Should Lyrics Be Universal or Specific?

should lyrics be universal lyrics specific lyricsHave you seen Moana? Several of my family members have, and we ended up discussing a contradiction we encountered with the music – the music is catchy, but the lyrics aren’t or aren’t as catchy as the music. Mostly because they’re so specific to the story. But is that really a problem? When should lyrics be universal or specific?

The Pros & Cons of Story-specific Lyrics

Like many of my random, babble-analysis, I’m gonna have to define a few things. Not because you don’t know what they are but because my definition might be different and cause mad confusion. Or because I’m anal retentive. Take your pick.

Specific Lyrics v. Universal Lyrics

When I talk about specific lyrics versus universal lyrics, I’m talking about how well the song stands up taken outside the story. For example, many of Stephen Sondheim’s songs can be taken entirely out of context and still be beautiful songs. In fact, many of them are more beautiful separated from the story because the story is rather dark, and without it, the songs have a new, less disturbing meanings.

Here are some lyrics from “Unworthy of Your Love.”

I am nothing.
You are wind and water and sky,
Jodie. Tell me, Jodie, how I
Can earn your love.

The melody is sweetly lyrical. Put the music and lyrics together, and you have a sweet, pretty love song. You hear it and know that Charles and Jodie are singing about their unrequited love for each other. Bittersweet but beautiful.

That is, until you realize that it’s about two people who tried to assassinate different presidents singing their separate loves to Jodie Foster and Charles Manson (It’s from Assassins.). Not so sweet and pretty in that context, is it?

In that song, the only two words that are specific to its context and story are “Jodie” and “Charlie.” The rest are metaphorical, figurative expressions of love and feelings of unworthiness, which is what makes the song work outside of that context.

On the other hand, Sondheim’s “The Worst Pies in London” can’t really be taken out of context. It tells that it’s about a pie maker in London who makes awful pies because of a meat shortage. That’s what I mean by story-specific lyrics.

Think of it as explicit versus implicit. Story-specific lyrics are explicit: the story is stated clearly in the song. Universal lyrics are implicit: the story is implied in the song through more big-idea words and imagery.

Why Pick Universal over Specific Lyrics?

Because you can sell it to more people. There. I said it.

Ok, ok. Greedy capitalism aside, universal lyrics do have the potential to appeal to more people simply because they make sense out of context with the story. If you’re trying to spread a message or simply share your art with as many people as possible, universal lyrics might be more your cup of tea.

Why Pick Specific over Universal Lyrics?

If your main goal is advancing the story, vague details may not cut it. Especially if the character is having a major epiphany or making an important decision in the song. You can try to portray that through universal lyrics, but if you can’t, are you going to sacrifice the strength of the story for a single song? I’m guessing not. (I hope not.)

Which Lyric Style Is Best?

Assuming that you’re using the song in a story, the best option (IMHO) is to do a nice mix. If you can make it a little stronger on the universal side without sacrificing any plot strength, then, that’s great.

Compare Moana‘s “How Far I’ll Go” to Frozen‘s “Let It Go.” “How Far I’ll Go” weaves from specific to universal and back again. Sections of it are very compelling and can be taken outside the story. Other sections don’t make a lot of sense outside of the story. And the universal ones tend to be catchier (so meter and rhyme might be involved, too).

“Let It Go,” on the other hand, uses lyrics that support the story but can also stand on their own out of context. To me, that makes its lyrics more impressive. Don’t get me wrong – “How Far I’ll Go” is a catchy song, but the island-specific imagery and language aren’t as catchy as the melody. At least, that’s the best reasoning I can think of.

What do you think? Am I totally off-base? Should lyrics be universal? Or should they be specific? Does it matter at all?

People Don’t Listen: 7 Dialogue Tropes to Give Them Away

people don't listen dialogue tropes ear plugs

“la la la la I’m not listening!”

People don’t listen. You know it. I know it. We’ve probably even heard it but didn’t realize because we weren’t listening. And since we’re so familiar with people who don’t listen, using that idea in our stories adds a lot of realism. That makes these 7 dialogue tropes really handy for giving them away. So handy, in fact, that I’m sure you’ll recognize them from books, movies, etc.

7 Signs for When People Don’t Listen

These signs or tropes are really reflections of why the people aren’t listening. It’s a sign of their motivation and relationship with the person who’s talking. And how much they care about the subject. Ergo, which one you use is all about characterization, setting, and plot.*

 1. The Clueless Question

A.K.A. “Sorry. What?” Best said with that vague, re-focusing air.

