Okay, I’ve really strayed from the point I wanted to make which is, why are some movies so awesome? Or more specifically, what is it about these particular movies that compels me to watch repeatedly and more important, how can I apply this insight to my own writing? Let’s go to the movies. My list in no particular order:
· Jurassic Park (any, but especially the first)
· A Knights Tale
· Ever After
· Pretty Woman
· Indiana Jones
· Any and all of the Harry Potters (especially the second one. Not my fav of the books, but one of the best HP movies IMO. When it comes to the books, #5 is my top.)
· The Mummy
· Legally Blonde
· Dodge Ball
· The Wizard of Oz
Clearly, my tastes run toward fantasy, however, that is not the common thread nor the key ingredient in making these stories worth watching. So what are the key ingredients?
Well, for one thing they all have strong protagonists. Not only memorable or unique in some detail, but truly noble, rising above what is expected. They are heroic.
Harry Potter puts the good of others before himself. Indy will risk life and limb to secure treasure, not for personal gain, but because he believes these prized relics should be shared with the world.
The protagonists have clearly defined goals.
· Pretty Woman – Hooking is not enough
· A Knight’s Tale – Being a squire is not enough
· Legally Blonde-Getting engaged is not enough
Starting to see a pattern? These people want something and they are willing to risk it all to get it.
· Vivian (Pretty Woman) will start a new life even if it costs her the man she loves.
· William (A Knight’s Tale) risks death to prove he is as noble as any knight
· Elle (Legally Blonde) is driven. Once she sets her sights on what she wants, she doesn’t let anything get in her way. Eventually, she focuses on her studies instead of Warner earning her a coveted spot on a legal team set to defend an accused murderer. Victorious in the end when she is true to herself, convention be damned thank you very much.
Striving for better: The hooker with a heart wants more out of life, so does the peasant squire in a Knight’s Tale. Legally Blonde would also fit that category. She goes to Harvard to woo back an ex-boyfriend only to realize she doesn’t need him in order to be happy.
Striving to do right: A down and out gym owner bands together with his membership to keep a greedy competitor from tearing down his building and in the end finds friendship and purpose.
Fighting monsters: Dinosaurs, Nazi’s and mummies oh my! The antagonist or villain is truly dangerous and larger than life.
All of these movies have a satisfying ending. Good triumphs over evil. Not only do the protagonists accomplish what they set out to do, they reach new goals with rewards better than our heroes ever imagined.
These stories contain elements of romance or love. While it isn’t as obvious in some, I argue that the bonds of friendship are just as strong and serve the same function.
And finally, (and perhaps most important) these characters are people I’d like to know. People to admire and cheer. People with courage, revealing traits and talents I hope to aspire. Most of all, they become real to me and so going back and watching the movie again or re-reading the book is a chance to visit old friends. I think this is especially true with books.
So what have I learned? These movies are character driven, with clearly defined “wants.” The goals are so important to the protagonist that he will pretty much go for it or die trying. You know who to root for and who exactly the bad guy is. Add tension and conflict and you’ve got a winner on your hands. No big secret here. But how do you put it all together to create a novel that excites readers?
There are plenty of great books on the subject. One of my favorites is Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. Another must have for every writer is, Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver. I also really like Rob Parnell’s blog and find his lessons (some he offers for free) really helpful. He has a straightforward but powerful way of explaining concepts.
From what I’ve learned so far as a reader, film buff and student of the craft of writing, is that you need conflict, tension throughout and emotional connection or investment. Personally I think the way to achieve that is to allow the reader to climb inside the story. Let him experience the world you’ve created and maybe even play a role within it. I wanted a letter of invitation to Hogwarts, I wanted to escape the island in Jurassic Park and I wanted the prince to kiss me in Ever After.
His success is mine, but so is his failure. If I haven’t jumped into the role of the protagonist, then I am at least by his side, like a friend. Providing the reader with an experience should be the writer’s goal. I know it’s mine.