Writerly Wednesday: Writing Lessons Learned from The Princess Bride (Film Version)

Welcome to another entry into Writing Lessons from the Movies!  Over the course of the next month, there will be 2 – count ‘em, TWO – challenges and contests! *prances around room like a little girl* 

  • The first will begin two weeks from today, March 14th, and will directly follow the incredibly fun writing lesson I learned from Across the Universe (winner will be announced on March 21st).
  • The next challenge and contest will be held two weeks after that on March 28th and will follow along yet another fun writing lesson I learned from Melinda and Melinda – which is a fabulous title, if you ask me (winner will be announced on April 4th).

For the two contests listed above, a secret ‘judge’ – aka: a fellow writer – will be judging the contest entries and deciding the first and second place winners (yes, there will be two prizes for each one!). So mark your calendars and be sure to join me back here on Muse, Rant, Rave for some creativity and writerly challenges! *smiles*

Now…onto today’s writing lessons from The Princess Bride, which came at a special request from a blog follower and friend, Jenn.  To get you started, check out this amazing fan-made trailer.

Plot per IMBD: “A classic fairy tale, with swordplay, giants, an evil prince, a beautiful princess, and yes, some kissing (as read by a kindly grandfather).”

  • A New Take on a Master Plot: I stopped into Barnes & Noble during my lunch the other day and I discovered a book entitled 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them. *cue my a-ha! moment*
    • The Princess Bride is a master plot! Girl meets boy, girl falls in love with boy, girl is made to believe she has lost boy (through death or some other tragic twist), so girl moves onto another boy BUT then original love/boy returns from the so-called dead to claim his one true love. Sound familiar??
      • Brothers, Pearl Harbor, my untitled-and-currently-in-research-phase-WIP…heck, even The Notebook follows along a similar plotline: Ally falls for Noah, is made to believe that after she goes to school that Noah is gone from her life for good so she moves onto another man, but then Noah enters her life again and forces her to make the decision between her current and original love.
    • Here’s the thing with plots: They are all in some way, shape or form a twist of a master plot, one that is time-tested to linger in the heart of a reader for years to come. They’ve just been made original through world-building, characters, subplots, and ultimately how the stories turn out. I just finished reading Everneath by Brodi Ashton. With this particular story, Ms. Aston has taken the mythology of Persephone and made it unique by intertwining it with wonderfully seamless, modern story-telling and incredible world building. See? A master plot at work right there! So don’t be afraid to tell a story with a famous plot…just make it twistedly-unique with your own added spice, flare and voice, and it’ll be sure to stick in the hearts of your readers.

  • Character Motivations: This movie is the prime example of why every character in your story – especially those who are intricate parts of the plotline – should have their own motivation. The story does not work without their individual and/or group motivations!
    • Westly: Initially it was to seek his fortune so he and Buttercup can marry, but upon his return it is to rescue her from three outlaws then to keep her safe and away from Prince Humperdinck. Why? Because she’s his one true love and that’s what kept the Dread Pirate Roberts from killing him after his ship was attacked.
    • Prince Humperdink: Humperdinck wants to go to war with Guilder, but alas, Florin will not openly begin the war itself…in other words, his subjects will not fight without due cause. In order to get what he wants, he arranges his marriage to Buttercup (a commoner who according to the laws of the land he could not marry, so he lied about her origins), a woman who he obviously doesn’t truly care for (as we learn later in the story), then arranges for her to be kidnapped and murdered so he can pin both on the country he so desperately wants to rumble with. Why? Because he needs an army to fight that battle for him and believes they won’t do so unless their new princess is murdered on her wedding night.
    • Inigo Montoya: Ah, the Spanish fencer and member of the outlaw group who kidnaps Buttercup. His motivation throughout the entire movie is clearly stated shortly after we’re introduced to him. During his swordfight with Westly, he reveals that throughout his entire life since his father’s death, he’s been seeking the six-fingered man who murdered his father. He even has the perfect parting lines for the murderer. Why? Because his father was unjustly murdered by Count Rugen when he refused to sell him the sword he specifically forged and sweated over for the Count due to the fact that the Count went back on his promised price.

