3 Tips from GUYS AND DOLLS

I’d never seen the musical GUYS AND DOLLS.

Until this week.

Until I saw my daughter walk across the stage as an extra in the first scene.  And then I enjoyed the excellent acting and singing.

But the writer in me popped out to analyze plot and character. #onceawriteralwaysawriter

1. Make sure opposites attract.

In order to procure a spot to shoot his crap game, one shady gambler bet another shady gambler a thousand bucks that he couldn’t get a girl to go with him to Cuba.

Except the first shady gambler got to pick the girl. And he picked a straight-laced girl who worked for the mission to convert sinners. Talk about conflict and humor.

What about your romantic leads or best friends in your current wip?

2. Make sure characters stay true to who they are.

I knew it would be a happy ending but I didn’t know how it would happen. Well, the second shady gambler gave the straight-laced missionary girl an offer she couldn’t refuse. He guaranteed her six sinners at her next prayer meeting if she accompanied him to Cuba for the day.

She couldn’t refuse when her boss threatened to close their mission because of their lack of saving sinners. #high stakes #motivation

And in the depths of the sewer, he gambled with the sinners and won. They all went to the prayer meeting.

Do your characters show change and growth while staying true to themselves?

3. Make sure all secondary characters have motivation, a stake in the plot, and a character arc.

  • Shady gambler one: He wanted a place to run his crap game.
  • Shady gambler two: He not only wanted to win the bet but then he fell in love and wanted to help the girl.
  • Shady gambler one’s girlfriend: They’d been engaged for fourteen years. She just wanted to get married.
  • The missionary girl: She wanted to save her mission and learned to look past the sinner at the person.

Each of these four characters could have been the main character.

Do your secondary characters have a story goal and character arc?

No wonder GUYS AND DOLLS is famous and has been around forever. Clever plotting. Well-rounded characters. Humor. Emotion. Believable.

What I thought would be a yawn-filled night surprised me. What’s your favorite musical? What tips could you learn from it?

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44 Responses to 3 Tips from GUYS AND DOLLS

  1. linda July 18, 2011 at 10:18 am #

    I adore musicals! You were expecting to be bored?? There are so many great ones out there! Which makes thinking of a favorite sooo difficult. Probably a toss-up between Les Miserables and Wicked (both loosely based on novels). Oh but Lion King is amazing too. So hard to decide! I enjoy musicals for the emotions expressed through music and voice, the visual displays, and the clever dance numbers. Not really for the plot. But the emotional resonance… I’d love to be able to accomplish that with my writing. 🙂

  2. Sarah July 18, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    What a great analysis. I loved this movie (Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra!) but never really thought through what made the musical so great.

  3. christine danek July 18, 2011 at 11:09 am #

    I’ve never seen this, but now want too. Sounds interesting. What great questions to ask while looking at your WiP.

  4. Miss Good on Paper July 18, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    I love Guys and Dolls. We did a production of this play in high school (so many years ago) and I was one of the dancers. I think that my so much of my understanding of character and dialogue comes from studying drama. As a writer, it is all useful–no matter how you spend your evening. =)

    Thanks! I’m following through GFC now.

    -Miss GOP

  5. Heather Sunseri July 18, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    I love musicals, but I’ve never seen Guys and Dolls. And it’s been a while since I’ve actually seen a musical on stage. I think one of my favorites is Wicked. I love the characterization and the character arcs of that one.

  6. Jen Daiker July 18, 2011 at 11:53 am #

    I never thought I’d be one to critique books or movies but now I find myself telling my husband “That character would never have done that” It seems the writer in me has stepped out of it’s shell and has decided to speak. It’s such a pet peeve of mine. The character needs to get from point A to point B so they opt to take the character out of what they’d normally do and fill in the blanks until it meets their needs. Fitting isn’t it??

    • Laura July 18, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

      Jen – I’m not getting a bit better of accepting that all books have faults and loving them anyway!
      Heather – I love musicals too. Our town theater does such a great job.

      Miss GOP Thanks for the follow!
      Christine and Sarah – I’ve never seen the movie but there is something about seeing a live musical that is more exhilirating than a movie.
      Linda – I love musicals too. But every once in a while they can go on too long. Guys and Dolls was perfect length and kept my attention. Lion King was excellent. I’d love to see Wicked at some point.