Stereotypical of husbands tuning out their wives, this technique is used when the person in question was unaware that someone was talking to them because they’re

  1. in a crowd when the question could’ve been directed to someone else,
  2. focused on something really intently (to the exclusion of other sounds and their surroundings), or
  3. really tired (it’s easy to tune out when you’re exhausted).

Granted, wives do the same thing. Husbands and teenagers just have a worse rap.

2. The Circular Credit

Used in every comedy ever, this trope occurs when a duo is plotting, especially if a dominant character has already been established. The situation goes something like this –

Strong Character: What should we do? Hmmm… What about – no.
Weak Character: We could always try Plan A.
Strong Character: No, that would never work. … I know! We’ll try Plan A! Genius!
Weak Character: [mutters] I’m so glad you thought of it.

Examples include everything from Once Upon a Mattress to Inside Out, etc.

3. The Talk-over Takeover

This one comes up when a person isn’t listening because he or she won’t stop talking. It could be from arrogance, nerves, or a garrulous nature.

Here are some situations where this might be familiar:

  • The talkative, nosy type who can’t resist “fixing” someone and telling someone what to do or what he/she is going to do to help that person (you know – those favors you don’t want?). Aaand doesn’t stop talking long enough for that person to really object. In fact, it’s the type who interrupts any objection and assumes what the poor “helped” soul was going to say…
  • The arrogant, narcissistic type who interrupts because whatever you’re saying can’t possibly be as important as what he/she is saying, so stop wasting time blathering and let him/her talk. (Grrr.)
  • The nervous date or job interview who talks so much that everyone else eventually gives up on getting a word in.
  • The focused person so intent on telling a story or talking about a favorite topic that he/she doesn’t realize the surrounding conversation has moved on (and left him/her behind – still talking).

So… great for annoying, enraging, or funny characters!

4. The Deceptive Dismissal

Here’s where a show of politeness mixes with a lack of caring. People do this all the time when they want to appear that they care about what the person is saying but actually don’t. It’s a two-step process:

  1. Start with a sympathetic phrase. A.K.A. a platitude: “I know what you mean.” “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” “How awful.” All said with a kind of tsk or a sigh.
  2. Segue into what you want to talk about. Generally, it’s something about you (“You” meaning whoever’s doing it. I know that you would never do such a thing.).
  3. Pretend that what you’re talking about is related to what the other person says. People who do this might even believe it’s related – after all, they weren’t listening!

Don’t have characters you want the reader to like do this unless there’s some excuse. Like being distracted by something really important. And they’d better apologize when called out on it.

5. The Fuzzy Faker

This person actually does care about what the other person thinks. Maybe, not enough to actually pay attention (for this moment) but enough to try to hide that he/she wasn’t paying attention. Inevitably, however, vital details get crossed or overlooked and out the person’s lack of listening skills.

This dialogue trope is useful for

  • employees trying to impress/pacify a boss who’s especially boring and tends to monologue
  • spouses who want to avoid getting in trouble for not listening
  • students caught not paying attention in class

Sounds familiar, right?

6. The Redundant Reveal

To me, this one is an everyday kind of accidental slip that busy people make. You’re doing something, you’re moving fast, and you end up saying something before your brain catches up with what you heard. You know, when the brain assumes someone is going to say one thing and responds before you realize, nope, that’s not it (like a variation of the talk-over takeover but on a smaller scale).

Here’s an example from one of my favorite websites, Not Always Right.

(My mom is offering my little brother a snack, but she’s in the other room and he doesn’t quite hear her.)

Mom: Do you want any popcorn?
Brother: No, just popcorn.

How many times have you said, “You’re welcome,” when the other person said, “Have a nice day.” It’s that kind of brain glitch. Also known as autopilot.

7. The Taciturn Tune-out

So… back to conceit (Conceit and not listening go well together, yeah?).

In this situation, one person is giving instructions, and the other person is ignoring every word. Usually, it’s a case of arrogantly assuming that he/she knows better and doesn’t need to listen. This person may not even bother to respond or says, “Yes,” “right,” and “uh-huh,” at appropriate intervals.

Unfortunately, this is extremely common with customers and business. Businesses will pay lots of money for consultants, It departments, trainers, etc. And do people listen? Sometimes. Sometimes, they just do their own thing, break stuff, and then blame someone else. (Read not always right if you don’t believe me.)

Even thinking about it is frustrating.

Of course, that’s the point. Frustrating, funny, enraging – when people don’t listen, it causes an emotional response. I’m sure you have stories you could share for all of these dialogue tropes.

So why don’t you? Change the characters and put them in your stories. Believe me, your readers will empathize.