  • “This is true love – you think this happens every day?”: Thank you, Westly, I couldn’t have said it better myself! *claps* Because true love doesn’t happen every day, and because it often occurs in a slow-type manner, you should be gentle with it throughout your story:
    • Characters shouldn’t jump blindly into all-out-can’t-live-without-you-love. UNLESS it’s the plot of the entire story, the one in which the entire story and subplots revolve around (ex: Romeo and Juliet). Regardless if you write historical, contemporary, paranormal, fantasy or horror, your two characters aren’t just going to magically fall in love within an hour of meeting one another. Sure there’ll be extreme butterflies, reddened cheeks and bodily reactions to the sight of one another, but that’s not can’t-live-without-one-another-love. Buttercup and Westly did not fall in love on sight. In fact, Westly was a farmhand in which she bossed around, to which he merely replied, “As you wish.” It wasn’t until some time and internalization later that she realized he loved her, and that she loved him. Take the reader along your characters’ journeys of falling in love with one another. Make them fall in love with the hero and heroine just as they are falling for one another.
    • Because true love doesn’t happen everyday, it shouldn’t bleed from the page. I’m sure you’ve read a sappy love story where it seemed that particular plot point was drilled into your head to the point of nausea. My personal experience example is The Vampire Diaries, Book One. The TV show is amazing, but in the book there was way too much “Oh, Elena,” “Oh, Stefan.” Writing about love on every single page will do nothing more than bore your reader to tears. There should be a second plot somewhere in your story that breaks up the gushy love-stuff. Best example: The Black Dagger Brotherhood series from J.R. Ward. Her series is paranormal romance – which means she writes about the romance and love between two main characters. But guess what? Incredible subplots enter the fold and break up the love scenes so that they don’t overwhelm the reader.

  • The Difference Between Mostly Dead and All Dead: If you’re a fellow writer/author, do me a favor: think of one of your MSS that you’ve previously put on the shelf and have forgotten about because it just wasn’t working, or maybe because the plot was tired. Got the MS in mind? Good. Now I want you to pay attention to the following advice from Miracle Max:

Did you catch that? “Mostly dead is slightly alive.” Did your heart just jump a little? I know mine did, especially because it hit me straight between the eyes. Just because you put a MS on the shelf due to a tired plot or maybe one that wasn’t working doesn’t mean the MS’s all dead! There’s good stuff in there that’s keeping that MS slightly alive: three-dimensional characters, a believable world you poured your heart and soul into at one point in time, amazing dialogue, magnificent action scenes, etc. The point is this: you’ve come a long way since you left that slightly alive MS thinking it was all dead, so why not re-visit that world and pump full life into it by changing and/or twisting a few things around to make it work? C’mon, take a chance and spend a little time stewing on it. I guarantee you’ll be freshly excited about the story once it’s been brought back to life like Westly was.


What about you? Do you live on the planet earth? If so, then I know you’ve had to have seen The Princess Bride (if not then I do apologize for calling you an alien). Have you taken a time-tested master plot and twisted it in a unique fashion for a story? Do you flesh out your characters until each of their motivations becomes clear? What about love? Do you write your romances with a little bit of action and dark plot twists? Or do you write action and dark plot twists with a little bit of romance? Have you ever taken a MS from the shelf, brushed the cobwebs off, and brought it from slightly alive to thriving with a pounding heart beat?

Do you have a movie you’d like to see analyzed in this series?

10 thoughts on “Writerly Wednesday: Writing Lessons Learned from The Princess Bride (Film Version)

  1. This has to be one of my favorite all-time movies–excellent breakdown. I think this is a classic love story with a twist, and a great example of how subplots can work with the main plot to add meaning and a greater sense of adventure. 🙂

  2. LOVE THIS MOVIE! Your analysis was on point. Did you purchase the book you discovered, 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them? If so, I'd be curious to know how you liked it. 🙂

  3. Love this movie 🙂 Excellent breakdown of it too. I love that quote by Miracle Max, I'd just never applied it to writing before, and I think I need to stick by my computer.

  4. This is awesome! Best…movie…ever 😀 Love the analysis. Maybe I'll dig that first novel out of the drawer and see if it's slightly alive.

    I've never seen Melinda, Melinda….can you believe that?

  5. Hi Angela!

    Thank you so much! It truly is an excellent love story and example of subplotting! I really enjoyed looking for the writing lessons within the movie.

    Thank you for commenting!

  6. Hi Tina!

    Absolutely – it truly is one of my favorites! Thanks, hon!!

    I did purchase the book, however I haven't dove into it just yet. Just from skimming through I think it'll be great solely based on the structure of the book (at-a-glance though). I'll have to let you know as soon as I start it this weekend! 😉

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting! 😀

  7. Hi Raelyn!

    Yay, another fan! Wait a sec, who *isn't* a fan? LOL! 😀

    Miracle Max might have seemed a little crazy, but most of his lines were very quoteable and could easily be related to writing. It just took me about 4 run-throughts of watching the movie to figure it out. 😉

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Raelyn!

  8. Hi Melinda!

    Aw – thank you so much! Go for it – dig it out and see if you can breath a new life into it. 🙂

    You know, I probably can believe that you haven't seen Melinda & Melinda – and that's only because it wasn't one of Woody Allen's well known projects. I just happened to come across it a few years ago when I was browsing through the video store. Bet you'll go search it out now, huh? 😉

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting! So great to meet another Melinda! 😀

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