Anatomy of A Trend

30 Apr

Image courtesy Mike Watson at

We have always encouraged our children to be independent thinkers, sometimes with unexpected consequences.

When my eldest son was six years old, he announced that he would no longer watch Disney movies. He said he didn’t like them because the parents either died or were separated from their children in almost every Disney movie he’d ever seen.

Of course, I explained to him that this was a plot device that forced the hero-child to solve his own problems, thereby making the story more interesting.  Still, my son could not believe in a happy ending after the hero had lost his family.

So our four children grew up in that cultural rarity, a Disney-free home. No princesses, no singing mice, no evil villains falling to their deaths. Oh, we made a few exceptions, like Mulan and the Pixar films. (No dead parents there.) But for the most part, the release of a new Disney film drew about as much enthusiasm from my kids as my latest spinach recipe.

Recently, one of my younger sons decided this lack of Disney knowledge was a gaping hole in his cultural literacy.  He began watching Disney theatrical feature films in the order they were released, starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which was first released in 1937. With lots of help from the wonderful staff at Eagle Public Library, he has watched more than 70 Disney films in the last two months.

What have we learned from cramming decades of film history into such a short time?

For me, as a writer, the most fascinating part has been seeing the story trends come and go. It doesn’t matter if it’s westerns, or animal tearjerkers, or even space travel. All trends cycle through three surprisingly predictable phases:

Phase I: The first hint I was surprised by how many times I watched a film and said, “Oh, that’s a remake of a blockbuster,” when in fact it was actually made before the hit movie. Usually, these are little films you’ve never even heard of. But somebody must have been inspired by them because a couple of years later, the same basic storyline is redone with a bigger budget, more famous actors, and patches on any  plot holes. Then you have. . .

 Phase II: The Blockbuster This is usually the big money-making film that officially starts the trend or brings it to the public’s attention. I watched a lot of them, trying to understand how they differ from the little films that passed by unnoticed.

While they are almost always well-written stories, their most important shared characteristic was that they were so completely different than every other film released at that time.

The switch from one trend to another is usually a quick, clean break, not a gradual metamorphosis.

Phase III: The Copycats A single blockbuster will spawn dozens of variations and imitations. The first few may be interesting, but the premise quickly grows tired and repetitious. In the end, the storylines are so predictable that even children are yelling out the plot points before they happen.  That’s when you start scouring the list, praying for something different, looking for the little films that hint at a new trend.

Surprisingly, this exercise has made me more optimistic about the future of publishing and all forms of storytelling.

Sometimes, when you’re in a middle of a trend—particularly if it’s one you don’t like—it can be hard to see the cycle. It’s easy to take the negative view and believe that storytelling is in a downward spiral from which it will never recover.

It helps to see the big picture. Don’t despair if you hate the current trends. Another one is just around the corner.

How about you? Do you enjoy jumping on the latest bandwagon or are you more of an independent thinker? What would you like to see as the next big trend in films and literature?


Posted by on April 30, 2012 in publishing


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21 responses to “Anatomy of A Trend

  1. Janis McCurry

    April 30, 2012 at 7:22 AM

    “The only thing that stays the same is change.” 🙂 I know, I know, she said, raising her hand and jumping up and down. I would love to see a return to funny, light-hearted romances. I adore paranormals, but please, can we get away from sturm und drang. I don’t need one more world-is-going-to-end if the h/h don’t prevail. Life can be funny and so can love. A few writers still have funny stories, but by far I think currently more dark romances are written than not. The old Love & Laughter line and the early Desires were often laugh out loud times.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      April 30, 2012 at 12:12 PM

      Janis, What a great idea. I would love to read a light-hearted funny paranormal. Maybe one of our readers will recommend one.

  2. Betsy Love Lds Author

    April 30, 2012 at 7:39 AM

    Here, here Janis (Or is it hear, hear…I can never get this straight). I love light-hearted. I loved banter. Who doesn’t love Much Ado about Nothing. Benedick and Beatrice’s sparring is delightful. Anyway, I digress. I don’t follow the trend, I just want to tell a good story. If it happens to follow the “trend,” it’s purely accidental!

    • Clarissa Southwick

      April 30, 2012 at 12:14 PM

      Hi Betsy, Another vote for a light-hearted romp. Sounds great! Thanks for commenting.

  3. Meredith Allen Conner

    April 30, 2012 at 7:48 AM

    I agree – please can we get away from the life and death and the world is ending?! I love paranormals, but I can barely pick up my favorite authors any more because I know it’s going to be gloom and doom even if there is a happily ever after.
    Thanks for the great blog Clarissa! You are right – it does make one more optimistic doesn’t it?

