Why “The Greatest Showman” is the Greatest Show

Today, The Greatest Showman is released for digital download, after spending months with theaters full of avid fans.

It comes out on DVD/Blu-RAY in another few weeks.

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Personally, I have seen The Greatest Showman six times in the theater. SIX TIMES! I have never seen a movie even half that many times in the theater. I don’t even go to the movies that often. In fact, it’s an odd year for me to go to more than two in a single year.

But this was so worth it.

I kept finding new people who hadn’t seen it, and I’d take them so I could fall in love with the movie all over again. One time, I took my 19yo daughter back (for the third time) just because she’d missed the opening scene on her second time. And you CAN’T miss the opening scene.

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Two weeks ago, my husband and I decided to take the rest of the kids–again–because we’d listened to the soundtrack so many times. We went on a Saturday morning, 11am, almost three months after the release of the movie. So I didn’t think we needed to arrive early to get tickets.

We nearly lost out. We got the last four tickets. We couldn’t even sit together. The person in line after us was out of luck.

Sold out.

Three months after the movie’s release.

On a Saturday morning.

And when the movie finished, the audience clapped.

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How many Oscars did this successful, magical, popular film win?

A big fat ZERO.

Which proves what we all know: that Hollywood is clueless.

But the author/composer in me can’t stop analyzing why this movie is such a success. So here are some of the reasons I think it’s a smash hit.

(While pictures are great, they just don’t do this movie justice, so I’ve added some awesome Greatest Showman GIFs.)

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Why The Greatest Showman is the greatest show:

 

The Music

It’s absolutely phenomenal. It moves you–quite literally if you’re prone to dancing. It gets your heart pumping, and makes you smile.

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The Story

Following your dreams can lead to big, wonderful things. Outcasts can and should be loved. They can find their place and no longer be seen as odd, but amazing. Even P.T. Barnum isn’t labeled as an outcast in the movie, but technically he started out as one.

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The Music

Yes, I’m mentioning the music again. It’s that good.

The performances. The choreography. The integration of the music with the scenes (the hammering, the horses step to the music). I bought the soundtrack before I’d left the theater parking lot the first time. (The “Reach for the Stars” and “The Other Side” scenes are my personal favs.)

Listen to the soundtrack here:

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The Family Friendliness

I think the biggest part of its success is how family friendly this movie is. It’s PG, and not even a fake PG. It’s actually PG.

Critics can’t figure out how this movie has spread by word of mouth. Honestly, I only saw it in January after several of my friends kept posting about it on Facebook. Otherwise I wouldn’t have gone. As I mentioned before, I’m not a huge movie theater person. Now, I can’t get enough people to go see it. Young. Old. It’s for everyone.

Not only is there no sex, as well as minimal swearing and violence, but families are seen in a positive light. Shocking, right? A dad trying to support his family. A mom trying to support him. Cute kids who contribute to his magical ideas. Struggles, both financial and emotional. While I don’t know a single family involved in a circus, this movie has related to millions of people across the globe.

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And it has two very sweet romances. :)

My 10yo son who hates watching movies (especially movies I like) has fallen in love with this movie as much as I have. He was furious this week when I took his grandparents without him (during school). They loved it, too.

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No Politics

This is another huge part, I think, of its success. There wasn’t a single bit of politics in the whole thing. No social statements. No agendas. Nothing about destroying the environment or gun violence or crooked politicians. We’re all sick to death of news and politics–or at least I am. Two straight years of ugliness, and this was a desperately-needed breath of fresh air!

A happy ending for everyone. Hallelujah! (I’m looking at you La-La Land.)

This world can use A LOT more happy.

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It’s Magical

That’s what it boils down to. The combination of everything makes the story, music, and movie as magical as the circus.

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So . . .

If you haven’t seen it, GO SEE IT!

Buy it.

Get the soundtrack.

And fall in love.

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What do you think of The Greatest Showman? If you love it, why? And how many times have you seen it?

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MBM: The Power of Storytelling, by Christopher Rosche

Welcome to the eighth day of MARCH BOOK MADNESS!

Today, Christopher Rosche is talking about the amazing power of storytelling.

Chris has lived the kind of life us writers write about: journalism, terrorism consultant, congressional staffer. He’s had some amazing experiences, so I feel very lucky to not only know him, but to glean some knowledge from him in our new writing group.

And today.

He and his wife are the nicest people you can imagine — his kids, too. I’m so excited he’s writing a novel. It’s going to be amazing.

I’ll let him take over and educate you on the human brain. Very cool.

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The Power of Storytelling, by Christopher Rosche

The First Attempt

Back in 2003, an opportunity opened up in my life that allowed me to finally launch the book-writing career I had dreamed about since I was nine years old.

