By Cait Collins
Recently my nephew and I went to see the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast. The artistry amazed me. Maybe I should back up. The artistry begins with the story. Grimm’s Fairy Tales were a little dark for me. And Into the Woods was a bit fractured. That said I enjoyed both. But I’m glad Disney Studios dressed the tales up. The vilens stayed, but stories became romantic. Sweeter. More of a dream. And thus began the Princess tales. And the wish of every young girl to believe that “Someday My Prince Will Come”.
Disney’s animated version of Beauty and the Beast was a spectacle It was a perfect marriage of love story and technology. Who can forget the dancing dishes in the “Be Our Guest “song? What about the doors opening to reveal a magnificent library? And the ballroom where Belle and the Beast danced was magnificent.
Now translate all that to a movie set.
The live action version combined the best of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Disney animation, a Broadway play and music to create a masterpiece. Every frame drew emotion. That is the artist’s magic. Walt Disney would have been proud of his teams.
From what I learned in my Traditions classes, Disney always looked for new ways to do things. Each movie had its own sparkle and foot print. He was an innovator with an eye to eliciting that gasp of surprise and delight.
Even though I worked the retail side of the Disney Company, I learned the importance of having wings, and flying. The goal of exceeding customer expectations allowed me to use my acting talents, to stand in front of groups of kids at movie premiers. I stepped outside my comfort zone and danced with Jungle Book characters. I was free to reach out to others with more experience and knowledge so that I could become a better writer.
Happy thoughts and a bit of fairy dust allow the artist or writer or editor the freedom to test new methods, to open doors to new worlds, and to find our special place in the artist’s world. I treasure my years with the Disney Company and I appreciate the lessons I learned. While not at the level I want to be, I still look for twists and characters that keep the reader wanting more. While I’m on the journey, I will “wish upon a star” and “just keep swimming”.
Thank you. Walt Disney for an education and years of entertainement.
What Did You See?
By Cait Collins
How good are your powers of observation? If you were surrounded by group of people at the mall or at a concert, would you be able to describe the person in front of you, behind you, and on either side? How would you describe a child that broke free of his mother and is now terrorizing the zoo?
Observing the people around us is essential for a writer. If we don’t hone our skills, we could miss vital elements for our work. Let’s say you are standing in line at the bank. The teller is calm and helpful. Transaction completed, the man walks away without looking the folks in the line in the eye. The police and FBI agents question you. Would you be able to tell them the color of the suspect’s hair? His race? Height and weight? What he was wearing?
It should be easy to identify the person standing in line in front of you, but you are drawing a blank. Even with the detective feeding you hints you are unable to pick the robber out of a picture array or a line up. You know you saw something important but you just can’t remember it. You’re not alone.
Trust me, you are not alone. Several years ago, I was the person in line behind a bank robber. He was so cool I didn’t suspect anything. As soon as he walked away, I stepped up and set my deposit bag on the counter. The teller excused herself and rushed to the back. A few minutes later, one of the bank officers came out and shut down her station. He directed me to the next line. Then he announced the doors were being locked and we must wait until the police spoke to us and released us. All I could tell the law enforcement officer was the robber was short, had dark hair and was wearing some type of work uniform. Not really good on my part. I was too busy making a shopping list in my head to notice there was a problem.
My suggestion is to go to the mall, find a comfortable spot and indulge in some serious people watching. What you observe may make for a great character or plot twist for your current project.
Old Man Weather
By Cait Collins
“If you don’t like the weather, stick around for five minutes and it’ll change.” I used to think that statement applied only to the Texas Panhandle. Now I know the statement is pretty typical of the entire country. We all have issues with the weather. But as writer’s we can make the local weather a supporting character in our works.
Let’s start in the Texas Panhandle. After one really good year of rain, the clouds have been all show and no blow. Let’s correct that. There’s always blow. Gusts up to 70 miles per hour can do a real number on the landscape. But when there’s been little or no rain, those winds can whip up a small spark into a raging wild fire. In this case, Mr. Wind Storm traps a young mother and her small child in the midst of a fire storm. Seeing no way to escape, she finds a dugout and shelters in praying for a miracle. And then…
Our next scene is a tropical island in the western Atlantic. Honeymooners are enjoying the white sand beach, snorkeling, and wandering the streets of quaint villages. Toward the end of their week-long stay, the clouds begin to turn dark. Winds increase and the tide rises. Hurricane Odin approaches the island. Our newlyweds follow the evacuation order, but as their ship heads toward the mainland, ash begins to fall from the sky as a long dormant volcano awakens. And so…
One more scene. A fishing vessel heads to the Grand Banks in search of schools of fish to fill the empty cargo holds. Not one storm but two storms and a hurricane converge to create an unprecedented monster storm. The ship’s captain attempts to turn back but he and the crew are trapped between rains, winds, and the waves. The ship goes down with all hands. Sound familiar? You got it..The Perfect Storm. The movie was based on the fate of the Andrea Gail and her crew as they attempt to return to port. The cast was magnificent, the screenplay top notch, but the main character was a storm and not a man.
