Saturday, January 28, 2012

How to tell a story, or not. With Barbie.

Once, when I was about seven or eight, my Dad invited a mate over. I think it was possibly an old army mate, but I’m not sure on the specifics. It was probably explained to me at the time, but I was busy thinking about protecting my bedroom from vampires (thanks to an older sister who swore they were coming for me), protecting my toes from gnomes (they hack them off if you sleep with your feet untucked, you know), and protecting my Playmo men from the dog.

Playmo Vikings. I seriously want these from Amazon
Anyway, Dad’s mate was coming to visit and he was bringing his daughter, and my sister Kath and I had to play with her. When she turned up with all her pristine Barbie dolls in her massive Barbie Camper Van, we knew it wouldn't end well. I mean, they all still had their original high heels.

Our Barbie dolls did not do Barbie doll things. Ours went to alien planets to hold back the invasion, or time-travelled, or busted open international crime syndicates, and they did all those things in high heels and sparkly halter-tops. Now that’s girl power. We suspected that the Interloper would want to play Barbies how most girls did: by using the pictures on the box as a strict instruction manual.

We were right.

The Interloper (Bronwyn, was it Browyn?) didn’t play like we did. It was excruciating. When I was seven or eight I probably didn’t know the word excruciating, but I sure as hell felt it every time Bronwyn began every sentence with “Let’s pretend!”

Let’s pretend Barbie is going to a fashion show.
Let’s pretend she has to drive the camper van there.
Let’s pretend Barbie meets her friend Barbie at the shop
Let’s pretend Barbie and Barbie go to the beauty salon where Barbie works.

(All of them were called Barbie. Every single one. Except the three Kens.)

Let’s pretend Barbie and Barbie are at the fashion show.
Let’s pretend Barbie and Barbie and Barbie and Barbie are in the audience.

Do you feel it yet? Your muscles clenching? Your skin crawling? That tic in your eyelid? That’s excruciating, and that’s not how you tell a story.

Lesson of the day: I don’t care how flash your Barbie Camper Van is. If I hate the way you tell your story  I won’t play with you. I may even hit you over the head with one of your vaccuous, bimbo skank Barbies and my dad will smack me and send me to my room.

And it will totally be worth it.

***
What are your pet peeves when it comes to storytelling?

26 comments:

  1. This was whatever the opposite of excruciating is.

    I never got to play with Barbies till my nieces visited, and thankfully they were totally open to mixing it up with wild horses, bears, aliens, wookies, and whatever else I could dig up for them.

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    Replies
    1. You absolutely have to mix it up...otherwise it leads to violence. Just ask Bronwyn.

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  2. You know what's way better than 'let's pretend...'? 'What if ...'?

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    Replies
    1. "What if?" is the best question in the world!

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  3. I was more into cameras and painting-by-number at that time, and never wanted a Barbie.

    However, my two daughters had quite a collection and a Barbie van, BUT their Barbies were like yours - they became much more than the average Barbie with their own band, tried out punk hairdos,lost their heads (presumably over Ken), etc.

    Storytelling peeves: I do not like 'choosing my own ending' or alternate endings to a tale. If you're going to write the story, then make a decision and finish it. This might work for MG, but annoys me immensely.

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    Replies
    1. I think MG readers love the sense of empowerment with a "choose your own ending" but I'm with you - as an adult, it annoys me. You know what, writer, find an ending and commit to it. I'll follow you there!

      Your daughters' Barbies sound like they would have got on with mine!

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  4. PLAYMOBILE! Oh my gosh, best toy EVER!!!!!

    My barbies went on epic adventures in haunted houses and on mysterious islands. And I only had gymnast barbie, because she would be a natural arse kicker ;)

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    Replies
    1. Miss Cole, I KNOW! I still love mine!

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  5. I had one of those moms that didn't buy her kids Barbies. I did manage to have two at some point in my childhood. One was a b-day gift from a family friend, and the other I found on the ground at school. Her head came off. It was awesome. I didn't have any play sets so I had to do stuff like pretend my skate was her convertible and the bathroom sink was her pool.

    Imagination: The best play set!

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    1. Cacy, my mum wouldn't buy them either - Kath and I had to scrape our money together to get our first Barbie. Then relatives started to notice for birthdays and Christmases.

      All our Barbies' heads came off. And there is only so many times you can repair a Barbie neck stump with masses of sticky tape. Still, our Barbies lived hard and died nobly!

