One of my favorite storytellers has to be the Japanese children’s animation company, Studio Ghibli. Not only do they beautifully animate beloved stories by children’s authors (such as Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones), but they write and direct their own stories, as well (such as Princess Mononoke).
Through watching as many Ghibli movies I could get my hands on, I learned two things about my own craft of writing.
Women Aren’t Helpless in the Face of their Love Interest.
This is something that Hayao Miyazaki, a director from Studio Ghibli, strives to achieve in each of his stories. Miyazaki’s idea is that the protagonists are good on their own, but together they are great and can overcome any circumstances.
Films that best exemplify this are Princess Mononoke and Castle in the Sky, among others of course. Each feature female protagonists that really don’t need help. They’re shown from the very beginning as capable and daring women.
Then, the male protagonists are introduced. The female protagonist doesn’t hand everything over for the “prince” to fix for her. Instead, the two of them manage to create a foundation of trust and respect along their journey that allows them to become a really awesome team and defeat whatever evil stands in their way.
What I’m trying to say is the love interest, male or female or what-have-you, isn’t there to save the day. They aren’t even there to support the protagonist. The love interest is there to stand side-by-side with the protagonist, each making the other a better person. The two characters should support one another through the conflicts, maybe not perfectly and definitely not from the beginning.
This idea doesn’t have to only apply to the love interest, either. Take this idea and apply it to the cast of side characters. Once you do, they become less side, and the story becomes fuller and richer. Each character has the chance to learn from those around them and vice versa.
As you go, you will see a web of relationships, both good and bad starting to form. It makes the world of your story feel more interconnected and real.
A Powerful Theme can take a Story from Beautiful to Stunning.
Each Ghibli movie has a really powerful message tied into the story. They are children’s movies, after all. These messages can be as simple as Believe In Yourself, to as powerful as Take Care of The World You’re Given.
Like, whoa. Nausicaa of the Valley and Princess Mononoke hit pretty hard with environmental themes for kids’ movies. In both movies, nature is 100% done with humanity’s crap and starts fighting back. Only through love and acceptance can they be in harmony again. But first, the main characters have to end a long standing war.
Themes don’t usually show up during the first stage of drafting unless you have one before even hitting the page. If you do, that’s all fine and dandy. Let it be your compass. If you don’t, just plow through that first draft for now and don’t fret about it.
During that first read-through of the sloppy, first draft there is a chance for you to find a theme you may have unintentionally written into the text. It could jump out at you, or you could move a few things around and find it there all along. Either way, it’s there.
Once you find this theme you can start to back it up with your protagonist’s conflicts and your antagonist’s actions. Both should reflect the theme that you want to explore because that is where the theme and story will interconnect. The theme almost directly IS your plot and main conflict.
In my self-published book, Marked for the Hunt, Diana questions where the monster lies within werewolves. Are they monsters because of their animal side? Or, does the human in them beget monstrous things?
Meet the villain: a werewolf who killed her father for power and is back for more. Jonathan is the epitome of monstrous, his violence almost animalistic, but his motives extremely human. Diana fears that she is slowly becoming this man after experiencing a lifetime of trauma and the need for self-defense, but through the story she is able to separate action from motive and see that human motive can be monstrous. The animal in them just gives them a greater capacity for violence.
Moral of the story, is sit back and enjoy some Studio Ghibli movies.