Yes, I’m that kind of nerd.

I love Lord of the Rings.

I’m not obsessed with it in the same way as Harry Potter, but Peter Jackson’s adaptations are my favorite movies of all time, and I can honestly say that yes, I even enjoyed the books.

I love looking at exceptional books or movies and considering specifically what I can learn about storytelling from them. Film is an excellent form for the study of storytelling (I think I would say even more than literature is) for a few reasons. The primary reason I say this is that it’s highly condensed, so flaws in the story arc, or missed chances are more obvious than they are in a full length novel, for example.

I thought it would be fun to share some of what I’ve learned about storytelling from the Lord of the Rings movies. So here we go…

  1. When your story is over, it’s over. Let it be and don’t try to artificially extend it.
  2. You increase complexity, believability, and power when each character and each scene serves multiple purposes.
  3. You need to work hard in order to get powerful moments. Every aspect needs to be set up correctly or it will fall flat.
  4. Simple writing/dialogue and beautiful writing/dialogue are not mutually exclusive.
  5. Every character needs to have a “want.” It doesn’t particularly matter when the character achieves their “want,” but unless it is at the end of the story, you need to give them another “want” or have them learn why that “want” wasn’t what they actually need.
  6. Rules of genre are very important, but they are never absolute.
  7. No one gets it right on their first try. Good writing and storytelling is often made in the edits.
  8. Balancing pacing between different narrators or subplots doesn’t mean spending equal time in each.
  9. If your story does have multiple narrators and/or subplots, but there’s one that is the primary one, don’t ever let those other sections overpower or overwhelm your primary narrative. Don’t let your readers forget the real story you want to tell.
  10. Ideas need incubation time, and there is no way to speed that along.

These are just a few of the things that I’ve learned from watching Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, including a few interviews with him and the other screenwriters.

Are there certain books or movies that have taught you specific lessons about storytelling or about writing?

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