by Cait Collins
I was driving home the other evening and noticed white blossoms on the trees. I was astonished at the beauty of tree-lined street. But wasn’t it too early for blossoms? It was late February and the threat of snow or ice was still out there.
A couple of weeks have passed and the scene has switched from white blossoms to tender green leaves and purplish-pink pink lady blossoms. Soon bluebonnets, butter cups, and native wild flowers will spring up. The crops will be planted, and live stock and wild animals will birth their young. Thunderstorms will rattle the night skies. Hopefully the rain will fall. Spring is life renewing itself.
Wild fires sparked by a careless hand or a defective machine ignite parched grass lands and dry timber and devastate the Panhandle. Hundreds of acres of grassland and fields are scorched. Lives, both human and animal, are lost. Grain for the livestock is unusable. And in true American spirit, folks around the country are sending aid to those who have lost much of their livelihood. True pioneer spirit prevails as farmers and ranchers ask the volunteers to take care of neighbors first because the neighbors need the help more. When the time comes to replant volunteers will arrive and neighbor will help neighbor to rebuild.
Nature thrives in all seasons. The promise of spring, the growth in summer, the harvest in fall, and the rest in winter move in a cycle that never changes and ever changes. Heat and cold; wet and dry; storm and drought build and define human drive and ingenuity. And they fuel and feed the writer’s art.
By Cait Collins
I’m in the process of cleaning out my study. You see, by book shelves are overflowing with books from history and science to children’s picture books. My niece claims I hoard books. Of course I do. Books have their own personalities. Each one has a voice. A spirit. And a life. They hold a place in my heart.
You see, as a teenager, I was a bit awkward and shy. I was Twiggy in a Lana Turner world. Books were my friends. They accepted me, made me feel important when I absorbed the knowledge they provided. They comforted me when my sister was out with friends and I was left behind. I’m not angry or sorry for those days. I found the joy in knowledge. I became a trivia queen.
At a young age I was familiar with Shakespeare and Tennessee William and Eugene O’Neil. I attempted to read Mein Kempf, Hitler’s autobiography. I loved geology. I could recognize rocks and minerals. Spy novels fascinated me. James Bond was a favorite character. Grimm’s Fairy Tales were nothing like Disney tales.
And I started writing. I’m still writing. And I’m still reading.
And I’m still sorting books in my book shelves. Some will go to the public library for their fund raiser. The children’s books can be donated to Ronald McDonald House. And some I will keep. They are the special books. The ones that still have me reaching for them to read again and again. Of course I’ll add new books to the shelves. But I’ll always have dear friends resting in my library.
How long has it been since you reread a favorite book? That long, huh? Why not revisit that old friend? After all, true friendship lasts a lifetime.
What A Day
By Cait Collins
I started my day by reading a book. Then I spent eleven hours editing other people’s work. I spent a few minutes trying to flesh out a scene in my new novel. Now I’m writing my blog. Sounds like a productive day to me.
Not all days go well, but if all you can accomplish in a day is one well written paragraph, I’d considered it worth the effort.
By Cait Collins
Tonight I listened to the President’s first speech before a joint session of Congress. Don’t worry; I’m not going to discuss politics. Truth is, I kept thinking about the person who wrote the speech. It’s not easy to match another person’s thoughts and emotions and dreams into words that will create a response in the listener. Word choice, examples, cites; and quotes used will incite a reaction in those in the audience. Some will be inspired. Others will be thoughtful. And others could be moved to hate and violence.
Think of the great speeches across the ages. Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” oration inspired rebels to demand their freedom from England. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address…”Fourscore and seven years ago our father’s brought forth on this continent a new nation” sought to bring healing to a war weary nation. What about Hitler’s rantings that incited a nation to hate and murder.
Ministers are wonderful examples of speech writers. Every Sunday they present a message designed to encourage the congregation to seek a better life. Some preach love and forgiveness, and others spew hell fire and damnation. The audience responds to each speaker. Many with joyful acceptance, while others shrink in fear. And some with sit is self-righteous piety thinking they are better than the sinners.
