On Monday I was in the company of Julie Andrews. Well, not exactly…we were in the same building (my office), on the same floor, she was at a table signing her new children’s book and I stood about eight feet away, mesmerized. And yes, I was very near tears.
“That’s Julie Andrews!” I kept thinking to myself. She was gracious. Thoughtful. Engaged. She had kind exchanges with all of the lucky 70+ people who received her book and were having it signed. She was captivating.
After I tore myself away and returned to my desk, I kept thinking about The Sound of Music. It’s the first movie I recall seeing in a movie theater. My parents forced me to go. I was only six or seven years old and from the title, I was sure it was something “stupid” about music. Something related to opera, if my dad had anything to do with it. I imagine popcorn was involved in getting me to finally agree to see the movie.
After it was over, we left the theater and I danced down Broadway Ave. in Portland, singing about the hills being alive and solving a problem like Maria. I’d been converted.
Here I am, 34 years later, and seeing Julie Andrews on Monday made me want to belt out those same tunes. I wanted to thank her for saving those poor von Trapp children, maybe congratulate her on seeing that she really wasn’t cut out to be a nun. Of course Julie Andrews isn’t Maria von Trapp. But when I saw her, sitting at a table eight feet away from me, I recalled every part of her character as Maria von Trapp. Visual cues (Julie looks amazing!) play an important role in how I associate her with that famous character. But it’s also because how Julie created and delivered that character that made me “see” Maria von Trapp when I looked at Julie.
As writers, we also need to create and deliver strong characters. Think about your reader, decades later, “meeting” the character from your novel. Or thinking about the characters/people portrayed in your essays, feature articles, poems. Will your reader:
- feel as if they know that character? (Yes, I feel like I know Julie/Maria von Trapp. In fact, I wanted to run over and hug Julie like she was a long-lost friend. I refrained.)
- recall memories from when they first “met” that character? (Now it delights me to think of my six-year-old self, dancing down the street after the movie.)
- enjoy sharing tales of the character’s experiences with others? (Read about how Mary Poppins is my idol.
Years after my first introduction, and many viewings of The Sound of Music later, it’s reassuring to know that Julie Andrews is still teaching me valuable lessons.