*Something about the word, “ergo,” feels pretentious. But it fit the sentence. I’m so conflicted…

A Comedy of Thoughts (AKA In Lieu of an Article)

What is a comedy of thoughts? I don’t know. As far as I know, I just made it up. In this case, it’s like a comedy of manners but in your head. Sounds awful, right?

Responsibility: Weren’t we supposed to do a post today?

Panic: You mean, we didn’t do it? We-

Memory: Relax. We did one.

Responsibility: We did? I don’t see it?

Memory: We scheduled it.

Responsibility: Are you sure? When did we do it?

Memory: Last weekend, we did both posts – you remember.

Wit: No. You remember.

Memory: Right.

Responsibility: And you’re sure we did this week’s? Because I don’t see any listed.

Logic: If they’re not in the list of posts, we didn’t schedule them.

Memory: Doesn’t matter. We did them.

Logic: Then, they should be in the drafts.

Memory: This is a private conversation.

Responsibility: They’re not in drafts.

Logic: He must be remembering last week.

Memory: I am not!

Responsibility: We still have to do today’s post then.

Panic: But it’s already today! It’s afternoon! We can’t-

Creativity: -Oooh! More to write? Can we do something crazy? Something out there! Or, I know, we could draw a picture – or paint one! Painting’s even-

Panic: -We don’t have time to paint! We don’t have time to do anything!

Logic: We could do it on our lunch break.

Wit: Could we? Are you sure?

Responsibility: Yes. That’s fine. We’ll do it on our lunch break.

Memory: We already did it.

Panic: But what will we write about? How can we even think of an idea that fast?

Creativity: Are you kidding? We have lists of ideas! Have you been-

Memory: We already did it!

Creativity: -listening?

Logic: If you two keep arguing, we will run out of time.

Panic: See? I told you we didn’t have enough time!

Wit: That helped.

Panic: We’ll never get it done!

Memory: We. Already. Did. It.

Responsibility: Guys, put it aside. We need to work on other things. Today’s article can wait until-

Memory: WE ALREADY DID IT!!! [Storms off.]

Logic: …he’s going to spend the whole afternoon nagging us that we already did it, isn’t he?

Wit: Nope. Absolutely not.

John Steinbeck Quote: Ideas Are Like Rabbits

john steinbeck quote ideas are like rabbits

Well, not the chocolate ideas. They have the opposite problem…

You know, this John Steinbeck quote is beautifully simple, straightforward, and true: “Ideas are like rabbits.” Even the imagery and simile of the beginning by itself imply the meaning since rabbits’ reproductive speed is a well-known cultural joke. When it’s expanded into an analogy, it’s patently clear:

It’s easy to be overrun by ideas.

Simple, right? In fact, I think I already touched on that when I talked about making sure you have some way of recording ideas for later use. I even posted a similar quote of my own about ideas last Easter.

So why post this John Steinbeck quote?

Well, since you asked (*cough*), there are a couple of reasons.

  1. I like it. (And it’s my blog, so I’ll post what I want. Thbbbt!)
  2. I wanted to make a creepy bunny image for it. (I ain’t right…)
  3. I’m moderately disturbed by it when considering some of Steinbeck’s books – 1 in particular.

Have you ever read Of Mice and Men? Doesn’t this John Steinbeck quote have weird overtones when considered in context with that book?

“Ideas are like rabbits…”

So we want to pet them and then accidentally kill them? They’re a pipe dream that will never be realized because we’re not capable of it?

I know, I know. I’m being too literal, and I’m overthinking it.

But, if you do really think about it, don’t those two questions add another aspect to the quote that are also true? I don’t know about you, but I’ve killed a few ideas in my time. I wasn’t trying to hurt them… That didn’t change the end result. And as much as we like to think that we can always try an idea again, in my experience, there are limits to that.

Like burnout, not having the right skill set, not being able to let go of ideas within it, etc.

Then, there’s the second question. Are these ideas just pipe dreams that we’ll never be able to realize? Again, I have to say, “Yes.” At least some of them.

Think of it this way: I’m still pretty young, so I could (potentially) live another 50+ years. I have new ideas at a rate of about 3 to 30 a day. I realize about 1 a day. Maybe. Or less. Some days, I might be able to use more if they can be merged together into something. Or if I’m somehow amazingly productive.

But that’s roughly 36,500 to 529,250 ideas that I won’t be able to use in my lifetime. I guess I could will them to someone else, but if other writers and artists have this same problem, then all I’m doing is adding to the number of ideas that they won’t be able to use.

And, really, who’s going to use my idea when they could use their own? Maybe, people who aren’t good at coming up with ideas; however, in that case, would I even want them to? Would they be able to explore the idea to its full potential?

