Lessons the Princess Bride Teaches Authors

by Abigail Owen

I think it’s no secret that one of my favorite movies of all time is The Princess Bride. Last January (2016) I started posting quotes from the movie each day. I found a copy of the script online and have been methodically going through it. A year later I’m up to the fire swamp scene. I have to say, reading each line in detail, I’ve learned a few things as a writer. I thought I’d share…

Very Little Fluff

Remember that I’m posting mostly on twitter, so I’m limited in character count. I’m leaving out the “fluff” or any lines that, by themselves, don’t add much.  In a year, there are very few lines from the script that I skipped.

Lesson: Make every word count and skip the boring bits and fluff for the sake of word count.

Quick Dialog

Almost all of the dialogue I’ve come across so far is quick. Each person saying one or two lines at the most. Very few long speeches or monologues. Think about how many one-liners from the movie are immediately recognizable.

Lesson: Short, rapid dialogue is more memorable and keeps the pace going.

Optimism Despite Adversity

The characters are charmingly upbeat despite finding themselves in serious situations. Think about things like what Westley says when they’re in the fire swamp. “I’m not saying I’d build a summer house here, but the trees are actually quite lovely.” I find this makes the characters more endearing and keeps my interest. If they were to go all serious, I’d be bored in a heartbeat.

Lesson: You can have drama and adventure but not get mired in the melodrama.

Go With the Unexpected

The characters rarely do what you’d expect. I mean, why would someone train themselves to ingest poison, or give the guy they’re about to fight a rest since he just climbed a cliff?

Lesson: It’s okay if your characters do the unexpected as long as they are true to who THEY are.

Surprise Yourself (Inconceivable is Still Possible)

I haven’t gotten this far, but in The Princess Bride, Westley is killed half way through the book (the 2nd time). That’s what I call a corner. I’ve read the author didn’t realize himself that he was about to kill his main character. But Westley’s only mostly dead which is a fantastic fix. We wouldn’t have that if the author didn’t do something inconceivable.

Lesson: As a writer, you should even surprise yourself with what your characters do and what happens to them. DO paint yourself into a corner.

A Little Mystery is a Good Thing

I find it funny when readers or beta readers want all the mysterious questions answered in the first few pages of the book. Where’s the fun in that? In The Princess Bride, many mysteries are left unanswered for a long time.

Lesson: Writers, you have permission to torture your readers with mysteries if it makes the story more compelling.

Perfect is Boring

The characters in The Princess Bride are not perfect people. Westley leaves his love thinking he’s dead for five years, and has probably done some bad stuff as a pirate. Buttercup is marrying a man she doesn’t love. Inigo is a drunk.

Lesson: Give your characters flaws that they have to overcome or which drive the plot in a way that is true to the character and true to the story.

As I mentioned, I’m only up to the fire swamp scene. I’m determined to continue posting until I finish the entire script. I bet I’ll keep learning more great lessons. In the meantime, I ran across this fabulous article. It’s 17 life lessons from the Princess Bride. The article is aimed at parents of autistic children, but I think they’re great for everyone. Enjoy! http://www.snagglebox.com/article/autism-parenting-princess-bride

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