A Study in Writing: Jack and the Cuckoo Heart

This week I wanted to discuss storytelling. Though this is in relation to a specific movie, this blog post is not a movie review. I merely seek to point out what I think went wrong with the movie’s narrative, character development, and overall unresolved details. Ready for a journey into the world of storytelling? I hope so.

Jack and the Cuckoo Heart, based off a children’s book, follows the story of a boy whose frozen heart is replaced by a wooden clock at birth. At the beginning of the story the boy’s mother finds her way to the “witch” who lives on the top of the hill – actually a midwife – who manages to replace the boy’s frozen heart (no explanation given as to the reason why he has this heart) and give him a new one with the understanding that there are three rules he must follow to keep living: 1. Never touch the hands that work the clock. 2. Keep your temper. 3. Never fall in love. The midwife, Madeleine, is then left with the child after the mother disappears during the middle of the night.

Madeleine’s reasoning behind the three rules is never explained, nor is the fact that she drinks distilled tears and is unable to bear children. These are merely facts that are highly emphasized but never actually lead anywhere. I felt rather frustrated finishing this movie without any explanation of what these mysterious elements meant.

Ahem. Not that I care.

Jack, at the age of ten, finally accompanies Madeleine down to the town for the first time where we get another small scene where Madeleine’s reliance on distilled tears is again displayed (augh! more emphasis on a totally unimportant detail!). Jack meets a young girl in the square and immediately becomes infatuated. However, his clock starts smoking, he faints, and the girl runs away. After, he begs Madeleine to let him attend the school in town in the hopes that he can find the girl again. On arriving, however, he is confronted by a bully named Joe who also has a love for the mysterious girl – Miss Acacia as he calls her. For the next four years, Jack pines for the missing Miss Acacia and endures the never-ending torture from Joe and the other students about his clockwork heart. That is, until an accident with his heart makes the clock accidentally stab Joe in the eye. Frightened, he escapes with the help of Madeleine and eventually makes his way to Andalusia, Spain with the help of a young George Melies, whom he meets on the way.

Continuing on to mysterious carnival, he spies the object of his affections, Miss Acacia. Eager to spend time with her, he gets himself hired by the carnival’s owner and proceeds to attempt to befriend Miss Acacia. Unfortunately, her affections still belong to the boy she met in the square a long time ago, the one she had the misfortune to never really identify, due to the fact that she needs glasses (yet doesn’t wear them for the majority of the film?). After revealing himself to her, Jack and Acacia agree to escape the circus together and elope.

That is, until Joe the bully magically appears at the most inopportune time, convinces Acacia Jack is dangerous, reveals to her the three rules (how’d he know about those?), and maneuvers her into thinking she will be a murderess if she stays with Jack – a fact that is sort of true? He treats Acacia with great kindness and honestly leaves the scene having done no worse except ruin their plans. He informs Acacia on the carriage ride away that Madeleine has died in prison and Acacia runs back to Jack, suddenly realizing that she still has the key to his heart.

Jack is back at Edinburgh, dying of grief and no way to wind his heart. Acacia arrives, they kiss, he throws the key away, and oh, yes – dies. He dies. With no pomp, no indication, no earlier warning, he dies. Now, I’m not opposed to a main character dying – when it’s done right. But everything in this movie needs to be leading to the character’s death, or at least to the fact that he must die, that there is no way he can survive. In the movie, the character has a chance of survival, the girl he loves is right there waiting for him, and he chooses to die. This is a very unsympathetic, completely unexpected character death.

Now, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the film, in a very twisted, Tim Burton-y kind of way. It was actually entertaining. The real issue I have with the film is that everything is so unconnected and rather unresolved and does not wrap up in a satisfying way. So let’s breakdown everything I didn’t think made sense story-wise and what I feel could have been done better:

Ok, lets start with the beginning of the story. In fact, lets go back further. Madeleine is a very interesting character who seems as if she should have more to her story. Drinking distilled tears? Unable to have children? These are facts that are highly emphasized yet never really play out. Also, Joe the bully seems to have an uncanny knowledge of not only Madeleine’s powers but also Acacia’s never-explained and always-brief display of supernatural abilities. What was never given and what was sorely needed, was a backstory that wove all these characters, their knowledge, their powers, and their motivations together. Perhaps there was a whole group of these people with magic powers who were run out of town by people like, say, Joe’s family. However, perhaps he was fascinated by them and even learned about some of them (like Acacia and Madeleine for example). This would explain how he seems to understand how some things work, including Jack’s three rules. Madeleine’s powers might also benefit from a little backstory. Perhaps she feeds off of human emotion and never married because of her strange power/gift/attribute. This would help support and explain important plot points: Jack is the most important thing in the world to her, because he is the son she could never have. This also explains why she would drink distilled tears.

