Using Templates in Writing

To pick up where I left off previously, I want to go into more detail regarding independent thought and inspiration.  I talked about being inspired by movies and TV shows, but let’s talk about what encompasses that particular thought.  I believe a single moment in a movie or a book can trigger your memory with the purpose of recreating that said moment.That trigger can be based on a memory and what encompasses that memory is a certain chain of events.  I like to call those moments “templates”.

To elaborate on my notion of a template, it simply means a certain formula or blueprint which in itself forms the memory. For example, in Die Hard 2: Die Harder, John McClane takes out the terrorists in the Annex Skywalk after they expire an entire SWAT team one by one. He does this with no help whatsoever. So, there’s your template. It’s simple; bad guys kill all of the good guys in just one scene, (except for Barnes!) without a single casualty, while the protagonist begrudgingly arrives late to the party, but just in time to knock off all of the bad guys with no help at all. It sets the stage in action scenes in movies and books as a recipe for success!

The Annex Skywalk is no more.

This next example is from Lethal Weapon 3 where Mel Gibson gets held up at the garage by some bad guys who try to bind him up once they’ve captured him. In comes Rene Russo to save the day as she kicks ass left and right, then frees her favorite guy from getting captured and the two of them from being exposed. You might say, “Well, I don’t recall the good guys getting killed!”

This is simply an example of another template.  Templates can be used in all situations throughout film and the pages of a book. The concept here is simple. Good guy is in trouble and then is rescued by another good guy, usually the protagonist. This train of thought is used in probably every action movie ever made.

It’s simple to follow and recreate and needs no in-depth explanation, but at the same time it’s essential, especially in writing action. You want to get the reader to find a reason to root for your protagonist, while at the same time feel empathy  if he or she is hurt. An act of heroism and guile usually captures the adoration of your protagonist by the reader or viewer. I mention this to help escalate your admiration for your characters, good or bad.

When you’re reading, writing, or watching, look out for these templates, for there are many more like these two examples out there. As it isn’t a textbook term, thinking of it in terms of the writing world will help you capture the moment the next time your protagonist gets caught in a bind!

3 thoughts on “Using Templates in Writing

  1. We ought to discuss these "templates" in a podcast! I am using one, for the opening scene of my Second Novella: The "the violent crime" like in an opening scenes of Law & Order, for example. The template is a violent attack by a beast or perpetrator that stuns the audience and that sets the stage for the pursuit. It's taking me a little while to get there in the writing of the scene, but I'm hoping to create that kind of effect.

  2. Wow, Templates. A great idea, Ben. I hadn't given it much thought, but I have to agree with you that the films and television shows we watch do a lot to shape our view of the real world. In my latest work, whenever Emily is killed, it is a setting from a book or film that we've all seen countless times. The trick in these death scenes is to give it a twist and turn it inside out to keep it fresh.

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