What Wild Teaches Us About Writing

On the way home from our night away, Val and I went to the movies.  There wasn’t a ton of options that appealed to both of us and I think the last movie I was really excited about seeing was The Dark Knight Rises. After checking showtimes, we settled on Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon.

The movie is based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I haven’t read the book, but had seen previews of the movie. Novelist Nick Hornby and Strayed co-wrote the screenplay adapted from the book and, knowing how much I enjoy his work, I felt that we were in for a good experience. We did not leave disappointed.

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I won’t include any spoilers here but, just to give you an idea, Wild portrayed the story of Strayed as she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in an attempt to find herself after the death of her mother to cancer, her drug addiction, and the ending of her marriage.  I recommend it for anyone who enjoys the literary and cinematic tradition of stories about the loss and recovery of identity.

Here are three points from the movie that can help us as writers:

Connect Your Cuts: The movie used a plethora of jump cuts often cued by a sound, song, item, or dialogue.  It wasn’t distracting as they made sure to have a connection point on the other side.  If you are working through a story that moves back and forth in time or place, be sure to keep a thread for the reader. Stories must flow and, if your audience is flipping back to a prior chapter to see what they missed when you abruptly started a new section, you can lose that flow.

Play With Empathy: Strayed, as the character, is not perfect.  She’s human and has faults, which Witherspoon does an amazing job capturing in her acting. You watch the movie with your heart breaking at the sad moments and your anger rising as you see her destroy her marriage.  Her life is torn down and the interplay between good and bad allows us to feel for her. Great writing is willing to blur the lines and Hornby and Strayed master it with the screenplay.

Smooth Your Ending: My only issue with the film is how it ended.  There are movies that you watch and you can tell that they put effort into every moment, start to finish.  There are endings that have made movies into classics.  In the opposite cases, you’ll watch something that feels like they rushed it. This had the vibe that Hornby and Strayed faced a hard page limit.

When you get to the end, not everything needs a bow on it. Write until it is clear and doesn’t feel rushed.  Your audience can sense it,  trust me.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, check it out and you’ll enjoy the experience as it makes you think about life, happiness, and enjoying every moment you are blessed to have.

~Matt

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