This past month, I’ve been doing a series, What I’ve Learned about Writing Through Movies. In each post, I feature a different movie, discussing the effectiveness of its story elements as well as what can be learned from the film as a whole. Previous movies include The Matrix and The Princess Bride.

The final week’s feature is The Shawshank Redemption. It’s a fantastic movie,  and I learn something new every time I watch it. I also alluded to it in this previous post.

The movie itself has an interesting history. No one could pronounce the title, and it was relatively little known in theaters. It wasn’t until people caught the movie on video and DVD that it turned into a cult hit. And I believe it did so because of it’s excellent storyline (based off a short story penned by Stephen King).

Why The Shawshank Redemption works as a story:

For mystery writers (or any writers) wanting to perfect their slight of hand, who want to produce effective, believable red herrings, this movie is definitely one to watch. The Shawshank Redemption does a brilliant job of introducing objects and elements that aren’t fully explained until the very end, thus reshaping the viewer’s perception of what they thought took place. Examples include a movie poster, a rock hammer, a false identity, and a six-foot section of rope.

So, if you introduce an idea, it better mean something. And if it has a higher purpose that cannot be deciphered until the story fully unfolds, that’s even better.

What writers can learn from The Shawshank Redemption:

1.There are places in the world that aren’t made of stone.

This is for the day-job workers out there, eking a writing life outside their main source of income. Sometimes it seems there’s nothing outside the dead-end of the the day-in, day-out workplace.

But I’ve found my writing is the catalyst that keeps me going. It leads me to opportunities that  keep me learning and growing, even if some of the other elements in my life seem stagnant.

This is also important to remember when rejections come your way. Just because one editor or agent rejected your material doesn’t mean everyone will.

Similarly, if you aren’t accepted into that MFA program of your dreams, keep putting yourself out there anyway. You’ll inevitably improve.

2. Some birds aren’t meant to be caged.

For many years, I limited myself to what other people thought I was capable of. I am trying to undo this now, by letting my inner colors shine freely, by living my life on my terms. Because if you aren’t free in your own life, then what do you have?

So let yourself go. Give yourself a break. Drop those invisible chains, and stop standing in your own way.

3. Salvation lies within.

But it has to come from within. You can’t rely on what other people say about you or your writing. Critiques are helpful, but ultimately it’s you, your life, your story, your writing. Find the inner fire that drives you amid all the pitfalls that are thrown your way.  

4. No good hope ever dies.

One of the best defenses a writer has is hope. Without it, any external barriers will knock you flat. They’ll make you give in, make you settle for what you don’t deserve. I’ve experienced this cyclically–I’ll go into a project with all the optimism in the world…and gradually, painfully, I’m beaten to a pulp.

But, even then, I make myself get up. To keep standing, even when all I feel like doing is lying down. Hope is what makes this possible.

So keep on, and always, always–keep hoping.

Your turn: What has The Shawshank Redemption taught you?

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