Make It Count

09 May

A successful romance must have characters that readers become invested in. They want to care what happens. They want a love story.  They want a happy ending.

Mysteries, Sci-Fi, YA, Children’s books all need characters that readers will love. One way to ensure reader investment is to make every word count. Not just to advance the plot, but to develop the character arc. Make the characters reveal themselves through their lines. Books, movies, and television shows have pages and pages of lines, but there are those that stand out.  Those lines that grab the reader and suck them in.

Do you know which movies featured these lines?

1. My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die…

2. There’s no place like home…

3. I see dead people…

4. No, you submit, do you hear? You be strong, you survive… You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you. I will find you!

I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you recognize every quote. All of the selections have several great lines attached to them.  The words inspire passion, chills, or triumph. The type of movies can be all over the map, but the lines resonate with the viewers who love the meaning behind the words. You can empathize with the characters’ feelings of revenge, longing, fearful resignation, and determined love. We learn from them. Readers remember stories with memorable lines uttered by memorable heroes/heroines living memorable lives.

We’ve all been in workshops where movies illustrate the hero’s journey, plot points, character arcs, etc. Movies are a wonderful tool to help us improve our writing whether they are good examples or bad.

I saw a movie that was pretty good. I liked the characters well enough. It was funny, and truthfully, it doesn’t take much to please me. I love the whole atmosphere of a movie theater. Lights, cameras, action.  And then, it happened. A primary character uttered a line that totally took me out of the story. It was unexpected and totally wrong for what had happened in the movie.

The connecting scene that perhaps explained it was probably left on the cutting room floor. I spent the rest of the movie wondering how that faux pas had slipped by editing and what was on the “missing” tape. I then moved to how I would have handled the scene. Oh, and the dialogue. I couldn’t forget that. I never did get back “into” the story.

Viewers also remember good lines from television because they help better define the character. In The Vampire Diaries, a vampire named Damon is the quintessential bad boy. Cruel, selfish, arrogant, and all too happy to drain people of their life’s blood. By the end of the second season, he’s unwillingly fallen in love with a human who will never love him as her heart is given to another.

His character arc is all about protecting her even though it’s against his nature.  Against his will, he is gaining humanity. Time and again through the first and second season he’s fought it.  He’s never really voiced his love to her. With a few episodes left of this season, the scene unfolds where she thanks him for saving her friend. He says:

“Let me be clear about something. If it comes down to you and the witch again, I will gladly let Bonnie die. I will always choose you.”

Bam! He said it. I will always choose you. Whether she returns his love or not, he’s voiced his love.

On a completely different show, Grey’s Anatomy, there is a character named Christina Wang. She is hard-as-nails and she often speaks outrageously as part of her character.  She sees the world differently. In a recent episode, there is a touching scene where parents are taking home their baby from the hospital.  One character says, “That’s a cute baby. Right?”

Christina Yang says, “Its small features and over-sized eyes trigger a hormonal response in humans. It’s autonomic. It’s what keeps us from eating them.”

A laugh out loud couple of lines. She rejects such sentiments as mawkish. It’s her character. It’s pure Wang.

Learn your characters inside and out. How would they react to the things that happen to them?  And why would they react the way they do? What would they say? Make their voices reveal the truth. Make their voices reveal their character arc. Make the readers care.

Make it count.


Movie Answers:

1. The Princess Bride

2. Wizard of Oz

3. The Sixth Sense

4. Last of the Mohicans


Posted by on May 9, 2011 in Idaho, writing



12 responses to “Make It Count

  1. Clarissa Southwick

    May 9, 2011 at 8:02 AM

    Janis, I love learning writing by studying movies. Those character-revealing lines are had to come up with. But after a while, you start to recognize them in regular conversation. Great post.

    • Janis McCurry

      May 9, 2011 at 8:23 AM

      Thanks, Clarissa. I’m a movie fanatic and take every opportunity I can to watch them.

  2. Meredith Conner

    May 9, 2011 at 8:05 AM

    I love the lines you’ve used Janis. It is such a wonderful thing to watch a movie or read a book and become so involved in the characters, you are waiting breathlessly for what they will say next.

    • Janis McCurry

      May 9, 2011 at 8:24 AM


      Dialogue that shines really takes me further into the story. Thanks for dropping in.

  3. Liz Fredericks

    May 9, 2011 at 8:51 AM

    Another excellent post, Janis! You are a marvelous instructor and guide to craft.

    • Janis McCurry

      May 9, 2011 at 8:54 AM

      Thanks, Liz. Let’s all go to the movies!! One last word…Popcorn.

  4. Carley Ash

    May 9, 2011 at 6:33 PM

    Great points to remember. Thanks Janis.

    • Janis

      May 9, 2011 at 8:03 PM


      Thanks. It’s always gratifying to find ways to improve craft by looking at other forms of writing.

  5. lynn mapp

    May 9, 2011 at 8:06 PM

    Janis, great post! You made me think. You know I hate that. I need to make certain my character’s voice is there own.

    • Janis McCurry

      May 10, 2011 at 7:12 AM

      Yes, those pesky characters are very needy!

  6. maryvine

    May 11, 2011 at 3:26 PM

    Makes me think I should watch Vampire Diaries…


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