Saturday, January 7, 2012

Can a Story About Ordinary People Hold Your Interest?

As  readers and authors, we don't want all material to be the same. That would be like eating the same meal every day, three times day. We like variety, yes, but still we pick and choose those foods that appeal to us from a wide variation of the same kind. I love tomatoes, and I'll take any kind or variety of tomato that I can find. However, some are often tasteless or too mushy or too acidic, making my stomach churn.

But I wouldn't eat a raw oyster on a bet. First, they're distasteful looking, slimy, and just plain awful. Plus, I've seen too many things under a microscope, and trust might think twice about eating one. However, I've seen people eat them with gusto and enjoy every morsel.

To each his own.

The same is true with my reading and writing material. There are certain genres and styles I enjoy, and there are others I wouldn't read....well, on the same bet.

Often I crave "just stories," nothing contrived, but a tale about...Ordinary People. Yes, I think many of my stories are about ordinary people. (I'm omitting my 99cent Western Trail Blazer shorts--those are a little overdone, but all in the name of fun.)

My favorite kind of movie, too, is often about ordinary people. (Here, I'll exclude the James Bond movies with Daniel Craig. I know they're totally unrealistic, very loud, and often brutal. But...that's my one foray into a secret vice--I LOVE his James Bonds movies!)

But back to movies about people, with their angst, their longings, their heartbreak, their loneliness, their phobias, and yes, even their weaknesses. Dysfunctional people and families can make the most interesting and emotional movie or book.

Here are four Storylines--Have you seen the movie? Hint: these are not new.


Beth, Calvin, and their son Conrad are living in the aftermath of the death of the other son. Conrad is overcome by grief and misplaced guilt to the extent of a suicide attempt. He is in therapy. Beth had always preferred his brother and is having difficulty being supportive to Conrad. Calvin is trapped between the two trying to hold the family together.
~*~Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch,
Timothy Hutton~*~

Lester and Carolyn Burnham are on the outside, a perfect husband and wife, in a perfect house, in a perfect neighborhood. But inside, Lester is slipping deeper and deeper into a hopeless depression. He finally snaps when he becomes infatuated with one of his daughter's friends. Meanwhile, his daughter Jane is developing a happy friendship with a shy boy-next-door named Ricky, who lives with a homophobic father.
~*~Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley,
Mena Suvari~*~

In the Salinas Valley, in and around World War I, Cal Trask feels he must compete against overwhelming odds with his brother Aron for the love of their father Adam. Cal is frustrated at every turn, from his reaction to the war, to how to get ahead in business and in life, to how to relate to estranged mother.
~*~Julie Harris, James Dean, Raymond Massey, Richard Davalos~*~

Aurora and Emma are mother and daughter who march to different drummers. Beginning with Emma's marriage, Aurora shows how difficult and loving she can be. The movie covers several years of their lives as each finds different reasons to go on living and find joy. Aurora's interludes with Garrett Breedlove, retired astronaut and next door neighbor are quite striking. In the end, different people show their love in very different ways.
~*~ Shirley Maclaine, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson, Jeff Daniels~*~

All of these feature dysfunctional individuals and families or how a family copes with tragedy and heartbreak. To me, they are some of the best stories ever written. Movie goers and the movie industry think so, too. All four movies were blockbusters, and all four earned multiple Academy Awards.

Still, I don't care for a steady diet. Occasionally I yearn for a good loud, outrageous Western, or a comedy such as The Bridesmaids or Sex and the City.

What about you? Steady diet or variation? 
Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas           


  1. Good choice of movies, Celia. I like ordinary people, both in movies and in books too. I'm simply not interested in Arabian sheikhs or Greek billionaires. Maybe sosme people like them for a bit of escapism and fantasy, but I prefer the reality of ordinary people having to solve the problems in their lives, and learning more about themselves and others in the process.

  2. I like ordinary people stories, also, but sometimes with a touch of flair (you know, those military types or pop stars, lol).

    I love family relationship stories!

    I read a variety of genres. I won't do horror, but most others I'll at least try to see if it holds me.

  3. Celia,
    I, too, enjoy the loud, larger-than-life stories, but my favorite stories are ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. A close second is a variation of the fish-out-of-water story, i.e. the person who doesn't fit in for whatever reason trying to come to terms what makes him different and finding happiness along the way.

  4. I'm with you on this subject, Celia. Stories of ordinary people facing, as Keena said, extraordinary issues. Real people and their relationships are far more interesting than anything contrived. But...this type book or movie is harder and harder to find now. Fast moving, over the top seems to be the norn. To each his own. But I hope there will always be a place for calm, in-depth stories that touch our hearts.