    • Clarissa Southwick

      April 30, 2012 at 12:16 PM

      Meredith, It sounds like everyone wants to read something lighter. I know you have the perfect story. Here’s hoping some publisher agrees!

  4. Liz Fredericks

    April 30, 2012 at 8:20 AM

    My position – you can either hold faith that there’s a forest beyond the tree (e.g., cycle) or focus on a single tree and ignore the forest (finish your WIP because the story is in your head/heart and not because it’s the next-last-thing). It’s trying to see all the trees at once . . . do and master everything in unison – social media, industry cues, self-pub/traditional . . . . .eeeeeek

    … the all or nothing stuff feels hopeless and nothing’s ever quite so simple as ‘all or nothing’, ‘good or evil’, ‘sweet or sour’ . . . oh, wait, lemonheads – never mind.

    PS – Nice blog, Clarissa.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      May 1, 2012 at 10:43 AM

      I definitely prefer to believe that there’s a forest beyond the trees, otherwise you would have to give up writing altogether. Thanks for the comment, Liz!

  5. Peggy Staggs

    April 30, 2012 at 9:43 AM

    It’s amazing what you are able to look at everything in a short time. It would be interesting to see all the block busters in a row. Right now—as a glass half full kind of person—all the doom and gloom is making me crazy too. I think the reason the Mayan calendar ends this year is because that’s all the bigger the rock was.
    I’m just searching for that different from the rest situation.

    • Greta

      May 1, 2012 at 6:34 AM

      “That’s all the bigger the rock was”! Peggy, this was HILARIOUS.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      May 1, 2012 at 10:45 AM

      Peggy, When I shop for books, that’s all I look for–something that’s different. And definitely, I agree on the rock 🙂 Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  6. stephanieberget

    April 30, 2012 at 1:18 PM

    I agree about the funny romance. They are my favorite. Watching the Disney movies from earliest to latest is an intriguing idea. Great post, Clarissa

    • Clarissa Southwick

      May 1, 2012 at 10:45 AM

      Hi Stephanie, It’s always so good to see your comments here. Thanks!

  7. ramblingsfromtheleft

    April 30, 2012 at 2:55 PM

    Clarissa, trends are like stereotypes, you can believe them or see through them. The choice is ours. Someone once said that there are only six plots in the universe and that all else are variations on a theme. I like the variations, the magical moments of Masterpiece Theatre, of a light and optiistic moment in film. The Artist this past year was a great example. Beautiful, light hearted and a SILENT movie.

    Books, music and film have been my obsession since childhood. I read, listen and watch the good, the bad and the ugly of it all. I don’t judge or avoid a style because of hype. I don’t believe that one type of anything is the “right” type and I was always very verbal with my kids. My son concluded that John Steinbeck was too depressing and that “classic” meant a book would be tragic. I kept feeding him more and different books. Okay, so he still doesn’t like Steinbeck but he reads two to three books a week, listens to every type and style of music and understands that there is no right or wrong of it. One person wrote a blockbuster book on vampires and ten thousand people have tried to duplicate the reaction. One person wrote of a magical world of wizzards and fairies … he was Tolkien … it took fifty years to come close to duplicating his genius.

    I’ll keep my eyes and ears open and see what comes down the pike. Yes, maybe Nora Ephran will give us another great romantic comedy 🙂 And as for what I write? I write stories about the world I came from, the people and places I keep in my heart. I don’t think that is a trend, but it makes for a great story 🙂

    • Clarissa Southwick

      May 2, 2012 at 11:11 AM

      I love it when authors write real stories about the place where they’re from, especially if it’s done with a bit of humor. Good luck with your writing!

  8. Jenn Stark

    April 30, 2012 at 4:03 PM

    Great post, Clarissa! I’d never thought of watching all Disney flicks from stem to stern… I think I’d start dreaming in animation! 🙂 Very cool idea.

    As to the next trend, i would love something fun/escapist, not quite so end of the world, as well!

    • Clarissa Southwick

      May 2, 2012 at 11:12 AM

      Hi Jenn, We also watched the feature films (Old Yeller, The Love Bug, etc) which is where the trends were most obvious. We seem to have a majority looking for fun. Yay!

  9. katewyland

    April 30, 2012 at 5:14 PM

    I’d be curious what trends you actually saw.

  10. Greta

    May 1, 2012 at 6:38 AM

    Hi, Clarissa.

    As long as there are lots of stories to choose from, I’m happy. The ebook revolution means we’ll just get more and more options, which is a great thing … although I was sad to see Borders go.

  11. Lynn Mapp

    May 1, 2012 at 7:44 PM

    Clarissa, I am sick of the world coming to an end. Others have already hit on this trend. I want to escape the drama of the real world, or my real life. I want to laugh. I have done enough crying.

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