Posted by Michelle Butler Sep 27 2010, 2:05 am in inspiration, Michelle Butler, Michelle Mondays, motivation, Writing
Saturday was the first Washington Romance Writer (WRW) meeting for the 2010-2011 season. My local RWA chapter takes July and August off, so it has been a few months since we’ve all met to learn more about the writing life and socialize. I love these September meetings. I miss my “tribe” over the summer, even though I was fortunate enough to go to RWA national this year, and I love seeing the new faces that always attend the first meeting of WRW’s year. There was a good crowd as the program was very strong with literary agent Nephele Tempest of the Knight Agency presenting 3 different workshops on the agent search, writing a synopsis and how technology has changed the writer’s job. Equally important for me was that I gained so much from the conversations I had with my fellow writers throughout Saturday during lunch, dinner and a post-dinner tea. Yes, I made a very full day out of it.
During the post-dinner tea, fellow WRW member Marjanna shared a recent exercise she did in Barbara Samuel’s voice class. Barbara asks her students to make a list of their ten favorite movies of all time and then explore what that list tells them about their voice especially in terms of the story elements that speak to you. Or, at least that was what I got out of the exercise.
I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical at first. I’m much more into books than I am movies or scripted television shows. There have been years when I have seen more plays than I have seen movies. I wasn’t sure if I could even come up with a top ten list and wondered what it could possibly say about my writing. But, I reminded myself that I had gained a lot from one of the other writing exercises that had first struck me as pretty worthless. It’s that whole plot/plan your story through collaging. Another WRW member Beth Holcombe had taught that workshop at a monthly meeting, and it gave me insight, or at least reminded me, of what often intrigues me in stories and in history.
I was not the only skeptical one at the table, but I suggested that we do this exercise together. Let’s all make a list of our top ten favorite movies, share them, and see what we could draw from them. I approached my list by asking myself what movies had I seen more than twice. I thought it would be more meaningful to make a list of my top ten favorite books as I had learned a lot from a piece I had written about why I loved Mary Balogh’s books, but I needed to play well in the sandbox so to speak. I may have cheated a little in that 5 of my movies were based on novels, 4 of which I had read before seeing the movie, and two of those novel adaptations were miniseries. But, I came up with a list. My favorite, ten movies were, in no particular order:
- Princess Bride
- Star Wars
- Pride & Prejudice (3 of the many versions)
- It’s not your fault movie – aka Good Will Hunting
- Anne of Green Gables
- It Happened One Night
- Harry Potter (I didn’t force myself to choose one)
- Gosford Park
- How Green Was My Valley or That Christmas Movie with James Stewart – aka It’s a Wonderful Life
The first thing that struck me in this list was how character driven the stories were, and each had a lot of character growth. I consider myself a plotter and really want there to be some kind of plot to the stories I read, but none of these movies are just plot driven. There’s a strong emphasis on English and “girl” stories – neither of which was a surprise to me. Other elements that we found in this list were community, the difference one person can make, coming of age and rooting for the underdog. Many of these stories showed the main character grow, blossom, reach her potential or heal. There is a sense of justice, love wins the day, overcoming hardships or opposites coming together in many of them. One friend was very struck by the fact that all of these movies had at least one main character who was seen as nothing by the world or by herself, but through the course of the story, the character realized his or her own specialness, and the world recognized that specialness. Another friend said it was the identity to essence journey that Michael Hague talks about.
I have to admit that I was surprised by how much I got out of this exercise and am glad I took the time to do it. I think my friends that night also learned something about their voice that night. Do you see any common elements in this list of movies that we missed? Does it make you think of your 10 favorite movies and what they can tell you about your voice? I encourage all of you to do this exercise in the comments, and we can offer suggestions on what can be gleaned from each other’s lists.