I thought I was just about done with this book, aside from one final proofread before sending it to a copyeditor, but I had an epiphany this weekend spurred by a Disney movie.
I’d recorded Moana when ABC showed it a couple of months ago, and this weekend I finally got around to watching it. When the movie got to the big “I want” musical number, I realized what was missing from my book.
Just about every Disney musical has a big musical number near the beginning in which the main character sings about what they want out of life. I don’t know if they did this deliberately in the early days, but modern Disney is well aware of this and has codified the “I Want” song into their process. This isn’t about the story goal — in fact, the character usually sings this song before the story kicks in. It’s about what the character wants out of life, what her deepest desires are. The story provides a way of getting this.
Going back to the beginning, Snow White sings “I’m Wishing,” which is about wanting to find someone who’ll love her. Cinderella sings “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” but it’s not too specific about what she wants, just that she wants something she can’t allow herself to express. Sleeping Beauty has the “I Wonder” song, which is about wanting to find someone to love her.
During the Classic era, we get our first hint of the kind of song that became popular during the revival, with Alice singing “In a World of My Own,” about the place she’d create if she could make a world that would get her away from where she was.
That expanding of horizons became the main theme of the “I Want” songs in the modern era. Ariel sings about wanting to be part of the human world. Belle sings of wanting “adventure in the great wide somewhere.” Rapunzel wants her life to begin. Anna gets the “I Want” song in Frozen, wanting to get outside the palace.
Note that these all take place before they’re caught up in the story. Ariel doesn’t yet know about Ursula’s spell to give her legs (and I don’t think she’s even rescued Eric yet before she sings). Belle doesn’t know anything about the Beast when she sings about what she wants.
And that’s what my book was missing. I didn’t know what my heroine wanted deep down inside, the need that was within her before she stumbled across a mystery she had to solve. I think it was there, to some extent, but making it more explicit and weaving that into the story really adds to the book. There’s more going on with her emotionally. I may have to add that to my process, figuring out what my characters would sing about in their “I Want” song if they were in a Disney musical.
I think the “I Want” bit is also in the Pixar movies, but it’s less obvious because they don’t stop to sing about it. I’m pondering rewatching a couple today for research. I saw the doctor yesterday and got the first shingles shot, so now I’m feeling the aftereffects and I’m not sure I’m up to doing much today. It feels kind of like a mild case of flu (without the respiratory symptoms), but I understand this is far preferable to actually having shingles. I never had chicken pox — that I know of — so this will protect me from that, and if I had a subclinical infection (a case so mild it went unnoticed, but that would explain why I was generally the only kid in the neighborhood who didn’t get chicken pox) then it will protect me from shingles. I guess it’s one benefit of all the medical craziness going on right now that the shingles shots are available when they used to have a waiting list.