  7. Donna K. Weaver July 18, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    Isn’t it a fun story? And a young Marlon Brando in the film. Yum.

  8. Katie Ganshert July 18, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    Love these three tips, Laura! I’ve never seen Guys and Dolls. Maybe I should. I like how you pull out important writing tips from the story. 🙂

  9. Sarah Mullen Gilbert July 18, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    Guys and Dolls is one of my favorites! Great analysis; I think it’s the stakes and consitency of characters that really propels the story. Current favorite musical: Avenue Q.

  10. mooderino July 18, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    Great analysis. A good story poses difficult problems and then provides unexpected, yet satisfying answers. I htink this musical is a good example of that.


    • Laura July 18, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

      Maybe I went into this musical with low expectations? I don’t know. But I was surprised in a wonderful way. I loved the songs. They fit the characters so well. I couldn’t help but notice.

  11. Creepy Query Girl July 18, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    I need to see this musical! It sounds awesome and great observations laura! My favorite musical thus far might be ‘Camelot’ but I also like joseph and the technicolor dreamcoat, and Jesus Christ Superstar.

  12. Stina Lindenblatt July 18, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    I’ve never seen the musical before. Great points, as always, Laura. I love how your examples brings the concepts to life. 😀

  13. Lydia K July 18, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    Can’t take the writer out of Laura, no matter where she goes!

    I’m the same way. 🙂

  14. Julie Musil July 18, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    I haven’t seen this, but it sounds like a lot of fun! I’m embarrassed to say I’ve only seen one musical–Phantom of the Opera (which I LOVED). As always, you make excellent points!

    • Laura July 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

      Thanks everyone! I’ve seen a couple big musicals in Boston but those are few and far between. We have our local theater which is excellent and reasonable in price. And we also have a kids community theater that puts on shows that rivals the Wang Center in Boston. Seriously. That’s why I’m so cultured. (HA! Right.)

  15. Mary Kate Leahy July 18, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    I love musicals! Guys and Dolls is one of my favorites. Also Les Mis, Phantom, Hair, JC Superstar, West Side Story…I could go on, but you get the point. Great observations! PS Watching the news and some talking head just used the phrase “lay down a marker” LOL.

  16. Susan Sipal July 18, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    I miss those old musicals! And actually, I don’t think I’ve seen all of this one. Will have to rewatch. What a great analysis.

    And congrats to your daughter for being on stage! I bet that gave Mom a thrill. 🙂

  17. shelley moore thomas July 18, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    I was never a big musical fan…but then I go and have kids that LOVE them. Go figure.

    I think I like Phantom best. And Spamalot, too! (Lesson from Spamalot–anything goes!)


  18. Lisa Green July 18, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    Now, you KNOW I was into acting, right? So that’s one of my favorite classic musicals. I love Adelaide. I used to do one of her songs for auditions and things. 😀 Nice analysis.

  19. Elle Strauss July 18, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    Good reminder to give our secondary characters have their own arc. Thanks!

  20. becca puglisi July 18, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    Love Guys and Dolls. It’s one of the few I haven’t seen on Broadway that I’d love to see there someday. My favorite is Les Mis, followed closely by Jekyll and Hyde. Les Mis is just such an amazing story. It’s one of those inspirational/frustrating stories that’s so good I wonder if I could ever write anything half as good, but it also inspires me to try. The characters are each incredibly unique and memorable.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

  21. Stacy July 18, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

    I’ve never seen Guys and Dolls, but Les Miz is my favorite. I’ve seen it three times, although never on Broadway. The conflict in the story is amazing, as are the characters. Its secondary characters are so key to the plot and the driving force behind much of the conflict.

  22. Emy Shin July 18, 2011 at 8:08 pm #

    I’ve never seen GUYS AND DOLLS (or a musical that isn’t High School Musical, which I don’t think counts) — but what you’ve described sounds so, so interesting.

  23. Heather McCorkle July 18, 2011 at 8:14 pm #

    I love that you were able to get all that from your daughters play! Excellent stuff. Shakespeare’s Hamlet has always been a favorite of mine. Though he does let his main character ramble on a bit too much. 😉

  24. Karen Lange July 18, 2011 at 8:54 pm #

    Love the analysis. I do this too, although not so in-depth. Can’t watch a movie without breaking things down. Glad you had a good time. Thanks for sharing this with us! 🙂

  25. Kelly Polark July 18, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

    I’ve never seen it, but I bet you loved seeing your daughter up there!!! Great breakdown on characters.

