What I Learned from Rapunzel: A revision story

One of the things I’ve learned about revising a manuscript is that no matter how tight the deadline, I can’t just lock myself in a room and revise 24-7. Much of my rethinking happens away from the keyboard. Leaving my desk provides me with different lenses through which I can view the story — and often makes me consider ideas that wouldn’t have arrived had I stay put to wait for them.

So last weekend, I took my daughter and her friend to see TANGLED.  For those who aren’t familiar with it, it’s the Rapunzel story, spun into a swashbuckling Disney musical. Here are the notes I took out of the theater and back to my desk, along with a few leftover Junior Mints:

  • Why are people evil?  They have reasons – seeds planted early that grow until they burst.
  • Chase scenes are awesome. So are secrets, surprises,  unexpected discoveries, and treachery.
  • Trying over and over and over – and failing over and over – makes success sweeter.
  • Sometimes, friends are enemies, and enemies are friends.
  • A ticking clocks increase tension.
  • Tense, action-packed stories stories need humor, too.
  • The best heroines need to have doubts and fears as well as courage.
  • Take advantage of the power of slow-motion. When the horse was about to bite Rapunzel’s hair so she couldn’t get away, the scene shifted into slow motion (literally) so that there was a longer period of wondering. Will she make it?   Do my tense scenes need to be slowed down to enhance suspense?
  • We love characters who make mistakes in life & find redemption.
  • Villains often destroy themselves.

What does all this have to do with my story? Love ’em or hate ’em, you have to admit that the folks at Disney have figured out how to keep kids’ attention, and as writers, we can take those big ideas — ticking clocks, flawed heroines — and use them to reflect on magic in our own stories. 

One last reminder that may help with antagonists…

Thugs in taverns have dreams, too.