A Rose (or a Jack) by Any Other Name . . .

What makes a story great?  What makes a movie, or a novel, unforgettable?  Nonstop action?  A fantastic and imaginative plot?  A surprise, twist ending?  Romance?  Incredible special effects, or descriptions of those effects, if in book form?  Certainly these elements can lend themselves to a great story.  And–especially for a short story or a short television episode–sometimes a clever plot or a shock ending is enough.  A short work such as “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson, for example, is memorable in large part because of its theme, its plot, and its impact as a story that tackles the issue of blind adherence to tradition, to doing things just because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

But for a novel, an ongoing television series, or a movie–the one thing that is essential is character.  Without at least one highly developed character we can learn to love (or hate), any long story will fall a little flat.  It can still be entertaining, fun, a wonderful adventure.  But it won’t resonate the same way a story with effective characters will.  All the great films and novels have characters who reach us, touch us, and leave a lasting impression.

James Cameron understood this when he created Titanic.  Love it or hate it, Titanic was the highest grossing film of all-time before Avatar broke the record.  It won 11 Academy Awards.  Why?  What made it such a hit with audiences around the world?

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Certainly the subject matter was a winner.  Who isn’t fascinated and moved by the tragedy of the Titanic?  The real-life tale seems almost too contrived to be true.  “The unsinkable” ship sinking on its maiden voyage?  In a purely fictional context, audiences might not buy such a far-fetched idea.  But the Titanic has mesmerized people for a hundred years.  How did it happen?  What went wrong?  Why did the captain not change course when he knew there were icebergs in the great ship’s path?  The questions abound, and historians have puzzled over them and tried to solve them for decades.

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There have been many movies made on the RMS Titanic over the years.  With material like this, you can’t go wrong.  Right?  Not really.  While some of the films did fairly well–particularly the 1958 British adaptation, A Night to Remember (generally regarded by historians as the most accurate portrayal of the real-life disaster to date), based on the book of the same name by Walter Lord–none of them were major hits.   And some were forgettable from the moment they hit the screen.

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So–what was missing?  Cameron decided, correctly as it turned out–character.  A film like A Night to Remember was gripping, accurate, well acted.  But it didn’t give the audience any individual passenger they could truly get to know and care about.  The star of the movie, in effect, was the ship itself.  Cameron turned that around and created fictional characters to go along with the real-life personalities who were also on his ship.

He centers the movie around Rose and Jack, two fictional characters whose love story and torrid romance take center stage.

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Cameron realized that, as remarkable and captivating as the real story of the RMS Titanic is–a landmark film needs to bring things down to the level of an individual, or two individuals, who viewers can relate to, care about, root for, and invest in.  If we can see the grand disaster of the Titanic through these characters’ eyes, we can be transported more effectively onto the ship ourselves.  We can experience more profoundly what the passengers felt, their panic, their desperation, their all-too-frequent futile attempts to cling to life.  We can be, in essence, a virtual passenger in our own right.  By focusing so much on just two individuals, entering into their lives, their hopes, their fears and dreams, we are, ultimately if counter-intuitively, better able to see and feel the enormity of the disaster as a whole.

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It is my hope that The Eye-Dancers accomplishes something similar.  While the story is a sci-fi/fantasy adventure of parallel worlds and ghost girls and journeys through endless blue voids, it is, at its heart, also a story about four boys who must learn to confront and deal with their own insecurities and hang-ups while in the midst of extreme adversity.  And I hope readers will cheer them on, become frustrated with them at times, perhaps, but in the end care for them and root for them, and become more invested in the story and the fantasy because of them.

Call her Rose, or Sharon, or Rapunzel.  Call him Jack, or Steve, or Hezekiah.  The names don’t matter.

But the characters do.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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