Big Trouble in Little China, is one of my favorite movies. I know, I know it’s a bit…campy. I watched it the other night and started thinking, writer’s can learn from this movie. Shocking! Before we do that, let’s watch the trailer.
Writing lessons learned from Big Trouble in Little China
1. Introduce the main characters early. The main characters in Big Trouble are glimpsed in the first few minutes of the movie. You don’t realize who they are at the time, it just looks like a sequence. Obviously Jack, seen in the opening sequence, will be important. But before the action gets going, all of the main people have been shown. If you know where to look.
2. Make the opening count. Make the reader/audience care about the characters and the plot. In the opening sequence we learn a lot about Jack. Not all of it’s good. He’s loud, arrogant, and drives a truck. He enjoys games of chance and hanging with a friend in China Town. He’s also not very bright and fool hardy. The opening also sets up the plot.
3. Use stereotypes and cliches sparingly. Big Trouble is swamped with cliches and stereotypes. That’s part of what makes it so funny. That doesn’t work for most things, especially books. Cliches/stereotypes get old quick. Use with caution.
4. Keep it fast and tight. Don’t waste words on dialogue that’s not needed or long winded prose. Each scene of Big Trouble happens fast. The action is quick and moves the plot, and story, along at a fast pace. Granted it’s an action movie, but the basic idea is the same for books. We want our readers to be caught up in the action, to stay in the story. The faster the pace the better. Yes, I know this isn’t true for all books.
5. Count your bullets. This cracks me up about the movie. I have tried to count the number of bullets flying around this movie, and others, they don’t match. Granted there are also automatic weapons firing, but no one reloads, ever. If you are writing an action/adventure type book, please count your bullets. If your character has a 6 shooter, he better reload if he’s taking 8 shots.
6. Monsters are always good. They don’t have to be the hairy, tunnel dwelling sort. But monsters can be useful. Fear is a handy emotion and motivator. People will do all sorts of things out of fear.
7. It’s good to have friends, especially when they know martial arts. OR Sometimes the sidekick is the hero. Jack is obviously the protagonist, but Wang is the reason he’s not dead. Jack could not have survived if it weren’t for Wang, of course he wouldn’t have been in this trouble to begin with if it weren’t for Wang. Point is, sometimes the sidekick/friend is the hero. Wang even gets the girl at the end of the movie.
8. A 10ft tall antagonist with seemingly unbeatable power is always a good thing.
This may not apply to all types of writing, but if you have a story where a protagonist must be defeated or caught…make it hard. No one likes an easy villain. Make him big and bad. Make the journey difficult. Conflict is good.
9. A Happy Ending doesn’t mean boy gets girl. It’s nice to have a story where the girl doesn’t end up the prize.
10. Leave them wanting more. At the very end of the movie Jack leaves Gracie at the restaurant and he’s back on the road. Except this time, he has a monster hitchhiking along. Then it ends. The audience is left with, what now? We don’t know what happens next. I like that. I know some books must have real closure. Not all of them do. I can think of several authors who have made their readers throw books across the room in frustration. An actual cliffhanger. The reader must wait for the next book to find out what happens. I like that. If I’m reading a series, give me a reason to buy the next book. Give me something to think about or look forward to.
There you go 10 lessons learned from Big Trouble in Little China. Yes, I plan on seeing the remake with The Rock! I smiled as I typed that last bit.
What movies have made you think about writing?