So this quote went from a straightforward, kinda funny, and definitely true view about how ideas multiply to a macabre, dark, depressing, and possibly true view of how ideas multiply too much.

This might be one of those ideas I killed…

Anyone else have any thoughts on this? Or are you going to bury this knowledge deep in your psyche as soon as you finish reading so that you don’t have to look at it again?

*Do I have an artsy prejudice against the writing skills of non-idea-generating people? Hmmmm… That’s worrisome.

Save the Words! Make Your Own Idioms!

save the words make your own idioms to fossilize them

I tried to find a Word fossil, but they were too floppy…

Join the latest conservationist movement: Save the Words! It’s too late for the letter Ethel. It doesn’t have to be too late for literally and nauseous. And you can help these poor words with one simple action – and it’s free. All you have to do is make your own idioms!

That and 212 easy payments of $0.99, and you can adopt a word!

Ooops! Sorry – I mixed my emotional appeals. What I meant to say was that, if you make an idiom for a word and help that saying become popularized, then you could be saving a word. Because of you, that word could be safe from the evil evolution of language (*Grammarians everywhere hiss*).

As hard as it is to believe, I’m actually serious. -_-

According to the latest Mental_Floss article that’s floating around Facebook (which I, of course, believe implicitly without doing further research) suggests that at least 10 archaic words were saved using precisely this method: “10 Old Words That Survived by Getting Fossilized in Idioms.”

I know. Now, you’re asking yourself, “Why didn’t I know about this sooner? How do I make idioms that will be popular enough to save important words?” Just remember: we’re here to help. Or, as I like to say, “get 4 succors a day.”

It’ll catch on any minute. Just watch.

As a serious writer, of course, I know nothing about appealing to the common man or pop culture (whichever comes first), so I’ve compiled some resources for you starting with the most obvious and reliable source:

  1. Wikihow: “Make a Meme
  2. Digital Trendes: “How to Make Your Own Meme
  3. Memegenerator

Now, you, too, can write idioms and popularize them with pictures of cats, awkward moments, or historic-looking drawings on colored rectangles. More importantly, you can save the words. The power is yours – don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

Remember: A flipped bird on each hand, is worth some booboos that will hurt.*

*No one said you had to save real words!

For Authors with Books in Kindle and Print: Check out the Storyteller UK Competition

Unfortunately, I’m not ready to take advantage of this opportunity. I am, however, prepared to share it so that you can. You’re welcome.

Sorry. Just kidding – I can’t say that seriously in those circumstances without feeling like the R-rated word for jerk.

Shizzle, Inc is now back to $2.99USD, and it’s the Storyteller UK competition to blame. That, and partly the negative reviews that come from readers grabbing a freebie without even reading the blurb. Oh, and the fact that in June I’m going to pitch it to a dozen publishers and a $2.99 book may look […]

via Storyteller UK competition and why Shizzle, Inc is no longer free — Ana Spoke, author

A Writing Activity for Music and Poetry

This exercise is great for demonstrating how so much of a song’s power and meaning come from how the music and lyrics work together (I may refer to lyrics as poetry and vice versa). Technically, it’s only a writing activity for music and poetry if you do both parts; however, even the first part alone is worth the doing. Both because of how well it demonstrates the point and because the results can be pretty funny.

The Power of Music and Poetry Combined

The Demonstration

Like any class, this starts out with a demonstration. This particular demonstration can then be used to inspire writing. Here’s how it works.

  1. Pick two songs with very different moods. Preferably songs that you know by heart (lyric and melody). They can have similar topics or not.
  2. Sing the first song’s lyrics to the melody of the second song. You don’t have to do the whole song, but try to make it through a verse and/or chorus at least.
  3. Reverse it. Use the first song’s melody with the second song’s lyrics.
  4. Evaluate the result. If you can stop laughing or shuddering with horror (depending).

It’s not easy to do, is it? When you know a song well, you don’t know the lyrics and melody separately – they go together. The way they fit together is what makes it that song.

Changing the melody or lyrics of the songs can change their moods and meanings completely. Even when the words are exactly the same, so much of what influences their meaning changes. Such as

  • Which words are emphasized (by holding them longer, larger intervals, etc.)
  • The emotion behind the words (Or the one implied by the music anyway – look up the lyrics for “You Are My Sunshine” if you want an example of words and music that don’t really match.)
  • Pauses (You would not believe how much the length and placement of pauses influences meaning!)

Those are really important in songs and in poetry.

A Writing Activity

This writing activity is a little like the poetry writing prompt for free verse – it involves writing the same meaning multiple times before arriving at the final wording. You can be writing a poem or song lyrics (honestly, the only real difference is the intent of the writer).