As for the main character, Jack is a purely unsympathetic character. Yes, he is likeable and perseveres, but he also allows himself to be bullied for four years all because of a girl he doesn’t really know. He gives away the secrets to his heart and never fights for what he believes in or holds dear – in other words, he’s a complete pushover. At the conclusion of the film, Jack dies not because he has no choice but because he chooses to give up. Despite the fact that Acacia returns to him and is willing to love him, despite the fact that he never will have to face Joe again (or so we hope), he gives up. He dies. Madeleine’s death has affected him that much? Maybe.

All I’m saying is, Jack and the Cuckoo Heart is an example of insufficient storytelling. Yes it’s entertaining at face value, but nothing is conclusive, no plot point is resolved completely. Our main character is sympathetic to the point of pitiable. His love interest is fickle and easily swayed. The only mildly interesting character dies without any measure of sadness or warning. I actually liked the “evil” character, or as we deemed him, “problem child.” The greatest lesson of this movie? Without strong motivation, well-connected plot-lines/devices, and a linear narrative, a movie upon critical examination will fall apart.

That’s all for today, I just wanted to take a moment to examine some storytelling that I feel could have been done better. But, as always, feel free to share your thoughts! Have you seen this film? Did you agree with my conclusions?

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Happy St. Valentine’s Day!

I’m going to keep it short and sweet today with a few simple words.

1.I hope that wherever you are today, you are surrounded by family and friends and that you are able to enjoy this beautiful day.

2. I hope that you would remember all the love that you’ve been shown, but also remember all the love you can show someone else through small acts of kindness.

3. Lastly, I hope you remember the best love-giver of all: God. He is never-failing, never-ending, and will never leave you.

May your hearts be filled with joy as you share the love…and the chocolate, because let’s admit it that’s what we all really love about Valentine’s.

Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all!

 

 

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Missy Piggle-Wiggle Returns

Dear Missy, I’m afraid this is yet another letter written in haste, as I believe I’m closing in on my husband the rest of the pirates….Can you stay on a bit longer? Have you needed to search for the silver key yet? If you have and you still need money, well, there are always Mr. Piggle-Wiggle’s gold doubloons. But I would rather you not sell them, for reasons you well understand….

So begins another year in Little Spring Valley for Missy Piggle-Wiggle. With her aunt still searching for her lost pirate husband, Missy will just have to continue doing the task given to her by her aunt. Taking care of the upside-down house and curing the town’s children of nasty habits is now becoming easy for Missy – what with having lived in the valley for a year now – but when a terrible storm threatens to ruin Missy’s new home, she’ll have to think fast. Repairs will have to be made, funds are stretching thin, and the citizens of Little Spring Valley need her help once more! Maybe even Missy Piggle-Wiggle can’t fix this mess.

I’ve been waiting for the followup to Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure for a while now, so I was really happy to find that this book had arrived at our local library and that it was an enjoyable sequel. Ann M. Martin delivers with this second book in her promising new Missy Piggle-Wiggle series and I loved reading about the further adventures of the characters we read about in the previous book. For fans of the original Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories, these will be a treat. For younger audiences or even for older audiences, being able to flip through Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Won’t-Walk-the-Dog Cure will be a delight. It will take you back to a simpler time when problems could be fixed in an afternoon at an upside-down house with a quirky magic-maker who bakes the most delectable chocolate chip cookies in the world.

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Disney Parks Presents!

If there’s one thing that seems to encapsulate my childhood, it would have to be Disney. My formative years were spent watching their classic films (and I mean real classics like Snow White and Mary Poppins), reading books stuffed with their magical concept art, listening to their cheerful music, and going to the Disneyland theme park as many times as I could. It seems I couldn’t help but love Disney and that love has only been strengthened the older I’ve got. For this reason, I particularly love finding a treasure that not only reminds me of being a carefree tot, but also is a great way of keeping the classic Disney legacy alive.

