Writer’s Critque - Annie

For the first time in a long time, I watched the 1982 film Annie, a favorite in childhood, and for the first time noticed a great many character, pacing, and dialogue issues. This probably can be attributed more to my supposed adulthood than my writing abilities, but I’m still going to try to make this more about the writing. 

 

The dialogue is hokey and stereotypical, probably because much of it was written in as replacements for musical numbers. That having been said Carroll Burnett is still fantastic.  Not to mention the racist undertones of Punjab and the Asp, Mr.  Warbucks bodyguards. Also, despite having the look of the Great Depression,  the adult conversations in the movie are very 80s. If you listen, most of the background information, which is meant to just go over Annie’s head, is all about capitalism, the economy, and communism. All of these ideas were everywhere in 1982, where as a kid in 1935 is only worried about where food is readily available. The writers may have been sticking to a “write what you know” rule. 

Pacing wise, what the heck is up with that entire scene in Radio City Music Hall where they spend about 15 minutes watching dancers on some very 70s looking sets followed by huge hunks from the film Camille. As a kid, this part bored me. As an adult it baffles me. I feel like it would make sense if the movie on screen had some kind of connection to the story and characters of Annie. Just a quick summary for those who don’t know, Camille is a 1936 drama adapted from an Alexandre Dumas book. Greta Garbo stars as a socialite deciding between love, money, and sacrifice before (spoiler alert) succumbing to tuberculosis. First of all, it’s not a kids’ movie! Why would Daddy Warbucks even take her to that? Second, there was no reason to show hunks of this tragedy in the midst of Annie and the adults supposedly bonding. The scenes shown from Camille have nothing to help move the plot of Annie forward or, other than Grace crying, reveal anything about the characters.  

 The character development (which I know was based on a Broadway play but still) could have been more involved for such a long kids movie. Annie really only spends the painfully long Camille scene and some time in the pool with Daddy Warbucks  and, suddenly, they have a father daughter bond. She actually spends more time with the secretary and the two bodyguards then she does with a man who adopts her.

Well, I think I picked that apart enough. Childhood ruined or just slightly tarnished? At least the dog was cute.

Character Study - Secondary Characters

Writing good sidekicks, best friends, and minor yet important characters is just as important as your main characters. Still, they fall into stereotypes so often that it sometimes wrecks the original mood of a book. So, here's a list:

Secondary character stereotypes to avoid:  

1. The Sassy Gay Friend: it’s always wonderful to create a diverse world filled with people of all backgrounds, but make then real. They become the comic relief  without any real substance.  This was something started by goofy 80s movies and somehow followed our culture into the new millennium. 

2.  The  Harassing/Overbearing Boss:  We all want to secretly stick it to "the man".  We want to pour our own frustrations from work into our books (yes, Young Skywalker, use your anger). But a character can go very quickly from being the usual boss you love to hate to a full blown character trope. The male bosses all become handsy and the female bosses are all bitches with something to prove. They have no family save for a spouse that everyone pities and no friends.  It’s fine if this character is only appearing for a few key moments within the story but if they are a reoccurring character you need to make them a little more human.

3. The Wise Wizard: Have you ever met a wise magic person? Neither have I? I think writers live this because it’s an easy way to move along a hero’s journey. What is a quest without a wise wizard? Less convenient, but might be a better story. 

4.  Talking Heads & Informative Bookworms: Exposition machines who do nothing by data dump need to be stopped - except Bob in the Dresden Files.

5. The Rogue: Oh, he's so sexy, but you know he's bad. Even Jane Austen managed to make most of her rogues well-rounded, but they can borderline onto soap-opera territory.

6. Muscular Barbarian: Make your characters figure out how to open their own damn doors. The D&D equivalent of the Hulk rarely gets to do much beside the occasional mighty chortle and break something.

7. The Bumbling Sidekick: This is really only acceptable in Disney cartoons or buddy comedies.

If you need some good examples, ask yourself "What the Dickens?" Any secondary characters in any Charles Dickens novel are always good first examples. Dickens created people in his books, not characters. No one, no matter how insignificant to the main plot, was ever purely good or purely evil. Some were very eccentric with ridiculous names, but the all still felt like people you could pass in a busy city in real life.  

And people watching. It's both a great writer's tool and a way to creep out the neighbors you don't want to socialize with anyway.