  1. Choose a topic.
  2. Brainstorm the characteristics of that subject that you want to emphasize. In other words, make a list.
  3. Pick a mood to try first.
  4. Write the poem for that mood. Word choice, meter, rhyme, and imagery are some of your best tools for influencing the mood of the poem.
  5. Set that poem aside.
  6. Pick a different mood. The bigger the difference, the better.
  7. Write a new poem for that mood. Use the same topic and characteristics you used for the other poem, but change the word choice, meter, rhyme scheme, etc. to change the mood.
  8. Compare the two.

That’s it. It’s great practice for learning techniques to create different moods with your poetry and especially for making sure that the mood enhances the meaning. For instance, that you didn’t get caught up in a meter that doesn’t fit what you were trying to write (easy to do). Or started rhyming too much or too little. Maybe you need to defy that rhyme or take away alliteration instead of adding it.

It all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

If you don’t feel like you mastered it immediately (who masters anything immediately?), do it again. And again. And again.

How many times will it take? I don’t know – you tell me.

Ending the Either Or Problem with a Third Choice

ending the either or mentality with a third option

Think I’m taking a path? Well, think again.

The either or mentality is a bit like a famous Robert Brown poem – you have two clear options, and you pick one (well-traveled or not). Which means that ending the either or problem with a third choice has a couple inherent problems. Namely, it can be difficult to do while keeping two clearly defined options. After all, if there are 3 options, it’s not really either or, is it?

Building, Then Defying the Either Or Mentality

I talked about how to create an either or mentality a while ago, and one of the rules was that the character can really only see 2 options or all the other options have to be taken away somehow.

So how do you provide a third option if there are only 2? Or if the others are already gone?

Outside Intervention

One of the most common solutions to this situation is outside intervention. A character who has not been with the main character during this dilemma shows up and provides a way out by

  • removing a barrier to one of the previously blocked options
  • bringing a tool, spell, etc. that changes the original evaluation of the situation (like bringing someone a spell component they didn’t have or tossing a jailed warrior his/her weapon)
  • joining forces unexpectedly to turn the tide (yes, I’m being deliberately cliched and vague)

Of course, there are rules for this. At least, there are rules if you don’t want the intervention to be horribly jarring and unbelievable. *cough* deus ex machina *cough*

  1. The intervening character needs to have been introduced already. Either the character needs to have been present in a previous scene or have been talked about. This can be the type of character instead of a specific character (a Jedi, for example). You need to have at least hinted to the reader that this is person or group exists.
  2. The main character cannot know until it happens. Whoever’s perspective the story is told from can’t know ahead of time, or the reader should’ve known ahead of time. See the problem?
  3. If any of the main characters did know, their previous behavior should hint that they knew something they weren’t saying. There also needs to be a strong reason for not saying anything – like having the enemy eavesdrop.
  4. Ideally, the sudden intervention shouldn’t make the situation super easy. Readers like a sense of urgency and effort. If everything goes too easily for the main character suddenly, it feels like a copout even if the outside forced was previously hinted at. (Plot against your characters, not with them!)

This technique can be used in smaller conflicts (not just the climax). In fact, it’s probably better in small conflicts or as a mere fraction of the climax (IMHO) because you want the main character to be at least partially responsible for the climax (isn’t that the point?).

Sudden Epiphany or Reveal

This is another common solution. In essence, the main character suddenly puts together information in a new way to reveal an option that he or she hadn’t considered before. Or forgot or didn’t think of in that context.

The usual causes for this are

  • The uncovered detail: This one centers on a physical aspect of the situation that was overlooked before (seeing a rope tied to a chandelier, noticing that the villain is standing in water, noticing how a switch or lever works, etc.). Usually, someone or something moves, and the main character sees something he or she couldn’t see before.
  • The villain’s monologue: You know what I mean. The villain starts talking about the plan and accidentally reveals something that helps the hero. Or the monologue inspires a stupid henchman (or henchwoman?) to blurt out the one thing the hero wasn’t supposed to know.
  • A stray comment: Somebody who doesn’t have a clue how to fix the situation or doesn’t even know the whole situation says something in passing that inspires the main character to figure out the answer.

If you put your mind to it, you’ll find that it’s really easy to think of examples of this one.

Secret Skills

As a plot twist (and solution to the either-or problem), this works best when the character with the secret skill is a side character – not the perspective the story is told from. If it’s the main character, there had better be a narrator, or it had better be established as an unreliable narrator or liar. Otherwise, you have the same problem as using the first option that way: broken promises.

