Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Score 1 for the quiet stories

Over the years, one of the comments I often get about my work is that it is quiet. It is an interesting label to ponder, particularly because we live in such a "loud" culture. It seems to me, we are surrounded by loud. Tv's are loud, traffic is loud, advertising is loud- there are very few moments in the day when we sit calmly and do something quietly, reflectively, thoughtfully. What more perfect for quiet reflection than reading a book? Of course I love adventures and thrilling plot lines as much as the next reader. But I am drawn to making books that satisfy another need, books that offer depth read after read, that let you breathe page to page.

It is a challenge for sure, some (not all) publishers feel that if a book isen't "loud" enough to scream its way off a book shelf then it won't sell. With that in mind, I get particularly excited with art with a "quiet" aesthetic is commercially successful.

Okay, so its not quite a book I'm thinking of, but it relates to storytelling so I'm including it on this blog anyways! This weekend I saw 'Little Miss Sunshine,' and it made me really happy. If you had to describe the plot in a short sentence, you could say it is about a family on a road trip to a beauty pageant (don't worry- I won't ruin it for you if you haven't seen it). In a world of movies (and books) about wizards and ghosts and kids being shrunk down to ant size, it is just really refreshing to see a story with very little plot at all that is just as funny and witty and entertaining. The story is essentially an exploration of the characters and their relationships with eachother, its revealing and touching and I felt really captured the essence of being a kid in a complicated family.

Now this is not a kid's movie per say, there is a lot of swearing and pretty inappropriate kid subject matter. But my point I guess is that I just find it really inspiring when directors and writers find a creative way to say a lot with a little, to get a big point across without over the top plot wrangling. Like any good book, the audience is allowed to be an active participant in the unveiling of the story, that feels like it tells itself.



alvinaling said...
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Libby Koponen said...

Bravo, Anna! Well said! And worth saying: I haven't seen LMS, but I agree with every point you've made and think a lot of readers do, too.

(And for those who don't know Anna's work, it is worth reading and REreading. ESTELLE AND LUCY, for example, is the kind of book you both read and look at over and over and over, and see or think about something new each time. Yes, it's about small events: but isn't most life composed of these? The point of art -- or one point of it - I have always thought, anyway-- is that it chooses and arranges these small things and reveals their meaning -- or rather, shows us something universal, makes them interesting enough for us to find meaning in them. This is what the writers I admire do, anyway! There are those who don't like Jane Austen and Beatrix Potter. They might dismiss those two ladies as quiet, too.

Anna is of their tribe!

Many adults with whom I've discussed children's books have commented on how "contrived" and "sensational" so many of them are. Of course not all loud books are contrived, and some adventure stories are well-written -- but many books that are driven by plot rather than character fall into the look-out-the-elephants-are-stampeding! category.

I also think that adults and children have very different ideas about what's "exciting." Some adults use the word "quiet" for Blow Out the Moon"quiet"; children who write to me use words like "exciting" and "adventures."

Libby Koponen said...

(explaining the reference)
One of the writers of the Nancy Drew series (and several other series, too!) said that they always tried to end every chapter with something like:
"Look out, the elephants are stampeding!"

alvinaling said...

I think most publishers have to balance their list out, and it's tougher to break into the market with a quiet book unless a big name is attached.

Some of my favorite movies/books are quiet--like BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET. Basically they were movies that followed two people around the city having regular conversation.

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is definitely on my list of movies to see!

Agyw said...

I'll be looking for it, Anna, thanks for the encourage! I loved Local Hero (Bill Forsyth) and though it's quirky and funny (the kind of humor I found myself giggling at days later) and even magical, it's quiet as well. If you haven't seen it, you might want to give it a go.

Lisa Yee said...

Oh! I loved LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. Saw it two times, so far.

Lisa Yee