People are in love with Frozen–adult people, not just kids–and it’s not just because it’s made by Disney. After all, if it’s just the Disney name behind the phenomenon, why didn’t people fall as hard for Brave, or even Tangled (which I actually liked better)? No, it’s something more, and whenever a book or movie in a genre I read or view takes the world by storm, my writer-brain starts turning. What is it about Frozen that people love, and how can our own writing capture the same magic?
I think Frozen works so well because everyone can relate to both main characters on multiple levels. Likely every girl with a sister spent part of the movie considering which Frozen sister she was most like. It’s not easy to answer because both Elsa and Ana represent so many emotions. We’ve all had Ana’s youthful innocence and wonder at some point in our lives, her yearning to see the world, to fall in love, to experience everything. We’ve also had Elsa’s fear of being rejected by the world, a pressing need to hide ourselves, and moments where the mask came off and we experienced the bittersweet joy and liberty expressed in the song “Let It Go.” And we’ve experienced the different types of grief, loneliness, despair, and feelings of being completely unloved which both characters endure.
When I run across stories like this, ones which spread these most moving of emotions across the characters so that you find yourself in multiple places, I think of it as a story which embraces the universal human experience. These stories are always incredibly powerful because they touch every part of what makes us human. Les Miserables is another one that does this. And while you may not be writing a story as vast in scope as Les Mis or as heartwarming as Frozen, there’s room in every book for a touch of the universal.
To cultivate that broad humanity in a story requires a) planning ahead, or b) extensive rewriting. Planning ahead doesn’t necessarily mean outlining–though you’ll probably rewrite less with an outline–but thinking about your own most powerful emotions experienced throughout your life and considering which characters can feel like that during your story’s timeline. Which emotions is one character experiencing that another hasn’t yet, and when does the second character finally experience them? How does understanding dawn? What characters are experiencing opposite emotions, and what tension does this cause between them? Which two characters are experiencing the same emotion, and how can you make everything else about them different so that this emotion is the one thing linking them? And how can you make that emotion so strong, so important, that nothing else matters?
Writing well requires asking ourselves a lot of questions, and questions about our characters’ inner lives are some of the most pivotal, no matter the genre, because this is what makes a story rich; this is how your reader feels connected to the people on the page. Are there other reasons Frozen is so popular? Sure. But I’m convinced that Elsa and Ana’s embodiment of the universal human experience is the main thing that makes it so beloved.