Writing Tuesday: What Muppetvision 3D taught me about writing

I love the Muppets. Kermit. Gonzo. Sam the Eagle. Beaker. Love them. So when my family visited Walt Disney World a couple of weeks ago, we headed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Our very first stop was the Muppetvision 3D experience. Not only do I love the Muppets, my kids also appreciate them. Chunk can watch the YouTube clip of Ringing of the Bells with Animal, Beaker and Gonzo, no matter what time of year it is. When we headed inside the theatre, the front gathering room for Disney patrons reminded me something important about writing: each character has to come alive on the page, from the supporting characters to the main ones.

The front room is set up like the backstage of The Muppet Show. There are costume trunks with Miss Piggy’s name and the words “Satin Evening Dresses” on them. There’s a box labeled The Great Gonzo Stunt Props. Fozzie Bear’s crate tells of the prank equipment located within the box. Different Muppets from Kermit to the newest Muppet, Walter, have crates which show some unique aspect of their character.

Likewise, writers need to dig deep to individualize characters and have each character have likes and dislikes. How do we do this? There are some tools at our disposal.

Character sketches. No matter whether a writer is a plotter or a pantser, the writer should have very clear ideas and details about the different characters, from the main characters to the supporting ones. For instance, Miss Piggy’s character sheet would detail her love for Kermit, her love for herself, and her love for the dramatic. Her physical characteristics would include that she is a pig with long blonde hair and big eyes. Her mannerisms would include that she likes to refer to herself as “moi” and Kermit the Frog as “Kermie.” Her occupation would be actress, although she would clarify this as the world’s greatest actress.

Similarly, a writer might start with some of the same details on character sketches of his or her characters. What are the character’s physical attributes? Any distinguishing marks, tattoos, scars, etc? What age? When is the character’s birthday? What’s the character’s backstory? What are the character’s habits or mannerisms? Even for the details never chronicled in the book, the character may become more alive for the writer and, ultimately, more alive on the printed page.

GMC charts. When I attended my first Georgia Romance Writers meeting in January 2013, the wonderful Sally Kilpatrick whispered to me, “Have you read Debra Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict?” I shook my head no. She replied that I read the book immediately. I went home and ordered it, using the advice Sally gave me (at the time, the book was not available for e-readers). The book shows the importance of having each character have a goal, motivation and a conflict, none of which should be that the character wants to fall in love.

When an author knows the character’s goals and motivations, this can increase the conflict factor and add depth and layer to the story. It’s more interesting to read about a character who must overcome an obstacle to get what he or she wants than to read about a character who has no conflict in his or her life.

For example, Bunsen Honeydew is the Muppet scientist. His goal is usually to perform a scientific experiment. His motivation is to learn more about the scientific method and learn from the results obtained in the experiment. One of his conflicts is that he has Beaker as his assistant. Great for comic relief. Not so great for a perfect experiment. But see how Beaker ups the watchability factor.

Dialogue. A character’s speech and words can differentiate him or her from another character. If I ask which Muppet says, “Waka waka,” I bet you immediately thought of Fozzie Bear. Same thing for the Muppet who says, “Me, me, me, me.” (Beaker). One pure giveaway. Which Muppet always cries out “Animal!” Why, Animal, of course!

Their words and distinct phrases give each of them life and emotional resonance. Something all of us writers strive to get across in our writing.

So who’s your favorite Muppet? I can never decide between Gonzo, Kermit and Sweetums. What can I say? I love them all. So who’s your favorite? Let me know.

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