When bad movies make for good writing

Recently, after one of those days (5 hours in the car, including rain; difficult meetings; missed opportunities), I dragged home to collapse, stopping by Redbox for a movie. Since my brain had the computing power of guacamole, I knew Tree of Life was not an option. The Three Musketeers was available–why not?

I had seen some reviews, but reasoned no movie could be that bad (although less than 30% at Rotten Tomatoes probably means something). It was.

But, ‘bad’ does not always mean ‘totally without value’. Indeed, a movie like this is a veritable treasure trove for those wanting to tell stories. What might a writer learn from such a film?

1. If you can’t improve upon, or find a new insight from, the original (how can one possibly go wrong with intrigue, political upheaval, bravery, cunning, double-crosses, and swords?), don’t attempt a remake.

2. When you borrow (and what artist doesn’t?), endeavor to make something coherent and delightful out of the pieces. Make sure to add something of your own, as well.

3. Create real tension. If threats remain distant, if the menace is more growl than claw, if danger quickly dissipates, the story loses momentum, and there is little reason to root, or hope. Was it John Grisham who said, ‘Put your hero up a tree and then throw rocks’? Use big rocks.

4. Believe. When building and then populating a new world, it’s important that all you put there believe in what they’re doing, no matter how ridiculous or implausible things might seem. Serendipitously, this same belief is essential when you’re trying to explain yourself , over coffee, to someone who asks about your avocation.

5. Care. Write dialog that advances the plot and have it delivered by characters who are invested. Give up partway through and your readers will know, and leave in droves.

Been to any good movies lately? What do those add to a writer’s bag of tricks?

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