There are heroes in the world, wrote Stephen Sondheim in the song There Won’t Be Trumpets. Princes and heroes in the world; and one of them will save us…wait and see, wait and see.
That hopeful promise was followed by a warning: There won’t be trumpets or bolts of fire to say he’s coming.
It’s Funny but the Bells Don’t Ring
My first introduction to that song was through Barbra Streisand’s magnificent vocals for it in her Just for the Record collection. That beautiful track was actually a medley of There Won’t be Trumpets and A Quiet Thing.
As an author, the lyrics resonated with me because there are no trumpets announcing fictional heroes either.
At least not for me.
Rather, it is a quiet thing.
Where’s the Roaring of the Crowd?
In fact, there are times when a budding story idea hits with such force, such passion, movement and depth that it FEELS like an entire orchestra has announced its arrival. It feels as if that idea is *the* idea that will grow to be the next best seller, soon to be made into a blockbuster movie with A-listers like Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lopez, or maybe even Barbra Streisand in the lead roles.
The problem is ideas are not stories, just as seeds are not trees. And trumpets are not orchestras. That bolt of joy we feel as writers when an idea hits is from the jolt of new story possibilities that strike us and our muse… with promises yet to be fulfilled.
There are no exploding fireworks
I think of a new brilliant story idea like peony fireworks – you’ve seen them and you’ve probably watched in awe as they burst in the sky with a brilliant flash of color, growing outward, seeming to bloom further, all the while sizzling in the air.
That’s the whole idea right there. You see it, you hear it – as though the story has already been written and made into that movie. Everything is perfect. The plot hits all the high points and provides a thrilling ride of held breaths until the last few paragraphs. That’s when the story, the fireworks, fade away, the hero and heroine begin their happily ever after…and everyone sighs at the beauty of the moment.
It’s Funny But the Bells Don’t Ring
Have you experienced that moment?
I have. With every new story. And I’m fooled every time. Because when I sit to write it, believing it’s all been laid out for me already in that brilliant burst of light, all I really have is the ash that falls to the ground and gets swept up by sanitation crews on the morning after the fireworks show.
It’s a Quiet Thing
A writer’s job is to piece that ash back together, reconstitute it. Play that peony explosion in reverse then forward again until you can see all the inner workings…and failings…so you can retell the story in a more dimensional way. A story is not a facade, a quick explosion of beauty and sound. It is a quiet thing, one that pulls the reader in with subtle nuances, character development, setting – whether light and fun or dark and stormy.
A story, its hero, its heroine and its villain, requires a slow hand to tease out the idea. A story is not the peony alone, it is the entire firework display – the barge, the fallout zone, the choreography, the music. The audience might never be aware of all that goes into the dazzling show, just as a reader may not be aware of all that goes into a great story. But they’ll know it when they see it.
And while they’ll see the ‘hero’ on the page, and root for him or her, what they…and you…might not realize is the actual hero is the one who tempered the thrill of a new idea with a slow knowing hand that painstakingly reassembled the ash.
You won’t need trumpets
There are no trumpets
Who needs trumpets?