  26. Lynda R Young July 18, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

    Ha, I’ve not seen Guys & Dolls before and didn’t know what it was about. Great story. I agree that a story is a lot richer when the stronger secondary characters have an arc.

    • Laura July 19, 2011 at 12:41 am #

      I think I look for parallels to writing in most everything, even when I don’t mean to. Sometimes it just pops. Especially when it’s well done like this musical. And it was wonderful to see my daughter up there. I mean, she was just an extra in the first couple minutes but she had a blast doing it.

  27. Traci Kenworth July 19, 2011 at 1:16 am #

    Isn’t it funny the way we writers have to break things down? I think this is one of the traits that help us most when it comes to our writing though. It teaches us to pull apart scenes and put them back together.

  28. Sherrie Petersen July 19, 2011 at 1:22 am #

    Would you believe our local high school is doing Guys and Dolls this summer, too? I get to see it in August.

    I think my favorite play of all time is Annie. I really wanted to be Annie when I was a kid and (much to the horror of my family!) I still know all the words to every song 😛

  29. Tana Adams July 19, 2011 at 2:32 am #

    Excellent analysis! I love The Music Man! It’s a great show and it lends itself well to great story arcs and conflict. =)

    • Laura July 19, 2011 at 2:35 am #

      I love Annie too! But I love love the movie of the musical Music Man. Love the music! And the story.

  30. Donna Hole July 19, 2011 at 6:06 am #

    LOL; I remember watching musicals, and loving them, but can’t remember a single one 🙂

    These are excellent tips Laura. Good to remember in creating characters.


  31. Carolina Valdez Miller July 19, 2011 at 7:29 am #

    Brilliant advice, Laura! You gain such bits of wisdom from all sorts of different places!

  32. Amie Kaufman July 19, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    Isn’t it funny how you lose the ability to watch things without analysing? When I caught myself leaning over to Meg to whisper ‘nice stakes raise!’ during a movie, I knew things had gone too far.

    Fantastic lessons–I think I might go back to the WIP and make my protagonists a little more opposite…

  33. Jennifer Shirk July 19, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    Guys and Dolls!!!!

    I introduced the hubby to it and he liked it too. 🙂

    Yes, the characters are great, but I also like the change or character arc that both of them went through so they could meet in the middle.

  34. Ghenet Myrthil July 19, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    These are great tips. I especially like #3 because I agree it’s important for all of your secondary characters to have their own wants and arc.

    I haven’t seen Guys & Dolls either but it sounds great. I love musicals. 🙂

  35. Patti July 19, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

    That’s a great reminder about secondary characters. Sometimes they get lost.

    My favorite musical is the Pirate Movie (an oldie but a goodie)

  36. Amanda July 19, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

    Great tips! Thanks for stopping by my blog. I’m going to add you to my rss reader. 🙂

  37. Jess July 20, 2011 at 2:11 am #

    I studied theater and playwriting as a grad student and directed GUYS AND DOLLS this spring. So when I saw your entry, it absolutely made my night.

    GUYS AND DOLLS is produced over and over again not just because of its memorable score (“Luck Be a Lady”, “Bushel and a Peck”, “I’ve Never Been In Love Before”) or the lovable characters (Adelaide, why are you so…slow…?), but because it is considered one of the best Books of a musical around. The plot fits together like a perfect little jazz-handing, box-stepping puzzle.

    I couldn’t possibly tell you my favorite musical. I’ve had the privilege of directing COMPANY, INTO THE WOODS, and JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, with DAMN YANKEES coming up in a few months. Suffice it to say, they all come with their own set of lessons (well, maybe not JOSEPH – that musical is ridiculous).

  38. Dawn July 20, 2011 at 3:12 am #

    I love how you picked it apart and found out what makes it work well. I appreciate you sharing that with us so we all can learn.

    The Write Soil

  39. Suelder July 20, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    We did Guys and Dolls in high school – I was a Hot Spot girl (In Adelaide’s chorus).

    Excellent analysis and worth considering 😀

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