Five Writing Secrets I Learned From “The Princess Bride”

True love. A giant. Pirates. Mistaken identity. A double-triple-quadruple cross that turns into a deadly choice of one goblet over another, and the decision is made by way of logic and nonsense.

All of these, and more, take place in the classic movie, “The Princess Bride.”

But did you know there was treasure hidden in there, too? Priceless gems, in fact. Here they are: five writing secrets I learned from “The Princess Bride.”

1) There are many exchanges such as this in “The Princess Bride”:

Westley: Hear this now: I will always come for you.
Buttercup: But how can you be sure?
Westley: This is true love – you think this happens every day?

The secret to be learned here? Westley is right: true love does not happen every day. So don’t write about it every day, or on every page, or people will tire of your writing.

2) Take your time. Don’t rush. NaNoWriMo is great…for getting down a first draft. But never expect a good novel to be completed in a month. Maybe written, but never completed.

Miracle Max: You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.

Writing a good story is right up there with any great miracle. So don’t rush it.

3) If your story is too painful to tell, try writing it into a piece of fiction:

Fezzik: Why do you wear a mask? Were you burned by acid, or something like that?
Man in Black: Oh no, it’s just that they’re terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.

Masks can be very comfortable. So if you want to write about your life, but it’s too painful, or you’ll be sued for libel or defamation of character, try turning it into fiction.

4) Writing means practicing. If the only time you write is for your book, or your blog, or, in other words, when an audience will see it, then you aren’t doing yourself justice.

Vizzini: Jump in after her!
Inigo Montoya: I don’t swim
Fezzik: I only dog paddle.
Vizzini: AGGHH!

If any of these guys had practiced swimming, then when the big moment arrived they could have jumped in and rescued her.

Practice writing. Then, when your big opportunity arrives, you’ll be able to do more than dog-paddle.

5) At some point you might read back over what you’ve written and think it’s dead.

Miracle Max: He probably owes you money huh? I’ll ask him.
Inigo Montoya: He’s dead. He can’t talk.
Miracle Max: Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.
Inigo Montoya: What’s that?
Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.

Your writing might feel dead. Gone. A waste. But look closer – there’s almost always one small thing you can salvage: the setting, a character, an image. Mostly dead turns to slightly alive.

For other writing secrets check out:

Five Writing Secrets I Learned From the Movie “Airplane”

Five Writing Secrets I Learned From the Movie “Napoleon Dynamite”

(Thanks to for all scripts and to Daniel Meyer for reminding me about what a great movie this is).

* * * * *
Today is the last day to help determine the fate of Macy, who is currently caught on a fire escape waiting for the readers of this blog to decide what she will do – read this story and put in your two cents.

21 Replies to “Five Writing Secrets I Learned From “The Princess Bride””

  1. Ha, this is great and perfect timing too, as, thanks to the help of friends, we’ve convinced my husband to watch this movie for the first time tomorrow night. There’s so much more to the movie and you pull out even more! Great post.

  2. I’m so glad I stumbled onto you! This is pure gold here :)
    As soon I saw “Princess Bride” I knew I’d like you.

    Very funny. Wonderful nuggets of wisdom.

  3. Another great post. I’m really enjoying your site. I love writing and the Princess Bride. Put the two together and I’m pumped enough to kill a 6 fingered man and smack Humperdinck.

    1. Thanks Clay. But this is a strictly non-violent sight: sorry, no killing of 6-fingered men allowed…

  4. You know, the book is even better, and it’s an interesting lesson in how you can turn a successful book into a successful screenplay — the book is about 3 times snarkier than the film, but they don’t feel different somehow. William Goldman is a genius.

  5. This is excellent. I am no fan of the movie. I just don’t get it. I feel like it wants to be satire but it doesn’t go far enough.

    Yet, I love these writing tips. thanks so much, Sean. I love what you say about the importance of keeping highlights precious by giving them less attention.

  6. Haha, I love it!

    This is my all time favorite movie of all time. And you pulled some great stuff from it. I’m looking forward to reading more on your blog. peace!

  7. @jenluit was right! I do love your writing. Of course, it helped that you used the PB. :) well done. Makes me want to spend the summer writing and watching movies!

    1. Thanks Kurt. It’s been over two months since I wrote this – must be time to watch The Princess Bride again…

  8. I have to second Ashley that if you appreciate the writing of the movie the Princess Bride, you should absolutely make sure to pick up the book. The writing style is clever, funny and profound (and the writer, William Goldman, is the same as that of the movie’s screenplay). It’s a fast read as well, so it’s not too much of a time obligation.

    You can find some samples of the writing (and my proclamations of its brilliance) here:

Comments are closed.