  5. Great post, Celia and an interesting topic.

    I, too, enjoy stories about 'ordinary' people, those who find themselves in extra-ordinary circumstances, having to overcome various problems and go on some emotional journey in order to overcome them. Ordinary characters like those in 'The Full Montey' (to name a film) and as a writer, these are the types of people I love to write about. Probably because I know their world and can really identify with them x

  6. Hi Celia.
    I think stories about ordinary people are MUCH more interesting than flights of fancy. I love horror and the best ones are about ordinary people in extraordinary situations.
    I'm afraid the only plot I recognised was American Beauty. I LOVED that film

  7. Celia,
    As always, a post that makes me think! I don't know if I'm up to it this morning. LOL I love tomatoes, too, in any form. I will eat a plate of them for dinner sometimes, and nothing else. I love Daniel Craig just as much as tomatoes--well, almost. LOL Oh, yes. Those Bond movies of his--I never though ANYONE could replace Sean Connery as the ultimate Bond, but...Daniel has done it. Ok, to the topic at hand--can't get off topic and sit here drooling over Daniel. I love movies about ordinary people faced with extaordinary circumstances. All my own books are written on that premise. Like Paula, I find it hard to get interested in Greek Billionaires and/or Arabian sheikhs. I like stories about ordinary people who must overcome the odds--odds that are insurmountable, seemingly.But I also like the occasional story such as the Bond movies, or X-Men, Superman, etc. Have you ever seen Hancock with Will Smith? This is a perfect example of blending of what we're talking about--he's an ordinary man but he has superhuman powers. But even he doesn't realize the extent of them until later in the movie. The Stand is another good example--ordinary people up against supernatural evil--one of the best books ever! Remember St. Agnes' Stand? Ordinary people against seemingly insurmountable odds. And of course, my all-time favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird--these are just ordinary people trying to do the right thing, and I love that we see it through Scout's eyes. It colors the story in a way no other telling could have done. Great topic, Celia. Now I'll be thinking of this all day long. LOL

  8. I think variety is the key. Books and movies full of heartache and angst are great once in a while. But a steady diet would get depressing. It's good to lighten things up with a comedy or action thriller. By contrast, a steady diet of light comedy would soon have us rolling our eyes, looking for a little more depth. I love chocolate cake, but I wouldn't want to eat it every day!

  9. Hi, Celia! I believe that in every "ordinary" life, there are extraordinary, interconnected stories waiting to be fully realized by a visionary writer.

    A favorite book/movie of mine is "An Unfinished Life". The book is written by Mark Spragg, and it is simply superb. The film version, starring Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman, is so beautifully acted that words are almost unnecessary. Emotionally exquisite!

    I am blogging at SOTW today, so y'all please come by and visit a spell : )

  10. I've never seen any of the movies you listed, mostly because they sound so depressing. Yes, I prefer comedies--a steady diet of chocolate cake, as Jannine says. I love Shrek, Mama Mia, Sweet Home Alabama, Love Actually, etc.

    I also love westerns but there aren't many new ones. Open Range was wonderful--haven't seen Cowboys vs Aliens yet. Don't know why because I enjoy both westerns and SF, but for some reason this movie doesn't have much allure for me even with Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. But I'll eventually see it.

    Ordinary people? Yes, but I also love it when ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Luke Skywalker when his family is killed and the farm destroyed. Joan Wilder when her sister is kidnapped.

    Um, as I write this, it occurs to me that I'm quite entertained by the extraordinary. LOL.

  11. I like variety. My two failsafes are action adventure movies and romantic comedies, but I'll occassionally venture into a Driving Miss Daisy, a Shanghai Noon, or an Avatar.

    And Celia, have you tried Ugly tomatoes? Someone recommended them to us recently, and I'm pleased to say they have good flavor even in the winter.


  12. Paua--If I could write about those Arabian sheikhs or Greek billionaires...or even an Alpha hero, I'd probably make a lot more money! But I stick with what I know---Thanks.

  13. Loraine--Yes, you do put a little more flair into yours...that would be your artistic side taking over. It works really well for you. And military and pop stars can be "oridnary" at times.

  14. Keena--I hadn't thought of the "fish out of water" plot, but that would be an interesting story. I don't think I've written one like that...but I know enough about it that maybe I could.
    Oh, and yes, once in a while I really do love those loud long as there is no torture.

  15. Linda--the movies today, yes, are overdone and over the top. And did you know this past year was the worst for the boxoffice ever? They blame it on Netflix and touch pads, but deep down they know...and I have read...that the movies just arent' good. Yes, we do need a switch back to something ordinary with extraordinary action.
    Thank you for input--

  16. may be easier for some authors--or screen writers--to write something that doesn't seem personal. Writing about relationships and emotions and dysfunctions really isn't that easy. Thank you for commenting--very good.