Like writing a story or a novel, a speech has three parts…a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning is a call to inspire, inflame, or inform. The middle fleshes out the details. And the end is a call to action. It requires mastery of language arts skills, a deep understanding of human nature, and strong insights into the one who will be delivering the address. Above all it demands impeccable research in appropriate statistics, facts, and examples. Truly a speech writer is a master at his craft. And while some would not consider the speech writer as a professional writer, this craftsman does have a place in alongside novelists, tech writers, copy writers, and text book writers. After all, he earns his living by writing.
By Cait Collins
Where do you find inspiration? There are times my mind is blank. I try looking at scenic photographs, or maybe old photos. Then there’s searching the internet under historic sites, heroes, kings and queens. I even pull out my journal jar or a topic assignment book and still can’t come up with an idea. It can be very frustrating.
So what are some alternatives? Go to the mall and people watch? It could work. You might find that perfect character. But what makes one person stand out over another? Is it hair color or the chiseled jaw? Maybe it’s the way he’s dressed or even the pace at which he walks. Whatever the attraction, can it be used to craft a character?
I like listening to music. I prefer the easy listening kind. Josh Grobin is one of my favorites and then I find inspiration in movie scores and musicals. The other night I was half listening to a TV show and heard pan flutes in the score. There’s something beautifully haunting about pan flute music. Two lovers face each other knowing the relationship is not working. They love but it’s not enough. The music fades. She leans her head to his chest. He kisses the top of her head They separate, take a few steps and turn for one final look. So it’s kind of overly sentimental, but I can work with it. How did they meet? When did they know there were problems? What were the insurmountable issues? And there’s the beginning of a short story, a novel, or even a memoir.
Dreams are great inspiration. Just make sure you have a note pad handy to jot down the dream so you don’t forget the idea. Antique stores, museums, gardens can all be sources of inspiration when you’re stuck or even when you’re not looking for something to write. Some little something sparks the mind and the idea grows. Whatever triggers your thoughts and creativity should be explored.
Inspiration comes to each of us in its own special way. It may be as brash as a dream character beating you over the head and demanding “Write about me”. Or it appears as subtle as a spring breeze. However you find it, never reject it or ignore it. That spark or fleeting image may be a hint of something really big.
Write the Story
You are leaving a restaurant one Sunday morning and spot an elderly lady sitting in a booth alone. She smiles and wishes you a good day as you pass. What would you do? Would you acknowledge her greeting and walk on by? Or maybe you ask for her ticket and pay it without the lady knowing of your kindness. Or do you walk by without acknowledging her greeting.
Who is the lady and how does she respond to your actions?
She is just as she appears to be. Our lady comes to the restaurant once a week and sits alone. Why? Maybe she doesn’t have friends or a family. She’s sitting in the booth just hoping someone will speak to her.
Maybe she’s like Hamilton Bedford Tipton, the wealthy philanthropist from the old The Millionaire television show who is looking for the worthy man. She’s hunts for a good man or woman to bring into her company. She wants to provide excellent employment to a good Samaritan.
Or perhaps Granny is a serial killer looking for her next victim. Snub her and she’ll make sure you’ve just enjoyed your last meal.
So do you greet her, treat her, or snub her? She’s Granny enjoying her Sunday breakfast, or a head hunter, or a killer. Which is it?
Now write the story. One more thing, her accomplice is out in the parking lot standing by an old pickup truck. The hood is up and the elderly gentleman is holding a set of jumper cables.
Same Song, Different Verse
By Cait Collins
I love to read, and the more I read the more I see how many ways there are to tell a story. Several years ago, I took a creative writing class taught by New York Times Best Selling Author, Jodi Thomas. I really enjoyed some of her writing assignments. For example, we were told to write a story about a shoe on the side of a highway. When the stories were read, we became aware of all the different themes and genres. One young man wrote about a guy trying to escape his girlfriend’s house before her husband got home. In his haste, he drops his cowboy boot. His story was so funny.
My serial killer mystery focused on the maniac’s calling card…the right shoe placed beside the open driver’s side door. Each car was parked along cliff road. The story was the basis for my first screenplay, Rhymes.
We are taught in writing classes and in writing manuals that there are a limited number of stories: man against nature, man against himself, man against man, and coming of age are among the themes. And yet book stores and libraries are full of books. So how do we manage to fill the shelves when there are so few stories? It is because we have unlimited imaginations and viewpoints. All it takes is applying our own twist or spin to the theme and we have a story. While I may see a mystery, my classmate saw comedy. Another found a memoir. And another wrote a romance. One story line…a shoe on the side of a road resulted in twenty different stories in different genres.
Amazing, isn’t it?