The Wisdom of Shrek Applied to Writing

Shrek: For your information, there’s a lot more to ogres than people think.
Donkey: Example?
Shrek: Example… uh… ogres are like onions!
[holds up an onion, which Donkey sniffs]
Donkey: They stink?
Shrek: Yes… No!
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry?
Shrek: No!
Donkey: Oh, you leave ’em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs…
Shrek: [peels an onion] NO! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.
[walks off]
Donkey: Oh, you both have LAYERS. Oh. You know, not everybody like onions. What about cake? Everybody loves cake!
Shrek: I don’t care what everyone else likes! Ogres are not like cakes.
Donkey: You know what ELSE everybody likes? Parfaits! Have you ever met a person, you say, “Let’s get some parfait,” they say, “Hell no, I don’t like no parfait”? Parfaits are delicious!
Shrek: NO! You dense, irritating, miniature beast of burden! Ogres are like onions! End of story! Bye-bye! See ya later.
Donkey: Parfait’s gotta be the most delicious thing on the whole damn planet!

I love Shrek. There are days I truly believe some of the worst ills of the world could be solved by applying the Wisdom of Shrek. The above scene is one my daughter can repeat verbatim, including the voice inflections. Consider this parody, in which the word “ogre” has been substituted with variations on writing and stories:

Writer: For your information, there’s a lot more to writing stories than people think.
Donkey: Example?
Writer: Example… uh… stories are like onions!
[holds up an onion, which Donkey sniffs]
Donkey: They stink?
Writer: Yes… No! Well, okay sometimes but most just need a good editor.
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry?
Writer: No! Well, okay, some do, but it’s usually a good cry, even though your heart may be breaking for the characters.
Donkey: Oh, you leave ’em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs…
Writer: [peels an onion] NO! (Unless of course the writer wants them to, as in stories with zombies and vampires and other monsters.) Layers. Onions have layers. Writing has layers. Onions have layers. You get it? They both have layers.
[walks off]
Donkey: Oh, you both have LAYERS. Oh. You know, not everybody like onions. What about cake? Everybody loves cake!
Writer: This is true, and writers do try to give readers bits of cake. Rich red velvet cake with buttercream icing. But we still do it in layers.
Donkey: You know what ELSE everybody likes? Parfaits! Have you ever met a person, you say, “Let’s get some parfait,” they say, “Hell no, I don’t like no parfait”? Parfaits are delicious!
Writer: Yes, people DO like parfait. And if we do it right, we can give our readers parfait. But ultimately, writing is like onions! End of story! Bye-bye! See ya later.
Donkey: Parfait’s gotta be the most delicious thing on the whole damn planet! 

And if a writer “does it right,” we may start out with onions…but the end result has the potential to be parfait every time. I’ve been working with a writing partner recently, and I mentioned that I write in layers. Some people get that immediately but Kim Bowman wanted me to clarify (it turns out she does the same thing but it never occurred to her to label what she was doing). The best way to explain the layering technique as it applies to me would be to explain it as a process. I construct a scene in my mind – this can take anywhere from an instant to a few days. But generally, I have an idea of how it’s going to go when I start writing. At that point, it’s all about getting the scene down. It could be action-driven or dialogue-driven. For this demonstration, let’s examine my recent writing prompt project, Sweet Treats and Hot Air.

One of the scenes began like this:

“Did I do okay, Uncle Kevin?”

“Perfect delivery, Meelie Bug!” called the balloon pilot.

Lina whirled and looked into the laughing blue eyes of one of her fellow firefighters.

“Thanks for the Sweet Treat.” The pilot lifted the cone from Lina’s unresisting fingers.

“Kevin Daly, if you think you’re going to take me for a ride in this thing, you can re-think your plan!”

“Relax. We’re going to enjoy a nice, smooth ride together. Want a lick?”

After I got the basic dialogue applied to the scene, I went back and added some action:

The child turned and laughed. “Did I do okay, Uncle Kevin?”

“Perfect delivery, Meelie Bug!” called the balloon pilot.

Lina whirled and looked into the laughing blue eyes of one of her fellow firefighters.

The water bottle slipped from Lina’s fingers and her jaw went slack. After a moment she remembered to blink.

“Thanks for the Sweet Treat.” The pilot lifted the cone from Lina’s unresisting fingers and indulged himself with a long stroke of his tongue over the ice cream.

Lina clamped her hands on her hips. “Kevin Daly, if you think you’re going to take me for a ride in this thing, you can re-think your plan!” She thrust her leg over the edge of the basket only to pull it back quickly with a little squeal when she realized they were already more than a full story off the ground.

“Relax.” Kevin winked. “We’re going to enjoy a nice, smooth ride together. Want a lick?” He offered the ice cream cone in Lina’s direction.

And after the actions, I added a few thoughts and some emotion, with the end result looking like this:

The child turned and laughed. “Did I do okay, Uncle Kevin?”

Uncle Kevin?

“Perfect delivery, Meelie Bug!” called the balloon pilot.

Lina knew that voice! She whirled and looked into the laughing blue eyes of one of her fellow firefighters . . .  who happened, she recalled now, to have a special taste for vanilla ice cream with chocolate sprinkles . . . and apparently participated in hot air ballooning as a hobby.

The water bottle slipped from Lina’s fingers and her jaw went slack. After a moment she remembered to blink.

“Thanks for the Sweet Treat.” The pilot lifted the cone from Lina’s unresisting fingers and indulged himself with a long stroke of his tongue over the ice cream. Lina’s mind rather inconveniently presented her with possibilities of other things that pink tongue might like to indulge in and she closed her mouth with a click of her teeth.

Spurred by indignation, Lina clamped her hands on her hips. “Kevin Daly, if you think you’re going to take me for a ride in this thing, you can re-think your plan!” She thrust her leg over the edge of the basket only to pull it back quickly with a little squeal when she realized they were already more than a full story off the ground.

“Relax.” Kevin winked. “We’re going to enjoy a nice, smooth ride together. Want a lick?” He offered the ice cream cone in Lina’s direction.

Relax? Lina’s heart threatened to burst from her chest. I’m floating in a basket being held up by nothing more than hot air with the department’s hottest eligible male.

Parfait? Maybe not yet, since my crit partners never got a chance to work their magic on this, but closer to dessert than an onion, I’m thinking.

Sweet Treats and Hot Air started out as a writing prompt but has morphed into a full story that I am hoping to finish this fall. Check out the tab in the menu above, or click here to read more.

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5 thoughts on “The Wisdom of Shrek Applied to Writing

  1. the1940mysterywriter says:

    Purrrrrrr.
    (In cat-burglarese, that means, “I like.” And yeah, I’ll have to try this technique.)
    Gunnar

  2. Jeanne Theunissen says:

    I have to say you come up with the coolest anaogies. I wish I had half your imagination! I guess it’s a good thing I’ve never aspired to be a writer; I’d be a dismal failure.

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