Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Writing Wednesday: 10 Reasons Every Writer Should See Finding Neverland (Part 1)

Last Saturday, I mentioned a recent trip my family and I made to Broadway, where we took in the musical Finding Neverland. In that post, I said I'd be back here today to talk about why it's the perfect show for writers. Thus, for what it's worth, here's the first half of my 10 Reasons Why Every Writer Should See Finding Neverland. Be sure to come back next time for the rest. 

1. Because it's helpful to understand that even successful writers struggle with frustration about their craft. 

The story is about J.M. Barrie, the man who wrote Peter Pan. The show opens prior to that, at the debut of the successful playwright's latest play. Everyone around him–including his wife and his producer–are celebrating, but he's clearly in torment. We learn why when he sings:

     Just listen to those cheers
     Even though I haven't had a new idea in years
     I need to find the spark inside
     to lead me somewhere new
     If I could somehow turn this all around
     I'd turn my whole world upside-down

Barrie is stuck in a rut, plagued by writer's block, and all too aware that he just keeps rehashing the same old stuff in play after play. 

2. Because writers need to be reminded that sometimes the best thing you can do to make your story better is to walk away from it for a while and go out into the world, where you just might find a new perspective.

As the show continues, we begin to feel that Barrie probably does possess the talent to do more, he just needs a good idea to get the juices flowing. Fortunately, he finds inspiration in Kensington Park, when he meets a young widow with four active sons. The boys are engaged in pretend play–the kind we all did as kids–and watching them create such fun out of their imaginations reminds Barrie that he's forgotten how to play. Immediately, he jumps into the game and is soon helping to make an even more imaginative world for the boys, one that includes a dancing bear and a lagoon and mermaids.

3. Because it demonstrates so beautifully the intangible process of creation.

Feeling inspired by their encounter, Barrie continues to seek out the young family as often as he can, spending time with them and reconnecting with his own inner child.* [See footnote, at the bottom]

At one point, he is in their home at bedtime and the boys are jumping on the beds and suddenly–thanks to terrific lighting and other effects–we understand that Barrie sees the moment not as it is but as it could be: a scene in a play where children learn to fly.

This is my favorite moment in the show. And though I didn't really like the movie of the same name, it was my favorite moment in the movie as well.

It's pretty cool in the film, but on the stage it's breathtaking. I've seen Finding Neverland three times now, and for some reason, this particular moment always strikes me with such awe and delight that I actually burst into tears! Embarrassing, but there you go. It reaches me at the very core of who I am and what I do as it demonstrates visually something that is nearly impossible to explain in words, the magic of the creative process.

4. Because it portrays the less appealing but necessary parts of the writing life.

Sometimes aspiring writers have a such a rosy view of the life they'll live "someday" that they don't see the part of that life that's less than, um, wonderful. Though authors of Barrie's era never had to face marketing their own work or establishing a platform or creating a presence on social media, etc., they certainly faced other issues that still exist for writers now, such as writer's block, critical reviews, and impending deadlines.  We see all of these happening in Finding Neverland.

My favorite is the deadline, which is treated in a very clever way. As Barrie struggles to write his new play, his producer keeps reminding him that it's well overdue, saying in a scolding voice, "The clock is ticking, James."  Somehow, in Barrie's imagination, that ticking clock ends up in the story of Peter Pan–inside the alligator! I don't know if that's where the real Barrie got that particular idea, but it's fun to imagine it happened exactly that way.

5. Because it shows how we writers work out our own issues on the page, often in ways that our readers will never understand or even know about.

When J.M. Barrie was just six years old, his beloved older brother died in an ice skating accident. In Finding Neverland, Barrie confides that in order to cope with his brother's death, he invented a place called "Neverland," where kids didn't have to grow up. That's where his brother was, he told himself, in Neverland, which was second star to the right and straight on till morning. 

I find that fascinating, that even at six years old, Barrie was using his imagination to cope and escape and invent and dream.

Be sure to come back next week for the rest of my 10 reasons why Finding Neverland is the perfect show for writers. In the meantime here are some related links you might enjoy:



* By today's standards, Barrie's relationship with the boys may seem rather creepy, but there has never been any proof that he was a pedophile. Most scholars' opinions seem to fall along the lines of this quote, from author Justine Picardie:
"I remain...uncertain about JM Barrie, whose chief aim seemed to be not to corrupt boys into adult desire, but for himself to rejoin them in the innocence of eternal boyhood, a Neverland where children fly away from their mothers and no one need grow old."
Because Barrie was a controversial figure, I have decided to go with the version I'm seeing in the show. It is a fictionalized account, after all, so that's the J.M. Barrie I'm talking about for the purposes of this discussion. 

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