Of all the non-Disney kids movies that came out in the last year, my favorite was Sing. It interested me from the first trailer, and when I watched it, I was blown away. It was so good. Yeah, there were a few problems, but those were easily overlooked by list of great things about it.
There are a lot of things writers can learn from this movie. Today, we'll be looking at the five lessons we can learn from Sing and how we can apply them to our own novels. Warning: There will be spoilers for the movie ahead.
1. Characteristic moments are important
Sing opens with a bit of Buster Moon's backstory, then does a quick montage to introduce all the main characters. What the filmmakers did so well is that each little scene shows us who the character is, how they enjoy music, and gives a hint towards their conflict. Buster is a showman who wants to share his joy of theater with the world. Rosita is shown to be a mom who wants to be noticed again, while it's easy to tell Johnny doesn't want to be part of his dad's gang. Ash has a horrible boyfriend, Mike is a jerk, and Mina has fear issues.
When you introduce your character, show readers who they are quickly and easily. Try to show their personality, desires, and flaws all in one scene. It's tricky, but it can be done. And when it's done well, people will feel quite quickly that they know your character and get a feel for who they are.
2. Give us good arcs
Over the course of the movie, the characters go through arcs and become better people (or animals if you want to be technical). They overcome their flaws and show the world who they are. Each character has a point where they could just give up and go back to the way they were, and each rejects it marvelously.
Follow a good arc with your characters, and readers will be rooting for them. Make them fail, then get back up again. Let their insecurities shine through in the Dark Night of the Soul. Then when the climax comes, they can rise from the ashes like a phoenix.
3. Develop all your characters
Sing had one disappointing character. Mike. He's introduced as a busker, a con man, and mean, and never progresses past that point. The whole movie I was waiting for them to drop the bomb on why he's like this and make me sympathize with him, but it never came.
I guess with so many characters, it could be easy to overlook one, but I feel like it was an oversight on their part. Mike could have been used so much more effectively. Instead, I think he was just there as some extra conflict. My sister and I make theories about why he is the way he is. (And hopefully, should they ever make a second one, they'll expand on him.)
The lesson we can learn from Mike is that you shouldn't overlook characters that are a major part of the plot. Make sure to develop all of your characters. If you give us a reason why a character is nasty, then we're more likely to like them then if we never see why. Take Loki, for example. If we never knew his backstory and all the hurt and betrayal he felt, he'd just be a psychotic bad guy. Instead, he's one of Marvel's most popular villains.
4. Think about worldbuilding
The other major disappointment in this movie was the worldbuilding. It was hard not to compare it to the other big animal world film, Zootopia, which I loved. While very different stories, both take place in animal filled cities. And while Zooptopia's world was one of the best I've seen, Sing's was. . . not.
It felt like they took ideas from Disney, but didn't fully develop them. They tried to make the world work. Buster's bike has extra tall pedals. Mike's car has a tiny steering wheel, way smaller than the size of the car. There's even a water way for water animals to use. But it didn't make much sense. Wouldn't they have different sized things for different sized animals? Or what about housing? Mina's house was so small she had to squeeze through doorways.
Take time to build your world. That step is often overlooked anymore and it shouldn't be. What happened to the epic fantasy worlds of old? Instead we're left with half developed, mush worlds with questionable rules. Please, take a little extra time in prewriting and work on your world. People will thank you for it.
5. Make the stakes personal
Every character has something to prove and something to lose in this movie. That is clearly displayed in the climax, where they have their singing show despite the fact that there is no money, there isn't much of an audience, there isn't even a real theater left. As Buster says, they're doing it for themselves. Each one steps up and defeats their own inner demon through the songs they sing.
Rosita lets herself go and proves that she still has it. Johnny makes up with his dad and proves that it won't hold him back. Ash sings a powerful song about how she won't let someone else push her around. Mina gets over her shyness to learn she can perform. Mike just does it to show off. But still, it remains true to their character and gives them a lovely arc.
Give your characters something personal to lose in the stakes. Does the villain plan on world domination? Then make him threaten the hero's sister as well. Have a bully at school? Make the bullying affect their performance skills, threatening their school play auditions. Make it personal and readers will be hooked, plus they'll root for them.
Let's talk! Have you watched Sing? What was your favorite part? What did you learn from it about storytelling? Tell me in the comments.