One Monday morning I drove to our local library with my laptop and a stack of new Levenger notepads. I found a somewhat isolated corner desk with a sunny picture window facing a neighboring park, turned on the computer, and typed “Draft I.”

Five hours later I returned home for dinner, opening the front door to see my wonderful wife with her beautiful smile. “How did it go?”

“Well,” I sighed, pausing for a moment as I stared down at the hallway’s hardwood flooring. “The writing thing isn’t working,” I declared. “I’ll start looking for a new job first thing tomorrow.”

Thoroughly disappointed with myself, I had spent endless hours in the library staring at my laptop screen. The total output:  two sentences. This really hit me—I had no idea how to write a novel, let alone where to begin.

My wife and I still crack up when we recall that day. Incredibly naïve about the intricacies of writing a novel, I assumed my entire book outline would be done in an afternoon.

Since that day, my goal to publish fiction always lingered in the background. At the time, I was a consultant to the Defense Department and various intelligence agencies during the decade after 9/11. Every day at work gave me another two or three plot ideas that I filed away and sat on for years.

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Escape From the City

Recently, our family took a major step to escape the Beltway and move back to the Midwest so that I could make a serious stab at a fiction-writing career while continuing to consult part-time.

Armed with a new IMac, Scrivener writing software, numerous plot ideas, character sketches, and about 10 books on how to write books, I launched into my first real novel.

Along the way, I’ve stumbled over a plethora of challenges, fears, road blocks, and self-doubt. I’ve seriously thought about quitting this crazy train ride at least once. Well, I need to be honest here, a more accurate number is around five.

The truth is, I can’t quit. And if you’re a writer with a story to tell, struggling away late into the early morning hours on a regular basis, you can’t either.

I’ll never be a Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Leo Tolstoy, or H.G. Wells—all personal favorites of mine. But writers like you and I have something important to say. We clack away on our keyboards in dark winter rooms late at night, gathering courage to type out a story that might bring a smile, a tear, or, perhaps, trigger empathy in a reader.

Stories, you see, are very powerful. What we are trying to accomplish has implications far beyond our home office.

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How Stories Motivate

A significant aspect of my consulting over the years focused on the questions of what motivates people to action. Whether they are employees in a company or federal agency, members of a private organization, or even terrorists planning attacks, people are mentally impacted the most when they read or hear a great story.

Not just any story, but a particular kind.

Many of us, when we attempt to influence people or change their way of thinking, arm themselves with facts, figures, charts, and scientific studies. Logic, Mr. Spock (I know that dates me a bit) and the latest technological advancements, always win in the end. Right?

I’ve seen this effect up close and personal dozens of times, especially in my early years as a consultant. Companies hired us to find creative solutions to challenging problems. After months of study, we would build massive PowerPoint presentations filled with bullets, facts, and numbers to present a way out. But for more times than I care to remember, the cold hard facts did not always motivate our clients to change.

Beginning around 2004, we found a much more effective approach. We still conducted interviews, research, and formulated solutions that made sense. The method of analysis remained largely the same.

What did change was the way we presented the solutions. When we told our clients a well-designed story that illustrated the correct set of solutions,  there was an incredibly marked difference in the reception. As we developed this narrative or story-based approach, we saw employees, corporate executives, and military leaders far more receptive and motivated to take on tough changes to their old behaviors.

Other consultants also were catching on to this style of storytelling to solve problems, including Nancy Duarte, a highly regarded communications expert that has advised Apple, Cisco, Facebook, GE, Google, HP, TED, Twitter, and the World Bank. Her firm, Duarte, Inc. is one of the largest consulting firms in Silicon Valley, as well as the 5th largest woman-owned employer. Her TedX  East Talk from 2011 on the secret structure of great talks has received more than 650,000 views.

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Ironically, these same storytelling techniques designed to motivate our clients also hold interesting implications for understanding the deep power that telling a story holds for readers and societies at large. A body of scientific evidence developed over the past 15 years reveals that making deep shifts in our thinking requires the same techniques that authors, screenwriters, and movie directors use in their forms of storytelling.

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The Impact of Fiction 

WfS_LisaCron_2012Last year, Lisa Cron, a story consultant, literary agent, and writing instructor at the University of California-Los Angeles, published a book, Wired for Story, where she noted:

Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of   seducing us into paying attention to it. In other words, we’re wired to turn to story to teach us the way of the world. [1]

Some very recent studies confirm this.

MRI images reveal that our brains act very differently when you show a fact-filled slide presentation than when you tell or read a story. Flash a boring slide of facts to an audience and only one area of the brain—the part that processes words—is affected. When narratives utilize literary tools like metaphors, allegory, and parables, the test subject’s brains light up.

