Friday, May 06, 2016

Writing Words for Nerds #AtoZChallenge--J is for Justice (and why we need it in stories)

I’m a middle child.

You can go ahead and think of all the stereotypes about middle children having an overdeveloped sense of justice. In my case, they’re entirely true.

It’s one of the things I liked about fairy tales when I was growing up. I loved seeing brave and good heroes and heroines (especially the heroines) get rewarded. Even more, I liked seeing bad things happened to the bad people who deserved them. I wanted justice to be served, and like the boy in my favorite movie, The Princess Bride, it bothered me when it wasn’t. It bothered me because it just wasn’t fair.

“What did you read me this thing for?!”

When I was little and pointed out that my dad was being unfair about something, he replied, “Life isn’t fair.”

Well, I never expected life to be fair. I expected him to be fair. Just because life isn’t fair, that’s no excuse for people to be unfair. Heck, if anything, that’s even more reason for people—especially parents—to be fair, to make up for the injustices of life.

And I feel that’s even more true when it comes to writers and the stories we tell, particularly stories for children.

What’s the point of telling a fictional story if doesn’t right the wrongs of life? What’s the point of telling a story if it doesn’t give us something we don’t get in real life: justice?

Of course, not all classic fairy tales have just endings. The original Little Mermaid doesn’t. I hated that story when I was little. I hated how the Little Mermaid, who only wanted to love and be loved, had to pay for her bravery and devotion to the stupid prince with her life. That was so unfair!

 Of course, years later, Disney fixed it. I guess I wasn’t the only one who felt that story needed to be fixed and justice needed to be served. Someone at Disney felt that way, too.

One of the things I’ve done time and again in this blog is show writers easy ways to come up with story ideas. Here’s another: if there’s something in a classic story that you don’t like—whether it’s a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, an ancient Greek myth, or a Shakespeare play—write a story inspired by it and fix the part that you don’t like.

I did that with Don Quixote when I wrote Dan Quixote: Boy of Nuevo Jersey. I love Don Quixote, but I hate the ending. Why does he have to give up on his dream and die? Actually, I know the reason. Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in parts, and while he was still writing it, readers said that the main character needed to wake up and stop dreaming. Of course, once he gave up on his dreams, there really was no reason for him to keep living. Hence the tragic ending to what should be a comedy. When I wrote Dan Quixote and put the story of Don Quixote into a modern middle-school American setting, I fixed the part I thought was wrong and gave it the just ending it deserved.

A lot of the adaptations we see today are about righting literary wrongs.

The Wicked Witch of the West, for example, was never actually shown to be evil in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz. Sure, everyone hates her, but why? The worst thing we see her do is take Toto away from the girl who killed her sister (yes, it was an accident, but still) and stole her sister’s magical shoes. Can we really blame the witch? And why is Oz so great? He manipulates a girl to kill someone for him. He basically turns Dorothy into a mercenary. Really? So I’m glad to see adaptations like Wicked, adaptations that right the wrongs.

 The same goes for the movie Maleficent. Originally the character was awful, but we never got to hear her side of the story. And Aurora? All she does is sleep, and we’re supposed to root for her? And her happy ending is that a prince kisses her while she’s asleep? Yeesh! The new movie fixes all of that, and I’m glad it does.

I also like adaptations that fix social injustices in fairy tales, the way Ella Enchanted and Disney’s latest live action Cinderella movie attempt to fix the inherent sexism of the original Cinderella fairy tale.

So if you’re looking for an easy way to write a story, just look for a story old enough to be in the public domain that has something unjust about it and make it just. Fix it. Right the wrongs.

Life might be unfair, but you don’t have to accept it. You can be a literary superhero. 

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