This week I’m reviewing two of these such “treasures” in the form of The Disney Parks Presents series. These books are both filled with colorful art and the lyrics of the familiar rides you know. I picked up The Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World books at my local library and was very pleased to have a sit-down with these two picture books. While Pirates of the Caribbean definitely recalls specific images from the ride, It’s a Small World was much more unique, as the artist’s illustrations were similar to the themes of each section of the ride but were not exact replications. Each is also filled with the familiar lyrics that by now are probably ingrained in each of us somewhat. I guarantee at least five out of ten people will know the phrases “yo, ho, it’s a pirate’s life for me,” “dead men tell no tales,” and “it’s a small world after all” thanks to these classic Disneyland attractions.

For a fun read – whether it be by yourself or with a group of eager children – pick up the Disney Parks Presents series. You will be richly rewarded by wonderful, colorful illustrations and lyrics that will probably make you feel sentimental and start planning your next vacation trip to said theme park. And if you’re not willing to starve for the next ten years just to pay for the passes, take the cheap man’s option and pop in the CDs so generously included with each book. It’ll feel just like you’re on the ride – especially if you happen to have a handy friend who’s willing to push you around in your laundry basket past cardboard boxes.

That’s all for now, but I did have one more question: I have yet to pick up The Haunted Mansion book from this series, but it got me thinking. These three books seem to define the classic Disney ride for most people, but what is your favorite ride? Leave a comment and tell me what ride inspires you the most or just gives you the most thrills!

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The Writer’s Epidemic

There seems to be a common disease that is becoming more and more prevalent. It’s been floating around in the movie industry for years now, but it seems to be spreading rather rapidly to the authors of this world. Before it can get any further, I’d like to offer a few tips to help prevent a little disease I call, the Writer’s Epidemic. To help you read through, I’ll provide important bullet points to go over so you can pick and choose what you want to look through.

I know, I know, no one wants to die in obscurity. But at the price of our writing quality, is it really worth it?

Prepare to be cured…or something.

  • Don’t Milk It Till It’s Dry: If you’ve ever been a huge fan of a book, book series, or book trilogy, you’ll know that all you ever want is another story. That is, until the next book comes out and it totally ruined EVERYTHING about the book(s) you loved. For example, I was really into The Mother-Daughter Book Club series a while back. The series ended on a really good note with the concluding book, Dear Pen Pal. I was rather pleased with how everything was wrapped up so tidily. That is, until the author decided she wasn’t satisfied with the ending and added another book: Mother-Daughter Book Camp. The book completely broke everything that had been resolved in the last chapter of the series and now made a further extension of the series desirable. And this isn’t the only series that has been guilty of this sin. Many a book series has concluded satisfyingly, only to have an author continue with the hopes that the popularity of the rest of the series would carry over into the next addition. Bad form, authors.

 

  • It Belongs to the Readers: Publishing a book is kind of like letting an animal free. Once it’s out there it’s out there – and that’s not a thing to be taken lightly. People who read these books will love these books and in a way there is a working relationship between the readers and the author. The author respects the characters he/she laid down and the reader’s respect the decisions the author made. Meaning, the author doesn’t change their characters wildly after the fact and the readers don’t hate the author for following through on their  plan. One thing the author has to keep in mind is that a good writer will be able to construct a full character, one that the readers will get to know well. An author who loves those characters as much as the readers will know not to go against the personalities established from the get-go.

 

  • Don’t Pander: One of the biggest issues I’ve seen in modern storytelling is a desire to be “politically correct.” Authors are afraid of insulting minority groups and therefore make an effort to include them – even in situations where it is not necessary nor logical. Don’t get me wrong; diversity can be a wonderful thing. But diversity is a moral neutral and is neither good nor bad. When it is used in the wrong places, it can be inappropriate to the situation and illogical. An even worse practice is when an author attempts to pander after the fact. One of the authors most guilty of this crime is J.K. Rowling, who every so often will post a politically controversial tweet about one of her characters (and therefore insures everybody remembers who she is). One of the best rules of writing is that once you lay down a rule, you follow it, no matter what your political agenda is.

 

  • Let It Go: As much as we may love our favorite trilogies, there comes a time in every reader/writer’s life when they must say goodbye to the characters they’ve come to love, the world they’ve come to inhabit, and the bad habit of ignoring everyone while you’re absorbed in the latest chapter. Like everything listed above, this is an important rule. Somethings are better left where they’re at. A good writer knows there’s always more to write about and always new things to create. Creativity is a companion that should never forsake you so long as you love what you write and you write with the intent of creating something that you will love reading.

