One of my favorite books as a child was LE PETIT PRINCE which I read in French because we were living in Paris at the time. My teacher, Mme. Lucas, chose it for our class because it was relatively simple in terms of word choice and sentence length, which was perfect for intermediate level students (and foreigners) like me. But even as an eleven year old, I understood that there was more to the story than the relatively simple word choice and plot structure. THE LITTLE PRINCE, I soon discovered, had the magic ability to touch readers on different levels. It was my first exposure to allegory and symbolism and reading it brought storytelling to life for me in a new way that still resonates with the reader and writer in me.
Imagine my delight, then, to discover that the Morgan Library in New York City has put together an exhibit of original manuscript pages, watercolor sketches, photographs and personal effects to explore, not only Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s creative process, but also to shed light on how his experience as a pilot, an exile and love-torn human influenced this now classic tale.
This is not the first field trip I’ve taken to the Morgan Library to visit with the Little Prince. Eight years ago, I also visited the Morgan to see a wonderful exhibit they put together in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the book’s release. Now, basking in the experience of both visits, I’d like to share with you FOUR writerly principles sparked by the exhibits.
Write the story YOU want to tell. Now a classic, THE LITTLE PRINCE had a slow start because the publisher wasn’t sure whether to promote it for children or for adults. Thank goodness Antoine de Saint-Exupéry didn’t worry about how to categorize it. He just wrote the story he wanted to tell. And, as it turns out, it was the very story readers of all ages (and cultures) wanted to hear. Indeed, as I learned at the exhibit, THE LITTLE PRINCE has been translated into more languages than any other work of fiction. So, take heart and write from the heart!
Revise, revise, revise! The early manuscript of THE LITTLE PRINCE was more than twice as long as the final published version. The framed pages on display at both exhibits are lightly scrawled in pencil and/or ink and show clear signs of intense revision – not only at the sentence level, but at the story level too. Big cross outs show where entire sections were deleted. Simple lines through phrases and words show how the author’s wording evolved. Revising can be long and painstaking, but also rewarding as you see the story emerge and transform on the page. So take out that pen and let the words overflow. Then, like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry revise your text to perfection.
Save your doodles. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a doodler and for years sketched a little “bonhomme” in the margins of his notebooks. Something about that doodle, in particular, captivated his imagination and ultimately gave birth to the little fellow readers now know and love as the Little Prince. I, too, am a doodler, but my doodles take the form of words and phrases – little bursts of inspiration. Some of those word-doodles go nowhere, but like that little “bonhomme” some keep reappearing in my pages. I’ve even developed some of the peskiest ones into stories and poems. So save your doodles, for they might be just the spark you need to write your next piece.
Write from the heart. Do you remember the Little Prince’s cherished rose? The one he was so love-torn over? Even reading the story as I child, I felt there was an intensity and complexity of emotions in their relationship. Well, at the “Taking Flight” exhibit, I learned that their relationship was most likely inspired by the author’s turbulent marriage to Consuelo Suncin Sandoval de Gómez. They loved each other deeply but struggled as well. I’m so appreciative that Saint-Exupéry found a creative way to weave those struggles into his story so that others can take heart and learn and grow as they navigate their own life struggles. That is one of the gifts an author gives his/her readers and one that we, as writers, should be open to as we write.
The Morgan Library and Museum Exhibition: “The Little Prince: Taking Flight” runs through February 5, 2023. I highly recommend it, if you happen to be traveling in these parts. For more details check here: https://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/little-prince-taking-flight
Note: If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to my blog using the subscribe button in the footer or sidebar. I post once or twice weekly with inspirational reflections, tips, interviews and more.