“Where’s the kaboom? There’s supposed to be an earth shattering kaboom!” says Marvin the Martian. If you grew up with Looney Tunes, like me, you probably know the character and his famous quote. If not, “Google” it. Marvin was one of my favorite characters, partially because his voice is the only impression I can do fairly well. When I imitated him last week for my friend Tony, a discussion ensued about when he was created. When we looked it up, we were shocked to see he was created in 1948. What was even cooler was seeing that he had a lot to teach presenters and storytellers. Here are three lessons Marvin can teach us.
#1 He was created for conflict.
Great stories have conflict. According to Wikipedia, Looney Tunes director, Chuck Jones, decided to create a new villain. Bugs Bunny had begun to outwit the loud-mouthed villain, Yosemite Sam, so they wanted a new villain who was calm and soft-spoken, the direct opposite of Yosemite. He also wanted this villain to be legitimately dangerous.
When you step back and look at your stories, can we see and feel the villain? Can we see the conflict they create? We must remember when we tell stories, sometimes subtle can be even more dangerous. The conflict must be real. Yosemite and Marvin, are very different while being easily recognizable. Remember, conflict is essential to a great story. We pull for the hero when there is a clearly defined nemesis.
#2 Marvin has no mouth!
When I read that, I was shocked. I didn’t believe it. I had never noticed. In fact, I instantly had to go look at an image of him. Right now, take a second to Google search his name and click on “images.” Seriously, take a quick look. It will help you see what I’m talking about.
The image above featured on Wikipedia, is his stance when he delivers the line, “Where’s the kaboom?” Take note of the shape of his eyes and the use of his hands. The location of his feet in an open stance also helps express the emotion. With the emotion in his voice and the expressiveness of his body language, we are clear on what he is saying and how he feels about it. The creators even said that because he had no mouth, it demanded he have expressive body mechanics. Notice how his eyes pop on a completely black head with no mouth.
Take a look at how that changes when he is angry. Notice the even shape of his eyes and the rigidness of his stance and arms. It’s brilliant. I had never really noticed before, but it makes perfect sense for the Looney Tunes storytellers. That’s just what they do.
Cool, Darren, but what does that mean to me? Everything. It is a crucial lesson for you and me. Now, if you’ve seen me present, you know I’m very animated. It’s just part of my style. It is not right or wrong, just one of my strengths developed over years of experience. On an important note, I once presented to a hard-of-hearing association. They had told me one of their favorite comedians was Dom DeLuise. When I asked why, they explained it was because he is so expressive. Then, I understood more clearly why they chose me to speak at their conference; it was because of my expressiveness. It helped the communication be more clear. Bam!
Now, you do not have to be as expressive as me, but understanding this principle and making your characters’ expressions clearer will help you. It can help you be a better storyteller. Watch a video of one of your stories that you always tell, but with the sound turned off. Can you tell the emotions of your characters without hearing what they are saying?
#3 His name is Marvin.
That seems obvious, but is it really? Hold tight for one second, and I’ll explain. Marvin was not named at all in the original shorts in 1948. In 1952 this new Looney Tunes villain was first referred to as Commander of Flying Saucer X-2. It was not until 1979 that he got his name Marvin. They realized there were merchandising interests, so you can’t sell a figurine or plush toy without a name. Bam! Who would the kids ask for?
It may seem obvious; but when a character is given a name when we are telling stories on stage, the audience is more likely to picture them. When they picture them, they are more engaged with the story. I’ve been teaching this idea for a long time; and it shocks me how many times I see people tell a story about their child, and we never hear their name. Its part of great story telling.
If there is a reason you can’t use a real name, you could use an adjective as the name. Ed Tate makes this very clear when he is speaking. In one of his stories he uses the names Office Friendly and Strictly Business. He also names another character Average Joe. It works. Use it. The true name of the character is not as important as your audience picturing that character in their mind. Do you have names for all of your important characters in all of your stories?
Thank you Chuck Jones and your team for being amazing storytellers and keeping us engaged especially when we were young. Looney Tunes, Disney and Pixar can teach us all about better storytelling when we lean into the techniques they use every day that can help us connect with our audience. If you don’t, Marvin will tell you, “That makes me very angry indeed!” Marvin may not shoot you with his Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator, but you may not get rebooked or referred either.
What do you take from this?
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