Skip to main content

Takeaway: The Hunger Games, Tron Legacy, and The Lost City of Z

This is a new series starting in 2011 I'm calling "Takeaway." In it, I examine books I've recently read or movies I've recently seen and try to take away one important storytelling lesson from it. When we writers enjoy books or movies, we can learn from them at the same time—taking away things big and small that helped make the story work. The goal here is to help myself learn and also start a small discussion with you from time to time.

This is a new series starting in 2011 I'm calling "Takeaway." In it, I examine books I've recently read or movies I've recently seen and try to take away one important storytelling lesson from it. When we writers enjoy books or movies, we can learn from them at the same time—taking away things big and small that helped make the story work. The goal here is to help myself learn and also start a small discussion with you from time to time.

(Learn how to write a novel synopsis.)

Image placeholder title

TRON LEGACY: Planting seeds that pay off in later stories is cool.

In an early scene in Tron: Legacy, there's a boardroom gathering. It's mostly a bunch of nobody characters, except that right in the middle of the scene, with a few random lines of dialogue is, of all people, Cillian Murphy. He's a big-name actor who played The Scarecrow in the new Batman movies. What's an actor like Murphy doing in the middle of this small scene with just a few lines of dialogue? Then it hit me after I left the theater: They're setting him up as a villain in a sequel. Of course! How cool is that? Very cool.

Remember when Star Wars: A New Hope was re-released in 1997 and we saw that restored scene with Jabba the Hut. Well, Boba Fett made a small cameo in the scene—once again, this was planting a seed for later. Why do you think Arnold had that scene in The Expendables? Did he need to be there? No. He was there to set him up as the villain later. It just adds a "Cool" factor.

(Learn how to find a literary agent.)

Image placeholder title



LOST CITY Z
: A search for fabled things captures the imagination.

I get a kick out of stories where characters try to find The Fountain of Youth, or El Dorado, or The Holy Grail, or other fabled artifacts. That's why they are used well as the MacGuffins or sought items in thriller. The fact that this story (along with Aguirre's story in Aguirre: The Wrath of God) is a true tale only makes it better. If you can combine the mystique of searching for something legendary with the fact that we're reading a true story, you have a great hook.

Image placeholder title

THE HUNGER GAMES: If done well and not thrown in the book in a gratuitous manner, a gruesome scene can create an indelible image.

Check out this passage from The Hunger Games, from when the female main character is in a life-or-death free-for-all when she and a boy warrior both try to pick up a sack of goods at the same time: "A boy, I think from District 9, reaches the pack at the same time I do and for a brief time we grapple for it and then he coughs, splattering my face with blood. I stagger back, repulsed by the warm, sticky spray. Then the boy slips to the ground. That's when I see the knife in his back."

It's haunting. It's gruesome, but it doesn't feel forced, or thrown in there just to shock you into being shocked. And you're left with an extraordinary image. The main character is playing tug of war for a bag when the challenger abruptly spits blood all over her face. Wow. Yes, I will keep reading.

I would compare this to Silence of the Lambs (film), when the Memphis cops burst into the empty holding room and see one of the guards strung up like an angel, with his midsection eviscerated. It's gruesome, but it works well, and is unforgettable.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

Image placeholder title


Join the Writer's Digest VIP Program today!

You'll get a subscription to the magazine, a
subscription to WritersMarket.com, discounts
on almost everything you buy, a download,
and much more great stuff.

5 Ways To Use Short Stories To Grow as a Writer

5 Ways To Use Short Stories To Grow as a Writer

Short story writing can be a gateway to writing your novel—but they’re also fun and worthy stories in their own right. Here, author Dallas Woodburn shares 5 ways to use short stories to grow as a writer.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Having an Online Presence

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Having an Online Presence

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is not having an online presence.

Shirlene Obuobi: On Writing From Experience

Shirlene Obuobi: On Writing From Experience

Physician, cartoonist, and author Shirlene Obuobi discusses the writerly advice that led to writing her new coming-of-age novel, On Rotation.

WD Poetic Form Challenge

WD Poetic Form Challenge: Kimo Winner

Learn the winner and Top 10 list for the Writer’s Digest Poetic Form Challenge for the kimo.

8 Things Writers Should Know About Tattoos

8 Things Writers Should Know About Tattoos

Tattoos and their artists can reveal interesting details about your characters and offer historical context. Here, author June Gervais shares 8 things writers should know about tattoos.

Tyler Moss | Reporting Through Lens of Social Justice

Writing Through the Lens of Social Justice

WD Editor-at-Large Tyler Moss makes the case for reporting on issues of social justice in freelance writing—no matter the topic in this article from the July/August 2021 issue of Writer's Digest.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Intentional Trail

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Intentional Trail

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character leave clues for people to find them.

Sharon Maas: On Books Finding the Right Time

Sharon Maas: On Books Finding the Right Time

Author Sharon Maas discusses the 20-year process of writing and publishing her new historical fiction novel, The Girl from Jonestown.

6 Steps to Becoming a Good Literary Citizen

6 Steps to Becoming a Good Literary Citizen

While the writing process may be an independent venture, the literary community at large is full of writers who need and want your support as much as you need and want theirs. Here, author Aileen Weintraub shares 6 steps in becoming a good literary citizen.