The effect is quite profound. Utilizing certain literary techniques that have been around for thousands of years, telling or reading a story has an enduring impact on our brain and influences the way we act.

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Last year, Annie Murphy Paul wrote in The New York Times:

Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.

The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.

Even more profound, and critically important to fiction writers, is the notion that the most powerful, long-lasting effects of storytelling follows a particular pattern.

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The Patterns of Story

In the early stages of outlining my first novel, I ran into a road block. Ever the strategic thinker, I prefer to create a rough outline of my book to give me a general roadmap on where I am going. As I started drafting early chapters, I realized that something was seriously wrong with the plot but couldn’t put my finger on it.

 A friend recommended a book, The Hero has a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell. Campbell spent decades gathering and categorizing ancient fables from civilizations throughout history and discovered a similar pattern and structure.  Campbell argues this basic story structure is a component of human nature, a set of principles that guides our lives.

When I read through the basics of Campbell’s paradigm of a particular myth he called the Hero’s Journey, I quickly noticed what was missing from my novel. In addition, I was surprised to see most of the essential elements of the hero’s journey embedded in my book although in a different manner. (To learn more details about the Campbell’s hero’s journey see here.)

I’m convinced there is more to this pattern. Why, for instance, have the parables and stories of the Bible or the Koran, both utilizing the various literary tools mentioned in this article, had such a powerful impact a millennia after they were written?

Willa Cather once wrote:

There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.

In that same manner, all the great stories—the myths, legends, and epics that have survived through the ages and continue to be repeated today—do have a form.

Applying aspects of the hero’s journey helped me uncover a significant weakness in the overall structure of my novel. But the hero’s journey taught me something even more important..

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The Power to Change the Future

Telling and writing stories is powerful. The myths, legends, and scriptures handed down to us over the ages contain essential elements of truth about who we are and where we came from. It helps us identify who we are and where we are going.

Stories help us see that the problems we face today are similar to the ones our ancestors faced. They also provide solutions. Maybe not the exact answer we are looking for, but the key principles that can guide us to the next step.

Writers like us have something important to say. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be staring bleary-eyed at the monitor at 2:30 am trying to figure out how our hero will face her challenge and save the human race from the great catastrophe about to take place.

So you see, you can’t give up. No matter how hard it might be. Perhaps what you have to say today will change the direction of our future, or our children’s future. Some day the epic novel you are writing may be the source of legend tomorrow.

  • [1] Cron, Lisa (2012-07-10). Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence (Kindle Locations 86-87). Ten Speed Press. Kindle Edition.        

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Bio:

Christopher Rosche spent 25 years in the fast-paced environment of Washington, DC building a career that led from journalism to a congressional post and then to corporate and government consulting. Christopher and his family decided to escape from the nation’s capital last year, returning to his family roots in the Midwest.  While Chris is a creative planning counselor who helps clients develop strategic public affairs and communications programs, he is also pursuing a life-long dream of writing his first novel. Since he was nine, he has wanted to write mysteries, and now is deep in the details of his first espionage thriller.  Chris is married to his amazing wife, Christy, has two children, and a vivacious Shetland sheepdog—the ever spirited Kai. 

Find Chris: LinkedIn, Twitter

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Rebecca:

That was so fascinating, Chris. As I think back to the many lectures and lessons I’ve sat through, I definitely like the ones that include stories the best. I just never realized why.

Wow. I’m feeling empowered as an author.

*picture me sitting at my laptop in deep thought*

For a long time, I’ve believed that all of us have a story to share that only we can share. I’m not talking plot, because there are a thousand ways to write a vampire story. Don’t believe me? Go to your nearest bookstore.

I’m talking more about the stuff that happens below the surface. The emotions. The inward struggles. The life lessons. You know, the good stuff.

We all come from different sets of circumstances that allow us to tell the hero’s journey in a very unique way. Like Chris writing an espionage thriller. He can do it in a way I never could. If we can just recognize it and get out of our own way, who knows; we might just change our world — or at least, one reader who will then change the world. I can think of several books that have affected the way I view things and people around me.

Hmmmm…more thinking…

Yep. I’m motivated.

Cereal for dinner, kids. :)

What are your thoughts? How do you see the power of storytelling around you? Has a good story ever changed the way you’ve viewed the world? Join the discussion below.

Next up on MARCH BOOK MADNESS

Anthony

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The collective talent listed above . . . Wow! If you’ve missed any days, make sure to catch up. It’s been awesome.

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Continue reading “MBM: The Power of Storytelling, by Christopher Rosche”

Writing Tip: Using Mental, Emotional, and Physical Reactions to Strengthen Your Scenes

 

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I’ve been pondering a concept in writing lately, and that’s the importance of reactions.