You see this most in three cases:

  1. When the character is new (you don’t know much about his or her abilities yet)
  2. When you have a spy character who was working for the other side but decides to rescue the heroes (often for reasons of his or her own)
  3. When someone is hiding a skill for some other reason (avoiding racial prejudice, wanting to be left alone in retirement, a scarring experience, etc.)
The Art of the Unexpected

Other methods rely on the character’s ability to think outside the box. If that isn’t already part of the characterization as being a character trait or something that the character is trying to learn, this tactic will totally break whatever characterization you’ve built for him/her (so don’t use it under those circumstance, right?).

The great thing about this method is that it often surprises the readers, as well – without breaking promises because they expect that character to surprise them. The downside is that writing a character who constantly thinks outside of the box can be a wee bit challenging (to say the least).

So it’s still following the rules for the first option. Actually, all of these options should more-or-less follow those rules (always follow the heart of those rules). So I probably should’ve put them somewhere else. Oh, well. Too late now. *cough*

I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve rambled on about this long enough. Anything you’d like to add?

A Great Tone Example That’s Funny, Too

great tone example what is tone

Those thousands of shades of green? That’s like all the different tones you could write the same story in.

From middle schoolers to adults, people have trouble with tone. Especially telling tone from mood. Well, here is a great tone example that’ll not only help you better understand tone but also make you laugh (what a deal!).

But, first off, a bit about tone.

What Is Tone?

Tone – the attitude of a piece (usually the author or narrator’s attitude towards what is happening)

Ever get in trouble for your tone as a kid? (Or as an adult?) You know, when it wasn’t what you said but how you said it? (tone of voice and body language?) Tone is like that, but since writing isn’t spoken and doesn’t have nonverbals, that attitude is taken from the word choice instead. How  you word something dictates the tone.

It’s like paraphrasing using close synonyms: the denotation shouldn’t change, but the connotation might.

You look really thin!
You look awfully skinny!

They’re the same thing but not. The switched words are close synonyms (same detonation), but the connotation is definitely different. People who want to appear polite but insult someone at the same time are really good at distinctions like this. And so are satire writers. *cough* I mean hospital workers.

A Great Tone Example

This is an article from a medical satire blog called Gomer Blog. IMHO, one of the keys to successful satire is a believably sincere tone. In this case, they took it a step further with an overly sincere, understanding, and even sympathetic tone. The article is called “Hospital Publishes 6 Patient Guidelines: ‘Please Try Not to Confuse Us with a Hotel.”

Here’s a sample:

Here at Outside Hospital (OSH), we are 100% committed to your satisfaction as a patient.  To this end, we have created this pamphlet, which contains some tips and advice to guide you in your hospital stay, and we will be providing this to each and every patient immediately upon your arrival to the hospital.  Even if you have slurred speech secondary to a stroke, been shot multiple times, or don’t even know your own name, don’t worry, we won’t bother you with pesky ECGs or mental status exams until we have gone over this information, in detail.

  1. Please try not to confuse us with a hotel.

I know, I know, the free cable, hot breakfasts, and lumpy mattresses all create an atmosphere that is incredibly confusing since it resembles your favorite Holiday Inn.  However, we actually are a hospital, not just a bunch of beds filled with some sick people.  So, that means that your breakfast may not be the equivalent to IHOP’s, we might not have Comedy Central as a choice of channels and sometimes, when your doctors come into your room, they might have to turn off the television so they can discuss your health.  Although I know these lack of conveniences might lead you to believe that you are in a third-world country, they probably don’t deserve a one-page written complaint…

Hooked? Read the rest of “Hospital Publishes 6 Patient Guidelines: ‘Please Try Not to Confuse Us with a Hotel” now. I’ll wait.

Isn’t it great? Especially if you’ve ever stayed or worked in a hospital. Or know anyone who does. When you hear the stories about the ridiculous complaints people get (or overheard those people in the waiting room, etc.), then it’s even funnier (Or more painful. Whatever).

If you haven’t heard any of those stories, read some of the customer is not always right. You’ll lose faith in humanity, but you’ll develop new empathy for people in customer service – and not only in hospitals (and you can get some of that faith back by reading the not always hopeless tab at the end).

But back to tone.

Do you see how the tone makes the humor work? It’s that overly-solicitous attitude. Like a parent saying, “Oh, I can’t believe they assigned you twenty problems of math! How can they expect you to do that when your thumbs are completely paralyzed from texting your friends?” Heh. Lol. So, yeah, it’s like sarcasm. Sometimes, the best way to make fun of something is to act like you seriously agree with it.

