For writers: 5 things to learn about story from Jurassic World

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Dinosaurs and boys go together like peas and carrots. So since I’m the proud mama of three boys, you better believe I was sitting in the theater this past weekend watching Jurassic World with them.

The movie did not disappoint.

The dinosaurs were bigger.

The dinosaurs were scarier.

And somehow, the lead heroine manages to fend them all off while wearing high-heeled shoes and a white skirt. These minor details bugged the heck outta me, but I digress.

The story was great!

I was glued to my seat.

My knuckles were white as I gripped the armrest.

I didn’t even get up to refill the popcorn, and I always get up to refill the popcorn.

So what was so good about it?

As a writer, and as one who is in the middle of macro edits for my third novel, I watched out for story techniques as much as for the Indominous Rex and Chris Pratt’s biceps, and there were plenty of good ones.

I’ll highlight five that I think will benefit writers:

1) What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen to your protagonist? Do that to them. Again. And again. And again.

Every scene in Jurassic World upped the ante of the next one. Every scene put the characters in more dire straits than previously imaginable. Every scene made it seem more and more impossible that the story could ever end well. And that–if not the I-Rex and Chris Pratt’s biceps–is what kept me glued to my seat.

The same is true with novel-writing.

Keep the protagonist moving.

Keep the obstacles coming.

Keep the reader wondering how the story could ever end well.

2) Add humor, or at least a few lighter moments to help people care and become invested in the story.

Jurassic World is one action-packed movie: danger, teeth, blood, gore, and more teeth and danger. Even so, there are moments where the characters make the audience laugh. There are moments when the mood is lightened. (Extra points if you can spot Jimmy Buffett’s cameo!).

As a writer who tends to geek out on literary novels, my editors are kind to remind me not to make my writing so dark that they want to put the book down and see a therapist. While inserting slap-stick comedy into a contemporary family drama would never work, there is a time and place to lighten the mood to make a story more well-rounded. Doing so helps develop characters who are not simply running from big-toothed dinosaurs, but people we begin can care about and relate to.

In essence, this technique helps make the characters more well-rounded. Because nobody likes a flat character very much.

3) Follow the basic rules of story.

In his invaluable book, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, Robert McKee says,

“‘Good story’ means something worth telling that the world wants to hear. Finding this is your lonely task. It begins with talent…[but] Just as a composer must excel in the principles of musical composition, so you must master the corresponding principles of story composition.”

Jurrassic World features solid principles of structure (plot) and setting (a fabulous island far, far away), genre (thriller/action/adventure), character (heroes, villains and big, scary dinosaurs) and meaning (“the best intentions can be deadly in the wrong hands;” or perhaps, “just because we as humans can, doesn’t mean we should.”). There’s a definite protagonist and antagonist. There’s crisis, climax and resolution.

The reason Jurassic World (and the Jurassic Parks before it) are so beloved (did I mention dinosaurs and Chris Pratt’s eyes?) is because they touch on the universal desire within each of us to create something remarkable and/or to bring back what was lost, and the universal fear within each of us that the remarkable will fall apart and/or we will lose it again.

4) Write about something really cool.

I heard someone say that when you’re writing, write as if it’s the last thing you’ll ever be able to share with the world. I think when a writer does that, they create something extraordinary, even if the subject matter seems to be…well…extinct.

Dinosaurs certainly aren’t new, but Jurassic World tells a story about them in a new way.

I’ve written about pecan farms, the art of lapidary, Eastern European history, the 1970s, Alabama, Lake Michigan, and the current novel I’m writing centers around a dairy farm and a small town church. None of these topics are new, but I have a lot of fun researching them, and I think my stories unveil unique aspects about each of them…and I think that makes for a really cool story.

Identify your story topic, and keep asking, “What if….?” I guarantee Michael Crichton and Steven Spielburg did this in one form or another when creating their little dinosaur stories. Over, and over, and over again.

Besides that, when you write about something you’re fired up about, that excitement is bound to rub off on the reader.

5) Put Chris Pratt in your book.

Okay, so maybe you can’t afford him. But, Chris Pratt as Owen in Jurassic World can tell a writer a lot about character. He’s likable, he’s charming, he’s brave, he’s funny, he has great biceps, and as one character puts it, “he’s a bad a$$.”

Readers want protagonists they can root for. They want someone who’s well-rounded (see point #2). They want someone to sympathize with, empathize with, and cheer on.

Owen isn’t perfect–he’s a bit of a hermit and he’s bossy–but those negative traits help us like him too, because they make him believable. And if he weren’t believable, the storyline of him being able to tame velociraptors would completely flop.

In short, a character like Chris Pratt’s is real. Which helps make the story real. Which makes it get into a reader’s head, under their skin, and into their hearts.

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What about you?

Have you seen Jurassic World?

What’s another movie you can think of which uses great storytelling principles to tell a great story?

 

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