  17. JENNY--American Beauty was the newest in the wonder you didn't recognize're young! All four are excellent examples of stories about real people with real problems. My goodness, you can find material in the paper every day. Thanks for stopping by!

  18. Cheryl--you had some great titles there! "Against all odds" kinds of stories are definitely a wonderful avenue for a plot. I think you do that as well as anyone. Maybe some of mine play on that theme, too, like my Texas books.
    Oh, yes, I remember St. Agnes' Stand! I still thank you for telling me about that book..

  19. JANNINE--good point! Some chick flick kinds of comedies are also based on ordinary people. I like some of those, but when they move into slapstick with adults tripping over their own feet, that sort of you...I roll my eyes.
    No, I don't want to be depressed, either...but oh, how I love a movie that makes me cry. I've watched Terms of Endearment four times and have bawled everytime! And I laughed just as hard at Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson. What a pair.
    Thanks for visiting...

  20. VIRGINA--I've heard of that movie but never saw it. All lives have something to saw. I often write "childhood anecdotes" which I fictionalize, and readers say..You had the most interesting childhood. No, I had an ordinary childhood. But I can take an event and make it into an entertaining little story.
    I'll be right over to SOTW! I scanned it this morning, but I need to look at those recipes again.

  21. JACQUIE--all chocolate, huh? Open Range was one of the best. I've watched it twice, and have the Soundtrack. When I listen to the soundtrack, I can envision the scenes. I's goofy.
    All of the movies have much angst, but all also have love scenes, and some comedic scenes--especially Terms of Endearment...that one has it all. Thank you for visiting.

  22. MAGGIE--I knew you liked variety..and a lot of it. Ugly tomatoes? I have never heard of such! Thanks for you input...always entertaining.

  23. Celia, if we look around us we find plenty of ideas for books or movies. I like ordinary people but in different extraordinary situations. Something to retain my interest. As for movies, I prefer comedies that make me smile , laugh or relax. There's enough drama around us, why watch a movie to get more stressed or worried even for a short time? Examples of my favorite movies: Something got to give; The King's Speech; Laws of Attraction... BTW Arabian cheikhs of movies and books are much more American than the real Arab cheikhs on the TV news!

  24. I also have eclectic reading tastes and movie tastes. However, I prefer a happy ending, which is why I write romance instead of literary fiction. I am not out to earn a Pulitzer, but to entertain and leave readers with a happy sigh of contentment--and maybe a few deeper thoughts too.

  25. MONA--I love a good romantic comedy, but I'm picky. I know I've seen some, but right now I cannot remember any. I love BIG movies, like Seabiscuit, Pride and Prejudice, and Open Range...with great scenery and wonderful,moving music. That's my favortie kind.

  26. CAROLINE--yeah, I know.I don't want to be sad when I leave a theater. But as I've said, one that can make me cry is the best! Like Terms of Endeatment...I laughed as much as I cried. It was emotional all around.
    Oh, and remember Fried Green Tomatoes? My lands, there's never been a movie that good since.

  27. I've seen all of these movies except American Beauty--just so much time ya know.
    I loved this post because I agree that some of the most enduring stories are about ordinary people trying to work out the dilemmas of their lives--William Faulkner, Stienbeck and Hemingway were all experts in writing about ordinary people overcoming obstacles and internal conflicts and changing in the process.
    Wonderful post, Celia.

  28. Celia, I like your selection, it has a nice balance. I think we all tend to identify with "ordinary people" stories. The appeal for me is how they character driven as opposed to plot driven.

    I loved Terms of Endearment and it would definately be on my list. I might add Mystic Pizza but it's been a while since I watched that movie. Mind you, it's been a while since I've watched movies and I'm drawing a blank right now. lol!! Would "The Sopranos" qualify?

    I also like ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

    And I'm a sucker for escapism and life, but I've written several ordinary people stories. Hey, I'm easy and I like a wide variety.


  29. SARAH--oh, if only we could be in the same league with one of those top three! I believe just about anyone's life might make a good story. Thanks...

  30. Hi, Steph--You and Maggie like more variety--I think I could have guessed that just from the books you write. Both of you have a wide vision of what can make a good story, and I applaud you! It's your overactive creative mind...that's for sure, and good for you...write those books.

  31. I loved Terms of Endearment. I haven't seen East of Eden. I think people relate to "ordinary people" because that is who we are. The fantastical and extraordinary is nice for the occasional, but it's nice to see the little guy/gal win. Heartwarming too.

  32. Great post, Celia! From my corner, what wins hands down every time is the struggle of the everyday 'average' individual climbing the insurmountable mountain.
    Thanks for another thought-provoking post.