Sunday, March 10, 2013

As You Wish: Success and The Princess Bride

Success. Everyone defines it differently. But everyone wants it.
If you’re a writer—and even if you’re not—you don’t have to look further than your email inbox to know everyone wants to be successful. Personally, I’ve got piles of emails decrying the sale of book reviews, hawking little blue love pills, dissecting the alleged advances from a particular publisher, promising an easy weight-loss solution, complaining about the avalanche of free e-books out there, and more than a few praising this same plethora of free e-books out there. Now, all of these topics are good to ponder, but I’ve often wondered, do these emails have anything to do with actually reaching success? Or do they make success seem like wishful thinking?
And then, curled up on the couch watching the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Princess Bride, it hit me. Everything I need to know about success, I can learn from The Princess Bride.
Sure, if you’re an author you can study William Goldman’s delightful writing. You can also learn from Rob Reiner’s direction, Cary Elwes magnetism, or Wallace Shawn’s skill. But none of that is what I have in mind. Instead, I’d suggest you learn from the film’s “three poor, lost circus performers.”
I’d suggest you learn from Inigo Montoya, Fezzik the Giant, and Vizzini the Sicilian.
Chances are you’ve loved The Princess Bride for years, so pardon me if I don’t print SPOILER ALERT right here. After all, you know how the story goes. Westley, as the Man in Black, chases the three who’ve kidnapped his true love, Buttercup. He must fight each one to save her. And the first he must fight is Inigo Montoya.
“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya…”
Montoya is a supreme swordfighter who’s perfected his art over the last twenty years in the hopes of avenging his father's murder. He doesn’t trick Westley into an early death on the cliffs of a foreign land because it isn’t honest. No, he relies on his studies and his steel.
Some people—and some writers—are like this. Some take classes, go to conferences, and attend workshops. They can learn all they want, but if they don’t put this into practice, they can’t end up like Montoya. Montoya goes on to reach his goal. He avenges his father. And all because he applies his studies to his swordsmanship.
“That doesn’t seem very sportsmanlike.”
Next, Westley faces Fezzik the Giant. But Fezzik can’t bring himself to attack Westley in ambush. Why? He says, “That’s not very sportmanlike.” And that sums up Fezzik the Giant. He’s strong and he’s sportsmanlike.
Some people—and some writers—are like this. Their talent is strong simply because they were born that way. However, just as Fezzik doesn’t look for some kind of shortcut, neither should the rest of us. Fezzik is in this adventure for the long haul. He trusts his strength and he seeks out others who appreciate what he’s got. In the end, he’s successful and he’s happy.
Last, but not least, Westley takes on Vizzini the Sicilian. Vizzini’s weapon, or so he thinks, is his intellect. And his belief in his brain shows in his catchphrase, “Inconceivable!” But his catchphrase is also his fatal flaw. He can’t imagine anyone else’s ideas working. He can’t imagine anyone else’s success. As a result, success eludes him.
Are you certain your friend will never get the promotion she’s going for? Is the contest entry you judged so silly, no editor would ever buy it? Don’t be so sure, especially if you haven’t been promoted or your manuscript hasn’t sold. If you can’t see the possibilities then, just like Vizzini, where you are now may be the farthest you ever go.
So no matter what success looks like to you, take some tips from Inigo Montoya, Fezzik the Giant, and Vizzini the Sicilian, and make your wishes come true. If learning from them seems inconceivable, just watch The Princess Bride instead. In the meantime, let the Rockville 8 know: What does success look like to you? Which Princess Bride character can help you get there?


  1. What fun! I've certainly gone a number of years where I've *almost* been Inigo: learning a lot of craft? Check! Putting that knowledge to work? Yeahnotsomuch.

    And I know better than to wish myself success through shortcuts, but wouldn't it be nice if...? Yeah, been there, wished that.

    In my early days, I admit I could be judgy and clueless about some folks' prospects. Her succeed? No way! If I'm honest, I still have to squash that reflex on ocassion.