Though there are some other flaws and issues that could be taken up with many a writer’s handicraft, these are some of the most serious parts of the Writer’s Epidemic. These are problems that can and should be easily resolved – so long as we continue to work together as a creative community to nip these issues in the bud.

Write on, writers.

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Lock and Key: The Downward Spiral

I’d been waiting for this book for months. Ridley Pearson had – against my will – made me fall in love with the characters of his first book and now I was desperately hoping that the sequel would appear soon. And appear it did, but not in the way I expected. The sequel popped up on the shelf of a Barnes and Noble, where it was torture to look at (if you’ve never felt the agony of having to walk past a copy of the book you’ve been waiting for and it’s RIGHT THERE! then you obviously don’t read twenty books a week. Oh wait…was that just me?). But finally the day arrived. There sat the book on the library shelf in its brand-new jacket sleeve and plastic, looking too beautiful for words. Yes! The day had finally arrived and I would finally find out what happened to the clever Moria, infuriating Sherlock, and conflicted James.

Oh, and by the way, if you’ve actually read this far, congratulations. I would’ve quit by now.

In this thrilling sequel to the original, we continue discovering the dark path of the Moriarty siblings James and Moria as they attempt to uncover the truth about their father’s death. Though they have now discovered where their family Bible lies, now their concern is to open it. And though Moria wants to share everything with her brother, she’s no longer sure she can trust him – or anyone else for that matter. When they realize that the only way to read their family Bible is through a treasured necklace, the hunt is on to find it, hindered by the mysterious society that finally has a mission for James. Betrayal, shock, and a lust for power lace through this side plot as James realizes he may be the cause of more pain than he realized. Through it all, Moria is confused about who to trust and who’s really on her side. Does her brother really owe his loyalty to this “Brotherhood”? Why are the Moriarty women all missing? And most importantly: why was her father killed?

Ridley Pearson has done it again with his sequel to the original, Lock and Key: The Downward Spiral. I found this one to be slightly less interesting, despite the fact that I was eager to read it. Moria’s character seemed to have much more emotion and middle-school girliness to her – and while I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, part of Moria’s character is to be a clever, cool-headed, resourceful adolescent who is girly but not necessarily childish. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the read. Sherlock seemed a tad less frustrating in this book, which is odd because I expected the opposite. In fact, most of my expectations were not met after I finished reading, a fact that is neither good nor bad.

Once more, I do want to warn parents: this book does have some “mild” cussing. So before handing this book to your middle-grader, you might want to sit down and read it for yourself.

Chime Time: What version of Sherlock Holmes can you not stand? Personally I like the Basil Rathbone and Robert Downey Jr. renditions, but I don’t consider the latter to truly be Holmes.

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The Adventures of a Writer in Training

When Cici grows up, she’s going to be a writer, she just knows it. In fact, she’s started brainstorming images in her head right now! Cici’s got a nose for a good story, whether it’sabout the people in the small town she inhabits, the strange paint trails in the woods, or the strange “Mr. Mysterious” she sees walking by their treehouse every week. Even though her stories might get her into trouble, Cici’s willing to see them through to the end and follow her writer’s nose to find out the whole truth – like finding a zoo in the middle of the forest or discovering secret letters in the public library! There’s a whole world of stories to discover, but Cici’s got to remember that some of the most important stories are the ones that happen in the home. Lying to her mom and making her friends help her isn’t the best habit, even if it is in the pursuit of knowledge. Can Cici uncover the truth, patch things up with the people that matter most to her, and still accomplish her dreams? Knowing Cici, there’s going to be an interesting story behind that.

Written by Joris Chamberlain and illustrated by Aurelie Neyret, Cici’s Journal: The Adventures of a Writer in Training is a beautifully composed graphic novel that is definitely sure to be a fun read. I picked it up while at my local library (what else?) and was intrigued by the colorful illustrations, but most of all the main character, whose dreams match my own. The story in the graphic novel is clean, well-told, and very enjoyable. I was surprised by how quickly I got through this, though it’s not a particularly thick graphic novel (so for those of you who aren’t huge readers, this one’s still easy to pick through). Part of what I loved about this story is how much I see myself in the main character, but also just how lovable all of the characters are. Helped on by the colorful art, it’s hard not to grow attached to the curious Cici, sweet-tempered Lena, big-hearted Erica, wise Mrs. Flores, and Cici’s loving mom.

