Movies are a great source of inspiration. We often take for granted the hard work that goes into producing one as we sit and enjoy them for a brief hour and a half. I’ve taken to watching movies as an exercise in what I can learn about being a writer. I’m not talking about great stories that have been filmed, like Lord of the Rings or The Matrix or The Avengers. I’m talking about movies that have something to teach about the art and craft of writing. Here are five that I’ve enjoyed and learned from.
The Sixth Sense – I know *groan*. Who isn’t tired of “I see dead people”? But even if you’re sick of it, there’s something valuable writers can learn here. Plant and payoff. This movie plants for us at the very beginning the seed of the “surprise” at the end. Any clever watcher should have figured it out very quickly. But the misdirection was so well woven that the plant was forgotten. When the payoff came, everyone suddenly realized they should have known the truth the whole time and that it was the only ending that made sense. When planting a surprise, plant it early because it makes the payoff that much better if you successfully distract the reader until the end.
Wall-E – This little gem of a cartoon is already cited by writing experts and given out as required homework to wanna-be novelists. What’s the lesson? There are two. The first is character development and the second is show vs tell. In order to accomplish the character development and move the story, everything had to be “shown” on screen. No dialogue = no telling. How would you move your story and develop characters if no one ever talked? Think about it.
Inception – Oh, there’s so much goodness in this movie it deserves it’s own post. Stay tuned for a post called “The Inception Method” on my own website in a few weeks. Since I only have room for a little now, I’ll just recap the lessons you can learn. 1) Weaving multiple story-arcs into coinciding events. 2) Building layered red herrings. 3) Planting story lessons in your reader without them knowing it. Such a good movie and such great lessons. Definitely a must watch!
Pan’s Labyrinth – This dark drama is a great story and a great movie in itself. The writerly lesson here may have been missed by some of you. In this movie you learn a good deal about perspective. What we have is the larger event of World War II, but we’re limited in the scope of what we see. We’re given only a small fascist Spain garrison. Much of the movie has an even further narrowed perspective on Ophelia, showing us how she deals in her child-like way to the horrors surrounding her. What does Ophelia’s perspective tell us about the larger story? Everything and more, perfectly woven through the imagination of a child…or was it all real? Awesome.
The Fountain – You may have missed this Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz film, but consider it a must watch if you’re a writer. This film tells three seemingly unrelated stories all with one common theme…the fountain of youth. One is of a Spanish conquistador, one is of a modern day doctor, and the other is in the far future in a weird space bubble. As the movie progresses you begin to notice similarities and commonalities. And you begin to realize…they’re all the same story. Brilliance, really. Watch this one to learn how to weave parallel stories into one.
So what are some of your choices? Can you name other great movies that have a lesson to teach writers about the art and craft of writing? And you can’t cite a movie simply because it has a great story or great writing. That would be cheating. Think deeper.