    So I see bits and pieces of me in all these great characters. I guess that's why we bother watching The Princess Bride all these years later: it speaks to our common humanity!

  2. Life lessons from three poor, lost circus performers...Who knew?

    But they do speak to our humanity, don't they? Watching the movie recently, I was struck by how much I wanted Inigo Montoya to succeed, how I felt like Fezzik would be a great guy to know, and how I wanted to tell Vizzini he'd get his comeuppance. Kudos to William Goldman, Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, and Wallace Shawn for getting me to connect!

    And hooray to them for getting you to connect with them, me, and your own self, too!

  3. Nichole ~ Awesome post. Love Princess Bride. It's been a while since I've seen it, but everything you pointed out from the film/three characters resonated. I think we can learn something from each one of those characters--how we want and how we don't want to respond while pursuing success.

    And thank God, it's never too late to change. While characters in a novel or movie have a role or arc that is set in stone, ours is not. It's never too late for us to learn and alter our ways, especially where success and the pursuit of it is concerned.

    Thanks for a great post! ;0)

  4. I'm glad you enjoyed my post, Candy, and you're soooo right. We can change! Perhaps the hardest part is recognizing when we ought to change. Thankfully, excellent characters can help us see that need. Thanks for sharing your insight!

  5. I have always loved this movie. It's one of the few I can watch multiple times. Once I know how a story ends, I lose interest in a repeat--usually. What a clever way to get some great writing tips across! Thanks for this,Nichole.

  6. The Princess Bride is my favorite book of all time, and yet I'd never thought to apply the philosophies of the three men to life.
    Great blog!

  7. Well said, Nicole! I recently had surgery and was kind of down and my husband was flipping through channels. We stumbled upon the Princess Bride and that made everything better. So not only does it teach you life lessons, it's better than a shiny red apple. Great post ;)

  8. Thanks for stopping by, Kathryn!

    Great films we can watch over and over are few and far between, aren't they? Ditto for great books!

    I'd love to know what you think. What pulls you back to The Princess Bride? As a writer, what do you think pulls a reader back to reread a book?

  9. Hi, Merry. I see I'm in great company since you love The Princess Bride, too. Did you read it as a girl? Has it influenced your own writing? I know you've got a series of great novels available. Did Westley and Buttercup inspire you?

  10. So glad The Princess Bride helped you feel better, Donnell. And I'm glad you stopped by the R8 today, too. Stay healthy and come back to visit us soon.

    In the meantime, can you yell is about other books or movies that perked you up while you were down? What story elements get you going?

  11. Great blog, Nichole! The Princess Bride is such a great concept. Each character has clearly defined goals. It's great to see how those goals propel their actions. I haven't seen this in a number of years but I'll have to get it and watch it with my daughter. I think she'd love it, too.

  12. Oh, yes! Introduce the next generation to The Princess Bride, by all means! And you're right, come to think of it. Every character, especially the minor ones, have very clear-cut goals. How often do we read a book or watch a film and see the only the main characters with goals? Good call, Lisa. Thanks!

  13. Fantastic post, Nichole. The common theme here is those who take the honorable path prosper in the end while those who seek to deceive and cheat do not. So, who says nice guys finish last? :) I think the same is true of good writing. No doubt there are those who lie, cheat, and steal their way to the top. It does happen. But more frequently, those who seek (and take) shortcuts enjoy only some short-lived success, while the ones who really thrive are those who put their hearts and souls into the mix, along with their individual talents.

    - David

  14. Ah-ha, David. I see you're a man with a long-term plan, much like Westley rather than our three poor, lost circus performers. But you've hit on an interesting issue. In their quest for success, writers should have a long-term plan.

    That's been particularly hard to do in publishing's changing climate, though, hasn't it? Many of the emails in my inbox are all about grappling with those changes.

    Still, I think you're right in that to be successful, a writer needs to keep his eye on the long-term while adapting in the short term. Hard stuff, but necessary! Well said!