Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What "The Princess Bride" Can Teach Writers

To liven things up in February, I've decided to do a series: What I've Learned about Writing Through Movies. Each week, I'll feature a different movie and discuss the effectiveness of its story elements as well as what can be learned from the film as a whole.

I chose The Princess Bride first because I came across an awesome post from Snagglebox, a website for parents with autistic children. 17 Things The Princess Bride Taught Me About Autism Parenting offers a ton of great advice, both for writers, and anyone else looking for inspiration when life gets tough. So, without further ado:

Why The Princess Bride works as a story (it was also a novel first, which always helps):

Effective inciting event: Inciting events must a) occur in order for the rest of story to happen and  b) spur growth in the characters.

When Westley is presumed dead, Buttercup agrees to marry Prince Humperdink. a) Without Westley's presumed death, Buttercup would have no reason to marry Humperdink. b) Buttercup is now forced to make a choice.

Clear and believable motivations: "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." Inigo's main motivation is to avenge his father--and he never deters, even at the very end, when the killer, fatally wounded, offers him power and riches. Inigo's response? "I want my father back, you son-of-a-bitch." A clear and believable motivation not only makes a character relatable, but also endearing. Even if he's a murderer.

What writers can learn from The Princess Bride (adapted from the Snagglebox post):

 1. Optimism can get you through the fire swamp

It's important to take a step back and assess a seemingly overwhelming problem (or a ROUS--Rat of Unusual Size). On a listserv I administer, someone was masking advertisements for their company in their posts. The question then became--to ban them, or not? It became quite the touchy subject on the listserv, and quite a bit of vitriol emoted from the online masses. After taking a day or so to deliberate, I decided to keep this person, with the stipulation they'd be banned if the behavior was repeated. It was a problem I hadn't encountered, but that didn't make it unsolvable. Which brings us to...

 2. You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles

Honing a skill, especially writing, requires patience and time. Allow yourself room to grow, and don't rush into anything. I used to think, "If I can just get a publishing deal quicker..." But now, it's more along the lines of, "I want to make sure I'm the best writer possible when that happens." Which means it's easy to forget that...

3. You may already have a wheelbarrow

In my strives to improve, I sometimes forget about my assets. Yeah, I need to improve my plot and structure...but I've also been told I write good action scenes. Some of my secondary characters aren't as 3-D as they could be...but I'm already taking strides to connect them to the main conflict. For every improvement needed, there is usually a hurdle already jumped over. And speaking of hurdles...

4. Success means using the right moves for the terrain

I've said this before in other posts--just because a strategy works for one writer doesn't mean it will work for you. This is especially true regarding revision. Some writers embrace the "crappy first draft," where you just get the words out and worry about how they'll play out in revisions. However, while I'm drafting, I try to find big-picture problems and fix them, even before the first draft is done. Then, I'll at least know that the bones of the story are more likely to fit together when I start to revise. Just find your own process and stick to it.

5. Wiggling a finger is worth celebrating

Small victories mean progress. Last year, I published a non-fiction article about YA books in libraries, and recently, a book chapter from one of my novels was accepted at a conference. Be sure to list your own accomplishments often, especially when you feel discouraged--they are good indicators of your inevitable potential.

Your turn: What did you learn from The Princess Bride?


Bec Oakley said...

Hello! So nice to see that my post inspired others, this was a great post :) Lots of great advice here.

The Writer Librarian said...

Thank you! Yours did too, and was very eloquently put. :)