You can probably guess what this post is going to be about. Good for you.
For any who haven’t seen Saving Mr. Banks yet I highly recommend it. I thought it was an excellent movie and very much enjoyed it. And I think there’s a lot to see in the film, even beyond the immediate story.
For any who don’t know, it recounts P.L. Travers’, the author of Mary Poppins, struggle to maintain control of her story that is being transformed into a Disney movie. In the process, she recalls her childhood memories that inspired her to write the original story, including the purpose behind it.
As a writer myself, I strongly connected with Mrs. Travers (as she likes to be called in the film). Admittedly, I’ve had a much easier life than she’s had, but I still can share in that agony of surrendering your character into another person’s hands. It’s painful enough for me to give up my works as reading material even to my closest friends and family, because those characters are precious to me.To anyone out there who’s read my fictional works, you should understand just how much I’ve surrendered even just in giving a glimpse of a chapter. Even this blog, can be difficult for me to share.
Mrs. Travers tells the Disney corporation that Mary Poppins and the Banks are family to her. Of course, she means in the sense of having created them based on real people, but for me there is a strong reality of seeing my characters as more than fictional beings on a page.
I dealt with a lot of loneliness in my junior high days. And one of the main things that kept me going was my writing. I spent most of my free time at school scribbling down stories on pieces of notebook paper, folding them up and tucking them away to take home. To this day I have hundreds of pages just from eighth and ninth grade year. And in those times, my characters felt more like friends than simple figments of my imagination.
There was a sense to me that if my characters could go through the things they did, then I could find the strength to face each new day. I could push myself out of bed, get ready for school, head off for a few hours of lonely writing time. In many ways my characters could achieve the things I’d only dream of, and I could create their own reality that was different than mine. And it gave me hope.
I’m not the lonely little girl I was back in those days. But I still find a sense of happiness in writing, in creating new people to become acquainted with, who will not judge me when I share my darkest secrets. They never disappoint me. They never leave me. They’re always their. A constant companion to guide me through my hardest times. Real friends come and go. They break hearts, they tear open wounds. That’s not to say characters are always perfect. They have their struggles, they have their quirks, and they have their weaknesses. But there’s something indescribably special in breathing life into an empty dead piece of paper covered in ink.
And then to have others look at your characters and change them or criticize them. It’s painful. They’re like my children. Like my best friends.
“Life is full of risks,” my father said when I explained how much I sympathized with Mrs. Travers. And I guess it is. But putting out your works feels like so much more of a risk. What if people hate your beloved characters? What if your publisher changes things around and makes it seem utterly different from how you originally thought it would be? What if they end up utterly misunderstood why you have to stand on the sidelines as their only champion? There are so many things that can go wrong. And it’s so hard to understand if you have never created a character that you know and love as much as a good friend.
“Why did you have to make him so cruel? He was not a monster!” Mrs. Travers cries when she sees their portrayal of Mr. Banks. How accurately this captures the author’s unique perspective on a character, the insight they have that others don’t. A character is an author’s whole world. And seeing them ripped apart is never easy.
There are many wonderful aspects of this film that I cannot even begin to cover. But from a writer’s perspective there is much to garner from this author’s struggle to maintain control of her beloved story. Life is full of risks. For Mrs. Travers it’s possible the risk wasn’t worth it. But I think those of us who enjoy the wonderful film of Mary Poppins would disagree.
As writers we have to risk putting our characters out there (or just our works if we’re not interested in fiction). Sometimes we cannot save them from the fate of what publishers, movie makers, or readers consign them to. Nothing has been more painful than having a friend tell me they don’t like one of my characters (one they’re not supposed to hate anyways) or having someone tell me: “he’s immature, she’s too grumpy, or he just isn’t at all appealing as a person.” Because so often they’re missing the true perspective only I can give them. I’ll reply to the criticisms: “He’s never been given a proper childhood, she’s just gone through a death of her beloved, or he’s just working on developing into a better human as we all are.” But often it’s too late. They’ve made their judgements. And only for us are those characters saved.
Do any other authors out there agree with my analysis? Have you seen problems in other people’s perceptions or changes to one of your characters? As someone who has not been published I can never fully give a perspective on that, but I’d love to hear from others. To any other readers, tell me your thoughts on the movie if you’ve seen it. If not maybe tell me about a movie you have seen that’s inspired you as a writer. I always look for more!
This trailer might contain a few spoilers but I thought I’d post it anyways.