Friday, January 8, 2016

Writerly Lessons from The Revenant

post by Michelle Griep
Have you heard a faint drumbeat lately? Tat-tat-tat-tat-tat. Actually, that was no drum. That was me, tapping my toes while waiting impatiently to go see The Revenant . . . and today was the day.

And indeed, it was worth the wait. If a gritty man-against-nature combined with man-against-man epic story makes your heart pitter-patter, then this is the movie for you. But if you're at all squeamish, don't got see it. It's pretty graphic.

The Revenant tells the true story of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper/frontiersman/explorer in the early 1800's. Yeah, this is a movie, but there are plenty of takeaway values for a writer . . .

5 Writerly Lessons from The Revenant

Up the Stakes
One bad thing after another happens to the hero, Hugh Glass. Winter's coming, all he can do is crawl because of a severe mauling by a grizzly, and oh yeah, there are merciless savages at his back killing anything that moves. Oh, did I mention the rest of his buddies left him to die, with no gun, no water, nothing? His life is seriously on the line, which glues the viewer to the screen. Do that, in writing, of course.

Relate at an Emotional Level
Not many people can relate to being a fur trapper. What makes the hero super relatable, though, is the tragedy he faced in his past. His wife was killed. Who hasn't experienced the loss of a loved one? Using a universal feeling such as grief creates a connection between fictional characters and readers.

Lob a Surprise Hand Grenade
Don't worry. I won't give a spoiler here, but there's one scene that faked out pretty much everyone in the audience. That kind of surprise endears a reader to the author.

Weave in Backstory
As I mentioned, Hugh Glass's wife is dead. She was killed in an attack on their village. But all that information wasn't up front or in one big chunk. It was sprinkled throughout the story, kind of a story within a story, if you will.

Give the Reader Something to Ponder
At the very end of the film, Leonardo DiCaprio looks right smack into the camera lens. This is the first time he does that. What does it mean? Is he finally letting go of his past? Is he dying? What? It's up to the viewer to decide.

Whether or not you go see The Revenant, these five tips are valuable skills to master for any storyteller.


chappydebbie said...

Well, since I'm not a huge DiCaprio fan, I won't be seeing this movie. Too bad Matt Damon wasn't the lead. ;-)
I love how you pulled such great writerly advice from a movie.

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