Sure, that’s not the only tone you could write. Any kind of emotion or attitude can be a tone – snippy, humorous, condescending, confused, etc. Any emotion you can put into your voice, you can put into your words.

Any questions?

Why Do I Like the Trolls Movie? [Warning: Spoilers]

why do i like the trolls movie

This one. The one modeled after the creepy children’s toy and featuring famous singers.

This is a serious question. I saw the Trolls movie a week or two ago, and I keep getting the urge to watch it again – one problem: I have no idea why! I’ve been asking myself all week, “Why do I like the Trolls movie?” And I don’t know the answer. I DON’T KNOW. (It’s sooo weird.)

If you’re new to this blog, you’re probably wondering why I’m freaking out about this. Well, the truth is that I’m a super-analytical dork, especially with writing-related stuff. So if I like something, I usually know why. In fact, I can generally break down why into a detailed article (and sometimes do). In this case, I find myself enjoying the movie, multiple times, without knowing why.

So What’s So Great About the Trolls Movie?

That’s the thing – it isn’t a great movie. No, I’m sorry, but it’s not. It has plot flaws. It has flat characters. It has odd/even creepy hidden messages (casually setting someone on fire, anyone?).

Honestly, it’s easier to think of reasons why I shouldn’t like it.

Why I Shouldn’t Like the Trolls Movie

At first glance, there is a lot of 2-dimensionality going on with this story. 2D characters (say, everybody except the main 4 characters…who only start to flesh out halfway through the film). Holes in the plot, unanswered questions, and logical fallacies (see bel0w).

There are also some seriously creepy and/or disturbing underlying messages being sent. The characters accept them, so we focus on the storyline and don’t really dig deeper. Once you start digging deeper, however, oh my.

Here are some specifics (if you don’t want spoilers, skip ALL the bullet points in the article, k?). These are in no particular order.

  • Stereotypical Colors: Poppy is pink, and Branch is blue. Seriously? Did you have to go with such stereotypical boy-girl colors?
  • Cheap Jokes: The butt pun, glitter farts, and every one-liner by a background character (usually Cooper) that shows zero understanding of the situation: that’s what we call cheap shots, folks.
  • Genocide/Cannibalism: The primary concept of the story is that the Bergens trapped an entire race of PEOPLE and ate them once a year. We’re talking slow genocide here. Or treating a race of people like cattle – pretty disturbing, yeah?
  • Sociopathic Actions: Cooper casually sets Chef on fire, doesn’t even look at what he’s done, and then smiles into the camera. WTH? That’s seriously disturbing right there. And I did not need visions of sociopathic trolls to help me not sleep.
  • Voice Acting Ethnicities: Speaking of Cooper, did anyone pay attention to the distribution of ethnicities in the voice acting? Anyone else feel slightly uncomfortable with that? (Or worse?) Or am I being oversensitive?
  • Breaking the 4th Wall Badly: Remember those cheap shots? Those one-liners where Cooper grins into the camera? That’s breaking the 4th wall, but the story isn’t getting anything out of it. Except a cheap joke.
  • Dark & Disturbing: Children trolls playing by jumping in and out of steel traps. Oh, and what about the Bergen who is committing suicide by burying himself alive? That’s pretty dark and disturbing. “Here lies me.”
    • Creepiness: Some of the hugging gets creepy. Like the horde advancing on Branch as he screams. What the other people say as they hug him, the glitter guy hugging himself, the creepy cloud joining a hug without being invited, etc. Hugs are great – unless they’re from someone you don’t want a hug from. Then, they’re creepy or frightening (or a type of assault… just sayin’).

So I could stop there and still have plenty of reasons to not like the movie, right? OR… I could go on and list every uncomfortable or less-than-amazingly written moment. And that’s not even including the broken promises.

There are lot of broken promises. Since this blog is about writing, I guess I should talk about some of those.

Broken Promises

They set up rules for the world, but then they break them. Or kind of break them (actions that don’t entirely make sense with those rules).

Now, I know that suspension of disbelief is needed for movies, especially animated movies. I don’t have a problem with that. I’m pretty good about suspending my disbelief. Usually. Unless I’m slapped in the face by contradictions or questions. In this movie, I felt slapped in the face by them sometimes. Other times, they were like being poked in the shoulder (less distracting but still).

