. So, so true! - this also applies across markets as I'm a hybrid reader of mainstream & INSPY

* Ooh! You hit on my favourite expression: the possible lies within the impossible - definitely my favourite tool as fiction like motion pictures is only limited by the writer's imagination!


* Hidden nuance - I love stories which tuck us into a character's life in such a capacity that we start to see their more private moments of where they might not fully be 'themselves' - case in point - are the scenes within "Hope Floats" - where Sandra Bullock's character isn't quite over the shock of everything.. you see her muddling through and trying to re-alight herself into 'living'? Little takeaways of a woman whose life went through an insurrection of adversity? Stories can do this too and I love them for it.

* Small details - which enlarge the scale and depth of a story - similar but not the same to what I mentioned previously -- little bits of enriching our readerly experience by seeing how things really are in the world we're reading but without it feeling as if its being told to us for that purpose


Love the topic! (smiles) I've been linking to your lovely blog for years now and always meant to drop-in to add comments. Finally felt I have better balance to visit & chat with you as I'm re-focusing my time this twelvemonth on syncing my reading / blogging life with my writerly path as I'm reclaiming my pen for the second time in my life now.

Love the advice and the engagement!
I'll be back soon!