Monday, April 24, 2006

Lessons from Lord of the Rings, Part 3

Therese, Kathleen and their writer buddy Elena Greene had their article, Lessons from The Lord of the Rings published last November, and now they're freeing it to share with the world (in part because Writer's Digest doesn't take reprints - bah).

But don't start reading the article in the middle, my preciousesss, because we're already up to tips 5 & 6. Here's part 1, which contains a cheat list in case you need to know who's who...and here's part 2. Enjoy!

5. Find new twists for stale conflicts

To portray Frodo as the victim of his circumstance throughout three epic-length films would’ve become tedious to watch. The filmmakers mixed it up, though, emphasizing a different jagged edge in each movie. In the first, Frodo is a young and naïve hobbit whose conflict is clear: he doesn’t want to be the ring bearer, but there is no one more suited for the task. He also knows if the Ring isn’t destroyed, the Shire—which he loves more than anything—could be.

In the second film, Frodo’s original conflict still simmers on the backburner, but we see him increasingly agitated over the Ring and what it’s already done to one of its previous owners—Gollum. “I have to believe he can come back,” Frodo says as he fights to help the deranged Hobbit-beast, and we understand that he fears the Ring’s power to destroy not only his homeland, but the very fabric of his being.

In the final installment, the Ring’s toll on Frodo becomes marked. Their relationship slides into a drug to junkie dynamic. Frodo moves like an addict, is sleepless, jumpy and paranoid; he snaps at Sam for offering to “share the load” and carry the Ring for a while. (Even here the conflict is multi-faceted, because Frodo wants to protect Sam from the corrupting effects of the Ring, too.)

When you’re writing, think about how your conflicts can evolve, and how your characters can and must change to keep the variance fresh and alive.

6. Wring tension from simple moments

In a well-played scene in the third film, close-knit friends Merry and Pippin are separated. Though it would’ve been easy for the filmmakers to have directed a basic exit scene, they opted for a more conflicted parting. Merry is angry with Pippin for the first time; he’s always looked after his friend and now he’ll be powerless to do so. Pippin is confused and agitated, and Gandalf, who must take Pippin away, is testy. When Merry gives Pippin the rest of his favorite tobacco, we know that he knows he may never see his friend again, and when Pippin cries out as he’s being whisked away, we feel the fist-grip on our hearts, too.

In another example, Arwen must decide whether to stay in Middle Earth or leave forever with the other elves. After deciding to leave—forsaking her love for Aragorn—she changes her mind, but the filmmakers were never entirely satisfied with the Why of it. Enter a premonitory vision of the son she would have with Aragorn. This dramatically amps up the emotional tension in the scene and provides a conflict between her and her prophesizing father, who tried mightily to get her to safety but ultimately knew the child could come.

Focus on simple moments in sparkless or ambiguous scenes, and see what happens when you add a fistful of spicy tension.

Check back tomorrow for two new lessons from Lord of the Rings!

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