Before I close, I wanted to point out an issue that my father and I have both noticed with comics. It seems nowadays, like everything else, the content is not clean unless specified so, and this can be rather a disappointment. What content is created for “all ages”, as my father pointed out, is easily made to be purposely kiddy and young-age audiences. However, there are several companies whom I have noticed that produce comics that – while retaining children as the main characters – still are highly entertaining for readers of all ages. Publishers like First Second and Joe Books have produced such comics I love like The Nameless City, Mighty Jack, and Cleopatra in Space, which can and should be enjoyed by any age group.

Chime Time: What graphic novels or comics have you read that you find particularly enjoyable?

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Happy New Year!

It has been one great year, everybody. 2017 was definitely a year of changes. I took my first college classes, got a job, finished two more books, and am preparing for another college class starting rather soon in 2018. It’s been a crazy, hectic life and I’m so glad you could all be here with me as I grew, read some great books, and shared them with you.

There have been some great moments from 2017, whether it’s been takes on classic lit characters (such as The Great Shelby Holmes) or sequels to beloved originals (like Missy Piggle-Wiggle), you can never tell what reads have been waiting to discover. And with so many great books already on my waiting list, 2018 is sure to be chock-full of great reads too!

Before we close out to enjoy our New Year’s with family – or just to sleep off all the sparkling cider inhaled – I wanted to take a moment to pray over the year ahead and to thank God for the year behind:

“Dear heavenly father,

Thank you for all you’ve given me over 2017. This is has been such an incredible, amazing year. You’ve blessed me beyond belief and I’m so grateful. Thank You for all the crazy and terrifying changes that have made my life what it has been; thank You for all the opportunities I thought I would fail. Please lay Your hand upon this nation, this people, and this world as we go into a new year. Bless us and help us to keep our eyes fixed on You. In Jesus’ name, 

Amen.”

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Tis the Season – Day 29

Merry Christmas season everyone! To celebrate all the holiday festivities, every day in December I’m posting a review on a Christmas book. I hope you all join me this December to enjoy some fun and seasonal cheer.

On the most holiest of nights, long, long ago, everyone lay asleep. Everyone, but one man, who is left awake pondering how he can raise the King of Kings. In Geraldine McCaughrean and Fabian Negrin’s Father and Son: A Nativity Story, she attempts to look into the mind of Joseph and speculate as to what his thoughts were. How could he be a hero to the Hero of the world? How could he teach Him who knew all? How could he instruct Him who had taught man what good and evil was? This book truly delves into the dilemma of a parent attempting to raise the most significant person in the universe.

I found this book to be very interesting. Personally it was a point of view that I’d never read before and enjoyed exploring. The struggle in Joseph’s mind as he tries to determine what he can do for the baby Jesus is one I enjoyed reading as it gave me pause. The book ends with Joseph determining the best thing he can give, a decision that led to a discussion between me and my father about what we as humans can gift He who gave us everything. I suggest you pick up this book to read with your kids if you want a great conversation-starter.

 

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Tis the Season – Day 29

Merry Christmas season everyone! To celebrate all the holiday festivities, every day in December I’m posting a review on a Christmas book. I hope you all join me this December to enjoy some fun and seasonal cheer.

On the most holiest of nights, long, long ago, everyone lay asleep. Everyone, but one man, who is left awake pondering how he can raise the King of Kings. In Geraldine McCaughrean and Fabian Negrin’s Father and Son: A Nativity Story, she attempts to look into the mind of Joseph and speculate as to what his thoughts were. How could he be a hero to the Hero of the world? How could he teach Him who knew all? How could he instruct Him who had taught man what good and evil was? This book truly delves into the dilemma of a parent attempting to raise the most significant person in the universe.

I found this book to be very interesting. Personally it was a point of view that I’d never read before and enjoyed exploring. The struggle in Joseph’s mind as he tries to determine what he can do for the baby Jesus is one I enjoyed reading as it gave me pause. The book ends with Joseph determining the best thing he can give, a decision that led to a discussion between me and my father about what we as humans can gift He who gave us everything. I suggest you pick up this book to read with your kids if you want a great conversation-starter.

 

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