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  6. My mom "handed down" all of her vintage 1950s Barbies to me when I was about 4. By the time I was 5, their clothes had been muddied and torn (from crawling through war zones) and most of their heads had been popped off and used for grenades. My mother still hasn't forgiven me...

    As for storytelling pet peeves, I can't stand insta-love. There are few things that will cause me to put a book down, but that is one of them. See also: main characters who are too stupid to ask the obvious questions, and stakes that don't even come close to mattering.

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    Replies
    1. My mum knew better than to trust me with anything she valued! My sister an dI used to turn Barbies into aliens by putting balloons over the heads and sticking pins in their skulls for antennae.

      And I'm with you with insta-love. No such animal! Insta-lust maybe, but that's a whole different thing!

      Stupid main characters who don't ask obvious questions are why I stopped watching Lost quite early on. "Hey, has anyone noticed something weird about this place?"

      Delete
  7. I had quite a vivid imagination but we didn't ever save the earth. And my Barbies all had names.

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    1. Tasha, even when I was eight I couldn't believe all her Barbies were called Barbie. I tried to explain that in any random sample of population this was statistically unlikely, but it came out more like: "You're stupid and I hate you."
      Then I hit her with a Barbie and all hell broke loose.

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  8. I used to play with playmobiles too! Both my playmobiles and my barbies used to go on Indiana Jones-esque adventures when I played with them.

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    Replies
    1. Those are the best sort of adventures! What's adventurous about a fashion show? See, I'm still annoyed! :)

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  9. Any new Barbie I was given would instantly get dismembered and scattered round the room. Took them over seven Barbies to figure out I didn't want dolls. I much preferred playing with little metal cars and see which ones would smash (to be fair, I still have the ones that didn't). And ponies.
    My daughter on the other hand loves her dolls (gotten second-hand) and ponies (also second-hand), but she tends to use whatever's on hand along with her imagination when it comes to what they're doing.

    As for storytelling pet peeves: I'm not a fan of MCs who everyone instantly falls over themselves to help. Like everyone except the bad guy. Even his minions. What's up with that?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My sister and I had Tonka trucks. Loved them!

      That's a great peeve. I've never understood that, and I think it's very much related to Mary Sue. "Oh, I'm so wonderful and charming and beautiful that everyone loves me, even the bad guys."

      I absolutely hate that one as well!

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  10. Ouch! I feel your pain :)

    I just had to go and cheer myself up by watching Monty Python's sketch about the philosophy department of the university of Wallamaloo (My name's Bruce, this is Bruce, Bruce, and Bruce...)

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  11. Ah, the Bruces! Still more diverse than the Barbies!

    "Bruce here teaches classical philosophy, Bruce there teaches Hegelian philosophy, and Bruce here teaches logical positivism. And is also in charge of the sheep dip."

    And, strangely, the philosophy song did help me get through philosophy at uni! My lecturer wasn't called Bruce, sadly. And as far as I know the university didn't have a sheep dip. :)

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  12. I loved this blog post, A LOT. Our barbies never went into space, but they sure as heck had some wild adventures. Ours were definitely having pre-marital sex. hahahaha

    And they also found themselves in awkward predicaments hanging from washing lines by their hair. AND they had great cats for pets (our Transformers dolls with their great cat legs and great cat arms).

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  13. You are hilarious...I had to track you down after your amazing comment on my blog!

    That girl deserved to be smacked with Monsignor JD's tome on morals.

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  14. Thanks Jenny! I love your blog. And Monsignor JD was hilarious. Come on, that was good advice for these troubled times.

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  15. Gah! Why is my "reply" button not working?

    @ Trisha, I think our Barbies were having adult relationships as well, insofar as Kath and I understood them. Which probably wasn't far at all.

    They also did a lot of hanging from the clothesline!

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  16. Oh, wow.... that does sound like torture. My barbies did NOT go to the salon and drive to fashion shows. They also were called something other than Barbie when we played with them (in houses we made ourselves at my house because none of my friends had the dream home either).

    I do love when a writer takes a chance on doing something unexpected. If the story and characters are totally cookie cutter, it's boring and pointless. Also agree with those who don't like Mary Sues.

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    1. Hi jb!

      Nobody I knew had the dream house either. Our barbies once lived in a packing box apartment with a shoe box elevator, and that was the height of sophistication for us!

      I also love when a writer takes me in an unexpected direction :)

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