Five Writing Secrets I Learned From “Inception”

You know the drill. I’ve done this with Napoleon Dynamite, Dumb and Dumber, The Princess Bride, and Airplane.

I’ve taken great movies and proven their multiplicity by gleaning immortal writing secrets from their depths. (Is multiplicity a word? Even if it is, there’s no way I used it correctly).

In other words, I waste time re-watching my favorite movies of all-time, at the end of which I quote the movie and make stuff up about “hidden secrets” and “ancient truths.”

Sounds like a bunch of Stonecutter nonsense, right? Oh, well.

Here are 5 writing secrets I learned from the movie, Inception:

1) You need a compelling hook early on, something that snags your reader and won’t let them turn away. This movie starts off in someone’s dream, but not only that – in a dream inside a dream. That’s what I call a hook.

2) Imagination is essential. You can’t perform inception without using complex images, setting up a detailed scene and making sure all of the gaps are filled in:

Eames: If we are gonna perform Inception then we need imagination.

Writing is no different. Use your imagination. We’ll all be better off.

3) What Mal says in the movie about being a lover also speaks to being a writer:

Mal: Do you know what it is to be a lover? Half of a whole?

Being a writer is like being a lover – always half of a whole. You are one half. The reader is the other half Never forget that writing for only yourself is kind of like, well, masturbation.

4) Every writer needs a totem. What’s a totem?

Arthur: So, a totem. It’s a small object, potentially heavy, something you can have on you all the time…

Ariadne: What, like a coin?

Arthur: No, it has to be more unique than that, like – this is a loaded die. [Ariadne reaches out to take the die]

Arthur: Nah, I can’t let you touch it, that would defeat the purpose. See only I know the balance and weight of this particular loaded die. That way when you look at your totem, you know beyond a doubt you’re not in someone else’s dream.

Every writer needs a totem. Every writer needs something that helps them to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’re not in someone else’s writing. Maybe it’s your narrative voice. Maybe it’s your style. Your structure. Maybe it’s what you write about. Once you have your totem, hang on to it. It will help you find your way.

5) Loose ends tied up are what people want, but ambiguity gets them talking. People want happy endings – they want to know that they can close the book and all the characters are taken care of. But what gets people talking around the water coolers? Endings like “Lost” (which I haven’t seen yet so keep quiet).

I’m not going to spoil the ending of the movie. Watch it, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

What writing lessons did you learn from Inception?

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Don’t forget to go by yesterday’s post – it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure style post in which the reader’s determine the direction each week.

5 Replies to “Five Writing Secrets I Learned From “Inception””

  1. Great thoughts, 3 through five are great…still searching for my writing totem, my writing seems to mimic whatever book I am into at the time :-(

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