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Lessons from Lord of the Rings, Part 3

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting [1]Therese, Kathleen and their writer buddy Elena Greene [2]had their article, Lessons from The Lord of the Rings published last November, and now they’re freeing it to share with the world (in part because Writer’s Digest doesn’t take reprints – bah).

But don’t start reading the article in the middle, my preciousesss, because we’re already up to tips 5 & 6. Here’s part 1 [3], which contains a cheat list in case you need to know who’s who…and here’s part 2 [4]. Enjoy!

5. Find new twists for stale conflicts

To portray Frodo as the victim of his circumstance throughout three epic-length films would’ve become tedious to watch. The filmmakers mixed it up, though, emphasizing a different jagged edge in each movie. In the first, Frodo is a young and naïve hobbit whose conflict is clear: he doesn’t want to be the ring bearer, but there is no one more suited for the task. He also knows if the Ring isn’t destroyed, the Shire—which he loves more than anything—could be.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting [1]In the second film, Frodo’s original conflict still simmers on the backburner, but we see him increasingly agitated over the Ring and what it’s already done to one of its previous owners—Gollum. “I have to believe he can come back,” Frodo says as he fights to help the deranged Hobbit-beast, and we understand that he fears the Ring’s power to destroy not only his homeland, but the very fabric of his being.

In the final installment, the Ring’s toll on Frodo becomes marked. Their relationship slides into a drug to junkie dynamic. Frodo moves like an addict, is sleepless, jumpy and paranoid; he snaps at Sam for offering to “share the load” and carry the Ring for a while. (Even here the conflict is multi-faceted, because Frodo wants to protect Sam from the corrupting effects of the Ring, too.)

When you’re writing, think about how your conflicts can evolve, and how your characters can and must change to keep the variance fresh and alive.

6. Wring tension from simple moments

In a well-played scene in the third film, close-knit friends Merry and Pippin are separated. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting [1]Though it would’ve been easy for the filmmakers to have directed a basic exit scene, they opted for a more conflicted parting. Merry is angry with Pippin for the first time; he’s always looked after his friend and now he’ll be powerless to do so. Pippin is confused and agitated, and Gandalf, who must take Pippin away, is testy. When Merry gives Pippin the rest of his favorite tobacco, we know that he knows he may never see his friend again, and when Pippin cries out as he’s being whisked away, we feel the fist-grip on our hearts, too.

In another example, Arwen must decide whether to stay in Middle Earth or leave forever with Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting [1]the other elves. After deciding to leave—forsaking her love for Aragorn—she changes her mind, but the filmmakers were never entirely satisfied with the Why of it. Enter a premonitory vision of the son she would have with Aragorn. This dramatically amps up the emotional tension in the scene and provides a conflict between her and her prophesizing father, who tried mightily to get her to safety but ultimately knew the child could come.

Focus on simple moments in sparkless or ambiguous scenes, and see what happens when you add a fistful of spicy tension.

Click below for more lessons from Lord of the Rings!

Part 4 [5]
Part 5 [6]

About [7]

Writer Unboxed began as a collaboration between Therese Walsh [8] and Kathleen Bolton [9] in 2006. Since then the site has grown to include ~50 regular contributors--including bestselling authors and industry leaders--and frequent guests. In 2014, the first Writer Unboxed UnConference (part UNtraditional conference, part intensive craft event, part networking affair) [10] was held in Salem, MA. Learn more about our 2019 event, ESCAPE TO WuNDERLAND, on Eventbrite. [11] In 2016, the Writer Unboxed team published a book with Writer's Digest. AUTHOR IN PROGRESS: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published [12] has been well-received by readers who seek help in overcoming the hurdles faced at every step of the novel-writing process--from setting goals, researching, and drafting to giving and receiving critiques, polishing prose, and seeking publication. James Scott Bell has said of the guide, "Nourishment for the writer's soul and motivation for the writer's heart." You can follow Writer Unboxed on Twitter [13], and join our thriving Facebook community [14].