Writerly Wednesday: Lesson Learned from ‘Across the Universe’…and a Playlist Plotting Contest

Welcome to the first of two contests that I’m holding this month. Both contests are based off the lessons that can be extracted from two particular movies.

Today’s movie: Across the Universe

Plot per IMBD: “The music of the Beatles and the Vietnam War form the backdrop for the romance between an upper-class American girl and a poor Liverpudlian artist.”

First we’ll start with a quick introduction: Hi, my name is Melinda Collins and I am a perfectionist with OCD tendencies who is a die-hard Beatles fanatic. There, I said it! Not like it’s a secret or anything, but I do believe this is the first time I’m letting my geek flag fly on this blog. *smile* I could write ten pages and go on for days on the genius of this particular film and how it snuck in references to original Fab Four and characters from their songs that only true fans might know…but alas I will only limit myself to this one particular bullet point that relates to the writer:

Playlist Plotting

First I’ll show you how this was completed for this particular film, then we’ll talk about the contest this particular lesson entails (Note: not every song pushed the plot forward. Some songs were filler-fun-type moments that movies are allowed to do sometimes):  

There are 6 characters the plot follows throughout the movie. I’m going to list them below and color-code their storylines (similar to Margie Lawson’s EDITS system that I’m currently in class learning about) so you can see how they’re intertwined with one another. I’m also listing the particular songs their names were pulled from (and a play on these characters and their actions within these songs is part of the super-cool fun of the movie):

Jude (from “Hey Jude”) *In the clips, notice how much he looks like a younger Paul McCartney
Lucy (from “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”)
Max (from “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”)
Sadie (from “Sexy Sadie”)
Jojo (from “Get Back”) 
Prudence (from “Dear Prudence)
 *Note: The song titles are links to the song/clip from the movie. Enjoy!

