What Labyrinth Has Taught Me About Writing

The other week I was watching Labyrinth, a great Jim Henson movie from the 80s starring the wonderfully odd David Bowie. And there is a line in that film that stuck in my head after we watched it. I kept thinking about it, and realized it related to writing well. So then I started looking at what other quotes the Labyrinth has, and decided to do a “what…taught me about writing” post. Enjoy, =)

*Disclaimer: The wording for these quotes (with the exception of the last one) came from IMDB. So if there are any slight changes from film to word, that is why.
*Disclaimer 2: Images all from labyrinthfilm.com

The Oldman: So, young woman, the way forward is sometimes the way back.
The Hat (Birdman): Heh, will you listen to this crap!

Sometimes things just aren’t working in a story, and the issue can’t be resolved by fixing what’s in front of you. Sometimes, the problem begins much earlier in the story, perhaps even at the beginning. Sometimes you know in your heart or your head what the problem is, and you have to get over your own love of the story to fix it. And other times, you have no idea what or where the problem is, and you have to work your way back through the MS, to figure out where the issue starts.

But this isn’t always easy, and sometimes a suggestion like this feels like, well, crap. You think everything is just how it should be, and nothing should be changed. Sometimes writing is like working through a labyrinth (Sometimes?…All the time?) and there are always going to be wrong turns, even if they don’t immediately turn into dead ends.

Jareth: And Hoggle, if she ever kisses you, I’ll turn you into a prince.
Hoggle: Y-you will?
Jareth: Prince of the Land of Stench!

Romance cannot be the “be all and end all” of your story. I think this is a big problem in YA especially, and you see it, unfortunately, even in published stories. Romance is great, when it fits into the tale. But you can’t just stick romance in and expect it to work. And this goes for other situations as well. You need to understand your audience, but also your characters, and their world. Would your girl really go on a quest to save her brother from the evil clutches of a king and then spend her last moments of life hovering over a bubbling pit thinking about the cute boy she met forty pages ago? Love is wonderful, but sometimes romance in a plot can just plain stink!

Sarah: I can bear it no longer! Goblin King! Goblin King! Wherever you may be, take this child of mine far away from me!
Goblins: That’s not it! Where did she get that rubbish? It doesn’t even start with “I wish!”

Don’t overdo it on the language. This is very tricky, and quite a delicate balance. I’ve read plenty of books where I think “Really? We couldn’t spice this language up a little?”, but I’ve also read plenty of books in which my eyes roll constantly at the overuse of language. I think there needs to be both in a story. Sometimes, a character just needs to walk through a door, plain and simple. But sometimes, an emotion or a sighting needs to have that extra spark. I think this is something where other readers can be of great use. It’s very difficult as a writer to know when you’ve put enough “oomph” into your story, without pushing it over that annoying cliff.

Sarah: Ow! It bit me!
Hoggle: What’d you expect fairies to do?
Sarah: I thought they did nice things, like…like granting wishes.
Hoggle: Shows what you know, don’t it?

Surprise your reader, but make it believable. Don’t state the obvious, and don’t make your characters fit into the same roles we’ve seen in millions of books before. Switch things up a little, give characters some edge, and some twists. But don’t make the reader lost. I find this last part especially true in fantasy books. Make your world interesting, and give it its own unique layout and order. But don’t just throw the reader into the world, and expect it all to make sense. Show the reader something new, but give them enough explanation to make them believe in it. Don’t just have a character walk into a world and know instinctively that fairies are good, or evil. Make those fairies interesting, but have a Hoggle nearby to explain what the fairies are all about. Even if it is in one simple sentence!

Jareth: Sarah, beware. I have been generous up ’til now. I can be cruel.
Sarah:
Generous? What have you done that’s generous?
Jareth:
Everything! Everything that you wanted I have done. You asked that the child be taken. I took him. You cowered before me, I was frightening. I have reordered time. I have turned the world upside down, and I have done it all for you! I am exhausted from living up to your expectations. Isn’t that generous?

Put your characters’ actions into perspective. Don’t make them do too much for who they are. Or too little. I know I’ve read books where the hero is too much of a hero, considering they are supposedly just an average girl or boy with no outstanding talents. I’ve also read books where characters in positions of great power or talent do pretty much nothing to help/stop what’s going on. I love characters that act, and I think characters that can have the ability to do a lot are fantastic. But make sure you back up whatever your character decides to do, or not do. It is frustrating beyond anything to read a story where you know the whole problem could be avoided if Princess What’s Her Face just ordered the parade to be pushed back an hour, but she doesn’t for some dumb reason, and thus everything keeps going wrong!

And finally…

Jareth: I ask for so little. Just let me rule you. And you can have everything that you want…just fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave.

This is the quote I kept thinking about. Isn’t this the perfect way to describe a writer and a manuscript? We love our stories so much, and we want them to be successful. But we want them to work for us, to be what we want them to be. We push them, twist them, force them, and sometimes they push right back. All we ask is that they do what we want, and then we will do anything for them. I don’t think there’s much to say about the process of writing with this one, but I think this is the perfect way to describe the strange relationship between a writer and a story. It’s a very close relationship, but a very odd one.

6 Responses so far.

  1. Labyrinth is one of my favorite movies so I adore this post. And it makes perfect sense!
  2. Angie Sandro says:
    Awesome post. I love how you break this down. Love it!
  3. Mere Joyce says:
    The sad part is, I never even saw this movie until I was, I think, 19? But I love it…and that last quote just stuck in my mind, so I thought I should share. Jareth is creepy, but awesome, =P
  4. Tamara says:
    This was one of the coolest posts I've ever read. I loved how you took the movie apart bit by bit and applied it to writing. AWESOME points and now i want to watch Labryinth again!!
  5. T. Drecker says:
    This was great! Not only because this is one of my most favorite movies, but the way you use the quotes for such wonderful points is terrific. Loved reading this.
  6. Greetings, earthling!! Shouldn’t be long, gottawanna run back to Heaven; however, in the meantime, take anything and everything you wanna from our wonderfull, plethora-of-thot to write the next, great masterpeace -if- I can but kiss your gorgeous, adorable feets and/or cuddle withe greatest, ex-mortal-girly-ever to arrive in Seventh Heaven. Think about it. Do it! Get back with me Upstairs, k? God bless you, doll: pleasure-beyond-measure is waiting in the Great Beyond for you and eye …thewarningsecondcoming.com

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