Summer is a very nostalgic time for me. I guess a lot of it has to do with the memories of summer vacation and all the great stuff our parents did for my brother and I. There was camp and the big once a year vacation to someplace cool, or to an amusement park, like Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey.
But what I remember most is from much earlier on when we still lived in Mt. Vernon, New York. Summertime brought the Disney Film Festival to the Fleetwood movie theater. As soon as the weather started getting nice, I’d scan the newspapers looking for the list of “coming soons”, eager to see what the line up would be for that year.
Back then we didn’t have DVDs or VCRs or a Disney Channel. There was only The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights, and even then you didn’t always get one of the feature animated films. We had to wait until they were released in the theaters, and that usually meant once a year at best.
I lived for Dumbo, Lady & The Tramp, Pinocchio and Peter Pan. Back then, it wasn’t so much the stories that grabbed me. It was the animation. I loved watching those silky-smooth hand-drawn frames play out on the big screen. They had a quality and texture you can’t get with today’s technology. The drawings had a special human element to them. And so did the characters themselves.
Walt Disney’s art inspired me to become a wildlife illustrator and I suppose, on a subconscious level, a storyteller too.
Of all the films, Bambi was my favorite. As a kid, I loved the animals. They were believable in form and movement and they could talk too! Maybe this was what animals really did in the woods when there weren’t humans watching? Hey, I was only four. Talking animals were a very real possibility at that age.
This weekend I had the opportunity to watch the movie again. Although the film was released in 1942, it still holds up today. This time when I viewed it, the child in me took a back seat to the artist. Oh, I still sat in awe of those velvety, hand-drawn images and thought about all the hard work that went into them. But behind all of that, there was an incredible amount of structure to the story itself.
Everyone Has A Story
I rarely watch the bonus tracks on DVDs, but this time I wanted to go behind the scenes. I’m glad I did. The technical aspect was exciting to watch, but what I really found interesting was the way the story came together. The book on which the movie was based was written in Austria by Felix Salten. The original story was so rich that before Walt and company could begin work, they had to distill the book down to it’s most basic storyline.
After that, it was difficult to stay on track with the story. Every creature seemed to want its story told…or that’s how Walt saw it once his imagination started going into overdrive. Before he knew it, there was a bit for some grasshoppers, another for some bees, and another for a comedy team of a squirrel and chipmunk.
That’s okay, Walt, I can relate. Everyone in our series wants their own story too.
Walt and his artists had so many ideas, they could barely keep them contained. So many of the extra scenes they wrote ended up on the cutting room floor. These deleted scenes were included in the bonus features and after having viewed them, I can see why.
Not because they were bad. Oh no, not by a long shot. they just didn’t contribute anything to the story. Even Walt said so himself. Several times he had to rein in his team and get them back on track.
Your Bonus Footage
Our own novels are a lot like that. All too often it’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement of our new characters and all their potential that we want to tell as much as we can in one story.
This doesn’t make for a good book at all. The point is lost and so is the reader.
But that’s not to say these tangents are bad. Tangents are very good and can lead to some good plot twists and points. Playing with alternate scenes and “What If” possibilities opens our minds, freeing us from the box. Side scenes that have nothing to do with the story often lead us down wondrous paths.
These little verbal sketches give rise to detailed backgrounds and provide fodder for future books in a series.
Don’t feel guilty about writing them, or tell yourself they’re a waste of time. Playing is never a waste of time — unless you’re actually doing it to waste time.
For Loyalties, Wendi and I have tons of bonus footage. All of it contributed to the story in one form or another, but not all of it was actually used in the final novel. We had to weed through a lot of material we had grown very fond of and make some hard choices.
That’s the biggest drawback of doing side scenes. It’s not always easy to let go.
In the end, though, you never really let go of anything. Keep it on file and it’ll get used somewhere sooner or later.
Nothing Goes To Waste
Side scenes are a vital tool to any writer. With them, you can defeat writer’s block and keep your momentum going through the dry spells. Next time you get stuck, take a break from the story and try an alternate scene. Grab a pen and some paper, make up a What If and have at it.
Noting will be wasted. Keep it on file, you never know when you’ll have another brilliant idea that needs just the right scene. For all you know, you may have already written it.