Writing a Writerly Post, Vol 1

They didn’t know they were a cliché, clearly.

There’s a theory going around that all Disney movies have one thing in common in their storytelling – dead/missing parents. Look at the ones that stand out in your mind, the classics: Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty…at least Sleeping Beauty’s parents died because she was asleep for so long, but it is still important. Look at current Disney blockbusters: Frozen’s Elsa and Anna lost their parents at sea and Brave’s Merida almost lost her mother to…being a bear. I remember when some friends and I sat down to finally watch Frozen, my friend Brian said that he already knew the plot: Introduce hero/heroine as a normal so-and-so, kill off parents, so-and-so becomes super somehow and saves the day. How mad was I when it turned out that he was right?!

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Disney movie. And that’s why I started thinking about the post for today – I’ve seen a lot of them! But what really set me off on this tangent was a post on a writers group on Facebook that talked about the “overused trope in fantasy writing” of the hero/protagonist losing their parents, and how that spurs them on to greatness.

Well, of course it does! Revenge is a mighty motivator, as is just wanting to honor the memory of a parent or make that parent proud, even if it is posthumously. In my books, my protagonist is taken from her comfortable life and thrust into the great unknown to avenge the deaths of her parents. Overused cliché? Maybe, but let me tell you why I think it is so well worn (rather than overused): I think that it is a metaphor for life in general. A person can be the most well-rounded, confident, mature individual and live an independent and fantastic life, but as long as that person’s parents are still living, that person is still someone’s child. To see that relationship through to its normal and natural conclusion – with the parents living to an advanced age – provides time for the child to grow into the role that he or she will take on in absence of the parents: the “grown-up,” if you will. To take away the parents before the child has naturally reached that point forces growth and maturity that may not be complete. It is that shock to the system, to the natural order of things, that makes some into heroes and others into villains.

Why wouldn’t we take that and use it in writing? For the unlikely hero in a fantasy novel, what better jumping off point for the rest of the journey? Granted, that point has seen a lot of feet, but I think that what makes the trope well-worn is that every hero has the potential to jump off in a different direction. My protagonist takes up the mantle of revenge as a side arc, really, but it is a sub-plot that informs the rest of her journey. Other writers have protagonists that spend their entire story arc plotting and carrying out revenge for their lost parents. Every protagonist needs a catalyst to set them on their path – I chose the Disney route.

Now, if only I could choose the Disney route to see my books become movies…

Leave a Reply