Today we welcome back good friend and guest blogger Julie Cohen! (And while I have to admit, I did the puppy head-tilt when she told me what her blog would be about, it's amazing the insights she can bring to the discussion of a Disney movie...)
I’ve thought about several serious topics for this guest blog post on The Playground—stuff about the deep existential angst suffered by writers, stuff about the huge and exciting step I’ve just taken in my career—but at last I have come to the conclusion that you fine intellectual people will appreciate it much more if I talk about a Disney film.
I have a son who is nearly four years old, and therefore I have watched Cars roughly 48,721 times. And you can imagine my consternation on the day when I realised that my last two books have had the same plot as Cars. Well, if you leave out the fact that the heroine is not actually a car. Or on Route 66. And she doesn’t engage in any races. Or fall in love with a Porsche. Or make friends with a tow truck. Or go tractor tipping.
Aside from all of that, they’re almost identical.
And thinking about it, why not? Writing, after all, is an exercise in inspired plagiarism. You see a plot you like, and you take it and twist it to fit your own needs, and hopefully no one will notice, or even care. If Shakespeare ripped off plots, it’s good enough for me.
The thing is, Cars has a perfect plot. A hot-shot racing car dude who can’t even cooperate with his own pit crew gets stuck in a dead-end town called Radiator Springs. At first he’s dismayed—he’s too important for this place! But eventually he starts to see that his values have been all messed up. He’s been out for himself, when he should have been building a team. He falls in love with the girl who’s a Porsche, and makes friends with the natives who seemed, at first, to be a bit odd. And then, when he’s beginning to realise that maybe Radiator Springs is actually the perfect place for him, his old life finds him. He’s swept away back to the big race, back to everything he thought he wanted in the first place. And now, it’s empty, because he can’t have the people—wait, sorry, the cars—he cares about with him.
Talk about character arc? That’s a character arc if I ever saw one.
It also has the perfect structure. It begins with a race. Lightning McQueen is a rookie. Nothing matters more than winning the Piston Cup. He has two rivals: The King, a good-natured champion about to retire, and Chick Hicks, a ruthless self-server. Despite Chick’s cheating (which causes a massive crash), and McQueen’s lack of pit crew, there’s a three-way tie, and there’s going to be a rematch in a week’s time in California. On the way there to schmooze with the Big Important Sponsor, McQueen gets waylaid in Radiator Springs, where he finds the key to happiness (love and friendship). But then he’s rescued, and there’s another big race scene just like the first, except just with the principal cars this time. And when Chick’s cheating causes another crash, McQueen has a choice to make—what’s more important? Winning, or doing the right thing?
I’m a sucker for circular structure, when at the end of the book the hero or heroine ends up with exactly what s/he thinks she wanted at the beginning, and it’s not good enough any more. When the writer takes a scene that meant one thing at first, and gives it to us again at the end, with a whole different meaning. It’s just so...satisfying.
Anyway, I could go on and on about Cars, talking about efficiency of characterisation, about wittiness of setting, about how my kid always laughs when Mater jumps backwards over the moon. And we won’t even mention how I totally fancy Owen Wilson and Paul Newman, even as cars. You get my point. Hopefully this will send you straight out to watch Cars, and maybe even to buy my last book and my latest book, to see if they really do have the same plot, or if this post has just been an excuse to talk about my kid’s favourite movie.
How about you? Have you blatantly ripped off a plot lately?
Julie’s latest book, GETTING AWAY WITH IT, is about Liza Haven, a hot-shot stunt woman heroine, who crashes a fantastically expensive Ferrari Enzo and has to return to the small town where she grew up. But when she gets there, she finds that her perfect identical twin sister, Lee, has disappeared, and the entire town thinks that Liza is Lee. And yes, Liza falls in love with the Porsche, though in this case, it’s her sister’s boyfriend Will, who drives an Aston Martin DBS in British Racing Green. No, she hasn’t watched Cars too much, honestly.
GETTING AWAY WITH IT is out in hardback on 28 October, and paperback on 17 March 2011. You can pre-order it with free worldwide shipping here.
Or, if you want to have a chance to win one of three ARCs of GETTING AWAY WITH IT, all you have to do is sign up for Julie’s newsletter, and you’ll be in with a chance of winning. Visit here to enter.
If you say the Writing Playground sent you, Julie will even enter you twice!