  • “Girl” Jude opens the movie with a shot towards the end of the story in which he believes something has happened to the woman he’s fallen in love with…then flashback to the beginning of his journey
  • “Hold Me Tight”Jude’s girlfriend in Liverpool and Lucy (in the US) sing this particular song to their men who are about to leave them both. Jude to the US with the Merchant Navy, Lucy’s boyfriend, Daniel, into the Army
  • “All My Loving”Jude’s serenade to his girlfriend on his last night, telling her that he’ll write her every day and stay true to her (with a clip of Lucy writing a letter to Daniel)
  • “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”Enter Prudence: a cheerleader singing about a football player she can’t have as he’s dating the head cheerleader. We then see her walk off the field and hitchhike it out of Ohio
  • “Help From My Friends”Jude’s true purpose comes to light as he jumps ship in New Jersey and hitchhikes to Princeton University in search of his father, an American G.I., whom he’s never met, and who never knew about him. Shortly after finding him, he runs into Max, the trouble-maker on the Princeton Campus. The two of them hit it off. They hang out with Max’s buds, drinking and playing pool (Geek Alert: the scene of the boys running and goofing off in the courtyard is parallel to the Beatles doing the same in ‘A Hard Days’ Night’)
  • “It Won’t Be Long” Lucy gets a letter in the mail from her boyfriend – he’s coming home in a week!
  • “I’ve Just Seen a Face” Jude meets Lucy (Max’s sister) when he comes home with Max for Thanksgiving. He’s instantly taken with her: “She’s the girl for me…I’m falling, oh yes I’m falling, and she keeps calling me back again.” He then goes to NYC with Max who has decided to drop out of Princeton and move to NYC.
  • “Let It Be” – Flash of the riots in Detroit, where Jojo, a guitarist, is from, and Daniel’s mother is visited by two US soldiers: Daniels’s dead, he was killed in Vietnam before he could get home. The song follows along his funeral and that of a young boy in Detroit who died in the riots.
  • “Come Together”Jojo leaves Detroit and journeys to NYC where he meets Sadie, the landlord of Jude & Max, and an aspiring singer, and auditions to join to her band. Jude becomes a freelance artist and Max becomes a taxi driver (Geek alert: When Max meets Sadie, she says, “You look clean cut but then again you could’ve just hammered your grandmother in the head” <—for those of you unfamiliar, the song “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” talks about him doing just that!).
  • “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” Lucy ventures to NYC to visit Max before goes off to college. Her first night there is spent watching Sadie sing this song with her band and walking the streets of NYC talking with Jude.
  • “If I Fell”Lucy spends more time with Jude – they’re out at the river one day and he draws a portrait of her on the concrete wall of an abandoned building. This is where she begins to fall in love with him.
  • “I Want You/She’s So Heavy”Max received a letter in the mail drafting him into the Army for the Vietnam War. He reports to his meeting with Uncle Sam (“I Want You”) and he’s officially drafted (“She’s So Heavy”) after a beautiful visual of him and other draftees carrying Lady Liberty across a field similar to the backdrop of Vietnam (AKA: defending the freedoms of our citizens can be a heavy weight to carry on your shoulders).
  • “Dear Prudence”Prudence has a crush on Jojo, but once again she’s crushing on a man she can’t have as he’s now with Sadie. The group sing to her to cheer her up, then they take her to the streets of NYC to join a walking protest of the war. After this, she disappears from the story for a bit.
  • “I Am the Walrus” Sadie signs with a record label and the roommates attend a book function for a drug guru, Doctor Robert (Bono), drink punch laced with LSD (yes, they just had to include that reference), and end up miles from home (riding on a bus similar to the one from Magical Mystery Tour), stranded outside the compound of a psychonautic, Dr. Frank Geary.
  • “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”The group is reunited with Prudence who has joined the circus, led by Mr. Kite (Eddie Izzard), as a circus performer.
  • “Because”A fun underwater-type scene that segues into Max leaving for Vietnam.
  • “Something”Jude reflects on his love for Lucy after seeing her being flirted with by an activist, Paco, (because the war has hit close to home for Lucy, she’s joined an anti-war activist group, ‘Students for a Democratic Republic’ (SDR), and spends a lot a time working at their headquarters). This puts a strain on their relationship as he believes Paco to be seducing Lucy.
  • “Oh! Darling”Against her better judgment, Sadie agrees with her new manager and drops her band, thus the break-up of her and Jojo in the middle of a performance one night.
  • “Strawberry Fields Forever” Jude’s feelings towards the time Lucy’s spending with SDR affects his artwork. He paints a beautiful picture of a strawberry (the one on the movie poster) and the parallels between the strawberries and the war are brought to light as Max joins in on the song from the other side of the world (awesome visual association that’s in the video clip: strawberries, red, grenades/bombs, blood)
  • “Revolution” Jude storms into the DSR headquarters and throws the hypocrisy of their actions into their faces when Lucy’s there one night – these leads to their break-up and the next song
  • “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”Jojo sings on stage and Sadie feels the loss of the band she left behind. Jude breaks down when he comes home to find that Lucy has packed her things and left him.
  • “Across the Universe/Helter Skelter” – Police begin arresting protesters at an anti-war demonstration at Columbia University. Jude tries to help Lucy but he ends up being beaten by the police and arrested himself. It comes to light that he’s been in the US illegally. His father comes to see him in jail (Lucy called him) and tries to convince immigration that Jude’s his son, but since he has no proof by having left Jude’s mother while she was pregnant, Jude is then deported back Liverpool.
  • “Happiness is a Warm Gun”Max is wounded in the war. He’s now psychologically scarred and becomes dependent on morphine (Salma Hayek sings the background vocals and plays the nurse in this scene): “I need a fix ‘cause I’m going down…”
  •  “Blackbird” Lucy leaves the SDR after walking in on Paco making bombs (“I thought it was the other side who dropped bombs.”), one of which explodes, kills Paco, and destroys the SDR offices.
  • “A Day in the Life”No lyrics in this one, but it’s there in the background as Jude picks up the newspaper in Liverpool and the headline reads: “American Anti-War Radicals Kills in Homemade Bomb Blast.” All he can picture is Lucy when she was arrested at Columbia University and then falls into a small depression believing she is dead.
  • “Hey Jude” Jude learns from Max that Lucy is still alive and he’s encouraged to come to the US and get his girl.
  • “Don’t Let Me Down”Jojo and Sadie reconcile their differences and get together for a rooftop concert (same as the one the Beatles did in the documentary, Let it Be). It is here that Max arranges for Lucy to arrive so she and Jude can be reunited, but because the concert didn’t have a permit, the cops shut it down (Jude hides from them so he can use the microphone for his own message) and she can’t get into the building by the time she hears Jude’s voice singing:
  • “All You Need is Love” – The police allow the band to go back to the rooftop and sing/play the song with Jude (Prudence is with them on the keyboard). Lucy appears on the rooftop of the building next to theirs and she and Jude gaze at one another as the song ends and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is played to begin the credit roll.

Okay, now I know that’s a lot, but do you see how the songs – and the characters within some of them – inspired this original masterpiece? Playlist Plotting reminds me of Jami Gold’s post last week where it was discussed in the comments how we writers can take characters, books, plots, etc. and use them as inspiration for an original plot and/or unique character of our own.

This movie did just that on an amplified level…and we can all learn from that!


Now for the contest:

  • Your mission: Create a plot using Playlist Plotting. OR you can take one you already have and create the perfect playlist to amplify your story.
  •  Judging: This contest will be judged by the wonderfully talented and awesome, Lisa Gail Green from Paranormal Point of View
    • Be creative because this is exactly what she’s looking for – have fun with this and use the music to inspire the feelings of your characters:
      • Kudos and extra credit to you if you’re able to use a single artist/band’s catalogue
  • Rules/Limitations: Across the Universe used 29 songs in its Playlist Plotting…BUT we’re going to limit this with
    • 10 songs, 10 plot points, 10 opportunities for you to make your story sing *smile*
    • Put your Playlist Plotting creativity in the comments
    • Commenting closes at 8pm EST on Tuesday, March 20th
    • The winners will be announced on Wednesday, March 21st
  • Prizes: There will be two winners:

Remember, be creative! And if you really want to be challenged, try using a single artist/band’s song catalogue when creating your Plotting Playlist. Good luck!

Happy Plotting!!!
Melinda

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