  • The Chef reveals her plan to take over the kingdom, and then those plans are basically ignored. We get a little dramatic irony from time to time, but the captured trolls who heard it never even reveal it, let alone do anything about it. (Plus, if she’s going to feed the others all of the trolls that Trollstice, how does she plan to continue feeding them trolls?)
  • Why did the Bergens only eat trolls once a year? They don’t seem that bright or good at self-control. It really doesn’t fit with the rest of their established background or character. And who would willingly be happy only once a year?
  • The Bergens firmly believe they can’t be happy without eating a troll. Even after a troll talks to them and raises a little doubt in that theory, I don’t see them ignoring dozens of tasty snacks of happiness falling down around them. Does that seem believable to you? I mean, even if they think they might be able to be happy without eating trolls, they know that eating trolls makes them happy. And they’ve missed eating them for a long time. That’s like a dieting person watching their favorite dessert dance around in front of them in scores and having no urge to eat it (not gonna happen).
  • Why do the Bergens have a roller rink or pizza if they don’t have fun? That totally confuses me and breaks from the groundwork and characterization.
  • Think about all the dangers Poppy faces is less than a day. Can you see her father getting the entire race of trolls through those safely? There’s no way. Most of them would’ve been eaten before they ever found their new home.
  • If trolls are so nice and loving, how come nobody took care of Branch or comforted him after his grandmother’s death? How come nobody knew? And why didn’t any of the other trolls whose relatives got eaten react similarly? Didn’t they care?
  • If Bergens don’t know how to sing, then how did Bridgette learn? She knew how to sing before even meeting trolls. I’m cool with the idea that she’s an anomaly, but if the main idea behind the climax is that any of the Bergens can be happy, wouldn’t there be a subgroup that found it on their own? Like an underground society of secretly happy Bergen?

There are plenty more, but that’s more than enough for our purposes. And more than enough to turn someone off the move. Yet I keep wanting to watch it. It’s baffling.

Why I Should Like the Trolls Movie

There are some obvious answers:

  • The music: it’s upbeat and fun (mostly), and it’s integrated very well with the story.
  • The main characters: Poppy, Branch, Bridgette, and Gristle are fun, likable characters. They have depth (eventually), and they aren’t obvious for the most part (or at least, not as obvious as the other characters).
  • The plot: It’s not entirely unpredictable, but it doesn’t go where you’d immediately expect it to go. There are some nice twists and turns.
  • The foreshadowing and irony: “Someday, when the Bergens find us, and the survival of every troll is in your hands, I sure hope the answer is singing, dancing, and hugging ’cause that’s all you know how to do!” Foreshadowing and dramatic irony in one. Nice.
  • Some dialogue: There is a witty, sarcastic trend to some of the dialogue that is fun. I say “some” because it’s mostly the dialogue of the main characters and not the background trolls: “A man’s bib.”
  • My dark, twisted sense of humor: So a lot of that dark, twisted stuff that makes the movie creepy if you think about it also makes the movie funny if you don’t think about it (assuming you’re a bit wrong already).
  • The fuzziness: Ok, no, I don’t have a thing for fuzz. But textures have long been one of the biggest challenges of animation. To do an entire movie that’s mostly the texture of felt? With all that hair? Not the easiest thing in the world. So that’s impressive.
  • The frog rooster: What? It’s funny!
  • The main message: Happiness is inside all of us, and sometimes, we need help finding it. I think that’s a good message (a bit more useful than “love conquers all” and less irritating than “Happiness is a choice.”).

Then, there are the not-so-obvious answers. The ones I had to think about.

  • Characters like Smidge who break some stereotypes for gender colors, styles, and sounds.
  • The fact that the prologue/history is actually told from Poppy’s perspective (and scrapbook). I didn’t really think about it at first, but having it told from her point of view instead of a narrator’s makes all the difference in the world. If Poppy’s telling it, it can be prejudiced or flawed. So some of those broken promises can be resolved by the fact that the story as Poppy knows it being incomplete or slanted.
  • The way the flatness of the characters acts as a strange kind of characterization (Fiyero might call it “deeply shallow.”). Having few or no thoughts beyond singing/dancing/hugging/fun is established as a troll trait. So by being oblivious to a lot of what’s going on, the trolls are actually following the established characterization. The only problem with this is the fact that Poppy and Branch are pretty smart – when they choose to think. Maybe, it’s like Legally Blonde and doing what’s expected (I haven’t quite resolved this thought…).
  • The group’s mockery of Branch, King Peppy’s command to flee, and Creek’s betrayal. The fact that the trolls can be flawed and selfish makes them more human and interesting despite their otherwise shallow mentality.

I think it’s these contradictions that’s giving me trouble analyzing my response – the very flatness of the characters is their rounding (if that makes sense to anyone), the lines are alternately witty or almost annoyingly oblivious, and the humor is spot on or disturbingly creepy.

What can I say? It’s a movie of contrasts. And I’m listening to it in the background as I write.