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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

IWSG - What Cartoons Taught Me About My Writing

The Insecure Writer's Support Group is a once-monthly blog hop originated by our very sci-fi ninja, Alex J. Cavanaugh, and which now has a permanent home at the IWSG site. Every first Wednesday of the month we gather to connect with one another, to share our thoughts and our insecurities, and to offer one another the kind of guidance and reassurance that only another author can provide.

This month I wanted to share an interesting experience I've had, and what it's done to influence my writing. Yes, it may sound funny, but kid's cartoons have taught me an awful lot about my reviewing, editing, and taking a critical eye towards my own work.

If you've ever had children (or even nieces/nephews), then you know they tend to fixate on certain movies and watch them over and over and over and over again. Well, in the case of our toddler, that current fixation is Disney/Pixar's Cars. When it's a movie that you didn't particularly care for the first time around, and you're on your 57th viewing, it's only natural so start critically deconstructing things - and that is what has opened my eyes to my own writing.

Let's start with the cars themselves. It's very clear there are male and female cars in this movie, with some of them engaging in romantic relationships. That, of course, begs the question of how you tell automotive genders apart. Yes, they're stylized a bit differently, and their voices are clearly male or female, but what else is there? The only possible genitalia you could identify is an exhaust system, which is hardly unique to one gender or the other. One can only assume they're race of asexual or intersexed automobiles who choose to express one gender or another. Even if that's the case, it begs the question of how they reproduce. Forget the mechanics (pun intended) of automotive intercourse and consider, instead, the whole cycle of pregnancy and birth. How do you tell a car is pregnant, and how does it give birth? Does a slimy little smart car tumble out of the passenger door? Does a shiny new Hot Wheels or Matchbox car shoot out of the exhaust?

If you tend to write a lot of sci-fi or fantasy, as I tend to do, then you need to know that readers are likely going to be asking those very same questions about your cool new race, or your amazing take on alien life.

Now, let's look at the second issue I have with the movie, that of world-building. A lot of effort has gone into designing the word of Radiator Springs especially, and there's no question that it looks very cool. What is very much in question, however, is two things - how did they build it, and how is it functional? With the exception of specialized equipment on tow trucks and fire trucks, they only way these cars can manipulate their environment is with the bending and twisting of their tires (which, it must be noted, involves the impossible warping and twisting their rims as well). Yes, they can squeeze a few large items between pieces of rubber, but where do they get the dexterity to build or operate small electronics like an alarm clock, to install and wire neon lighting, or to carve the elaborate designs found on the canyon walls? You could speculate that they're living in some kind of post-apocalyptic utopia, built by humans who have long since passed, but there's nothing to indicate that. Toy Story gave humans a clearly defined role, and Wall-E clearly dealt with our passing and our legacy, so any oversight here must either be deliberate or a colossal mistake.

Again, when you're creating new worlds and civilizations, the 'how' of their existence is just as important as the 'what' and the 'why'. If your readers cannot fathom how the world continues to operate, you've lost them.

That brings me to my final issue with the movie, and that's plain and simple logic. How is it that Lightning McQueen never tries to make contact with the outside world . . . never once tries to contact his team or his agent to have then come to his rescue? We know he has a radio installed, because we hear it in the opening race. We know phones exist, because we see his agent call him after that race. We even know phones exist in Radiator Springs, because Doc calls the media at the end and tips them off to McQueen's presence in town. Heck, we even know that at least one car passing through town has a GPS installed, so the technology is there. So, if he McQueen was so desperate to get out of town, why didn't he bother to make a simple phone call? The guy might not have headlights, but I'd hope he's brighter than that.

When you're entire plot can be derailed by something as simple as a phone call, readers are going to be merciless in questioning every single plot development you make . . . or don't make.

Yes, I'm being a bit facetious here, in that nobody expects parents to deconstruct a children's movie to that extent, but it does happen - and sooner or later it will happen with your work. It's far better to step back now and look at your work with that critical eye, or to have a friend/colleague/editor you trust do it for you, than to publish and give the public a chance to tear down what you've so carefully built. We sometimes get lost in how awesome our ideas are, but the novelty factor will only get you so far if you can't back it up with a solid background and logic.

4 comments:

  1. Bob, that was great! Really makes one think when putting together a speculative fiction world.
    Rather not think about little Matchbox cars shooting out though...

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  2. Ha, that was brilliant. The bit about the phone call makes me want to look out for plot holes.

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  3. That's great. And, it's true in any form of storytelling that we need to believe in the characters, understand the setting, and believe the plot. Flaws like the ones you describe pull us out of the story - a MAJOR mistake.
    Maybe with cars and reproduction, they have a whole different way of doing things. Perhaps it is a co-mingling of many parts. Have you ever seen a junk yard? They must be reproducing out there!
    Great post!
    And, thanks for stopping by Play off the Page

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  4. With my son it was the Lion King. When I asked him about it years later he told me he loved the music. Now he's a music fiend. My point is you may be suffering for nothing. :-)

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

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