What Terminator 2 Taught Me About Writing

So, a little different from my post on Labyrinth, but hey! When inspiration strikes…

Oh, by the way, major spoilers here, so if you haven’t seen this movie, and want to, I suggest you don’t read on!

1. You don’t always have to tell your audience everything – In this scene in Terminator 2, Arnold has come back, and we don’t yet know what his deal is. In fact, we may believe he is still evil, as he was in the original Terminator. This scene doesn’t give us an answer, either. This clip got cut off from the one I really wanted to show, but later in the scene we see the Terminator harm several people, and yet never actually kill anyone. We are forced to read between the lines and figure things out for ourselves, and sometimes that is the greatest way to draw readers in. Don’t treat your audience like they’re idiots, and don’t spell everything out!

2. Twists don’t have to come at the end of the story – In this scene, we discover that the Terminator is now good. And the movie’s just beginning! If your story is straightforward, that’s fine. Not all stories have to be full of twists. But if you do have some twists, don’t be afraid to use them throughout the story, instead of simply at the end of the tale. It’s always exciting when you can’t guess the ending, and when there are multiple ways the story could potentially go…just make sure your twists are backed up with logic or proof!

3. The best characters are the interesting ones – In this scene, John tells the Terminator not to kill anyone. And the Terminator agrees, but…in his own way. Although he is a good guy in this film, he is not a saint by any stretch. He was originally designed to kill, and that is still a part of his “personality” even when he works for the good side. In writing, sometimes characters are too good, or too evil (too nice/too mean, too smart/too dumb…). In the words of the Backstreet Boys, what makes you different makes you beautiful. Don’t be afraid to add in some layers to your characters!

4. Sometimes it’s fun to know more than your characters – Let me clarify…I find it, as a reader, very annoying when something is extremely obvious, and yet the MC just doesn’t get it (for example, in many romantic comedies, boy quite obviously likes girl, but girl for some reason can’t even imagine such a thing). However, sharing information with readers, and having one character intentionally left out can be really intriguing. In this scene, we know the Terminator is good. But Sarah doesn’t. You can put yourself in her shoes, and understand her reaction to seeing him. It harkens back to the original movie, and her suffering there. It is complex, and gives us a deeper appreciation for her character by showing that while she is strong, she still fears.

(Sorry I had to link this one…couldn’t embed the clip!)

5. Never give up on a story until you’re sure you’ve given it all you’ve got – Ideas come and go. Sometimes stories get onto paper, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they are written, but never edited. And sometimes they are written, edited, and even queried, but nothing ever comes from the effort. This is the way it is, as great or sucky as it may sometimes seem. But it’s important not to give up on a story because you’re stuck, or feeling unsure. Every story is worth telling…I truly believe that. So do what you can to make your story shine. And that also means not being afraid to change your stories, develop them, and see where they lead you. A small idea could grow into a huge story completely different from the original seed! And that can be great. Don’t drag your story through the mud…sometimes, like in this scene, things just have to end. But as Sarah remarks, there is hope in the future, because even the impossible can happen. So make sure you’ve given it everything you can, and embrace the challenges, changes, and ultimate successes your story has the potential to have.

3 Responses so far.

  1. This is great. I think we/novelists can learn so much from films and screenwriting. I love to study film for storyline, plot, and character ideas. Fun post! 🙂
  2. Mere Joyce says:
    I love film. It is another method of storytelling, and it can be great for both inspiration and technique!

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