I know it’s essential for characters to make choices and have motivations in every scene. That gives the story a sense of urgency and purpose. But this morning I’ve been working on something different in my WIP. Reactions. I personally think every scene should have three reactions:

  1. Mental
  2. Emotional 
  3. Physical

Mental and emotional might seem like the same thing at first — especially if you’re a man. But if you’re a woman, you know they’re not. Women can easily be thinking one thing, and suddenly break out crying for no reason. Maybe men can, too, and they just hide it better. :)

To me, a mental response involves the logic aspect of the brain, and as we all know, the logical often wars with the emotional side of us. Unless we’re Spock. Or Mr. Data. (Gotta love Star Trek.)

.And the physical responses should involve the five senses. In my opinion, mental, emotional, and physical responses are key in showing, not telling your story.

How does this work?

In each scene, something happens to your character — or it should. So ask yourself:

  • How does this affect my character mentally, emotionally, or physically?

Let me demonstrate. I’ll even demonstrate with a man, since I still think women are easier to peg emotionally.

First Example:

If your character is thrown from a horse and twists his ankle, instead of saying, Jeremy sat on the ground, hurt and angry at himself, you can say:

Mental Reaction: I’m such an idiot! I knew that horse was gonna throw me. I knew it the second I saw him! Why couldn’t I have held on two seconds longer? Or got my foot in the stirrup! (Logical aspect. Yes, there is some emotion in there, but he’s logically trying to figure out how he ended up on his backside.)

Emotional Reaction: I’m such a stupid dolt! And he threw me in front of Elizabeth?! I’m never going to live this down. She’s never going to talk to me again. Stupid #&!@ horse! (Embarrassment. Anger.  A hint of a crush going on.)

Physical Reaction: I try to stand. Pain explodes in my ankle. I stifle a groan and swear again. I look around. The fence is a couple feet behind me, but if Elizabeth sees me use it to stand up, I’ll lose all manhood. Gritting my teeth, I wipe my raw hands on my jeans, and push myself up. My legs shake. They hate me as much as I hate the horse. It takes every ounce of energy not to limp out of the corral. 

Man Thrown from horse

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Second Example:

Pretend that after Jeremy masters the horse-riding, he is riding through a dark, scary forest. Don’t just tell me, “Jeremy rode through a dark, scary forest.” Show me.

Mental Response: The wall of trees stretches up on both sides of me. The sun is lost in their shadows, making it feel much later in the day than it is. I know if there was more sun, I would find the scenery beautiful. But I can’t. I don’t. (Mental/Logical response)

Emotional Response: The trees crowd in around me. They’re hiding something, I can feel it. What though? Or are they the secret themselves? It seems their dark, gnarled branches could reach out and grab me at any moment. (Emotional response–fear)

Physical Response: My eyes struggle to adjust to the lack of sun. It is cool in the forest, yet my forehead breaks out in a sweat. The woods are too silent. Too quiet. I’m a dead man

Third Example:

This last example is from Elizabeth’s POV. If Jeremy unexpectedly kisses her at the end of the story, you can say Elizabeth was surprised, even really, really, really surprised. Or . . . you can show her three reactions and let the readers figure it out:

Mental response: I stare at Jeremy in shock. He’s never looked at me twice before. Where did this kiss come from? Did he hear me talking to Mary about my crush on him? Does he just feel guilty? 

Emotional Response: I study his blue eyes, his dark hair. He’s not smiling. Why isn’t he smiling? “Don’t say it was a mistake!” I beg him silently. “Don’t tell me you are sorry. In fact, kiss me again!” 

Physical Response: My lips are still warm, my cheeks are flushed. My heart is pounding so loudly I’m sure he can hear it. 

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Those are just a few quick examples. The beauty is all three responses can be thrown together as written, or moved around to help with the flow.

I stare at Jeremy in shock. He’s never looked at me twice before. Where did this kiss come from? Did he hear me talking to Mary about my crush on him? Does he just feel guilty? I study his blue eyes, his dark hair. He’s not smiling. Why isn’t he smiling? My lips are still warm, my cheeks are flushed. My heart is pounding so loudly I’m sure he can hear it. 

“Don’t say it was a mistake!” I beg him silently. “Don’t tell me you are sorry. In fact, kiss me again!” 

.The more I delve into my characters’ mental, emotional, and physical reactions, the more the scenes come alive.

At the same time, I am sure there’s a point of over-doing it. I can’t imagine writing about Jeremy’s reaction to seeing a McDonald’s down the street unless it’s going to affect his future decisions, and thus the story. It could easily slow the narrative. So use this tip with caution. I think. Right?

What do you guys think? How do you use mental, emotional, and physical reactions to show your story? Is there a point of overdoing it?