I've been prowling through a lot of my past fiction/poetry/short stories and found this essay for writers I thought would be as instructive as it was back in the 90s, when I first posted it at my now-defunct website.
Lessons from the Titanic
I'm always fascinated with movies, but rarely do I go to a theater and watch a movie on the big screen. I made an exception for Titanic. If ever there was a movie to see on the big screen, this had to be it!
However, as a fiction writer, I'm always interested in the elements of entertaining drama; I was curious why this version of that awful real-life tragedy had captured such a huge audience, as well as numerous Academy Awards. I had to see for myself! [There have been several other movie versions, but none as productive at the box-office or as award-winning.]
As the story unfolded, it became obvious why the public and Academy found this version so riveting and heart-wrenching. It wasn't just the special effects, though certainly those were spectacular; nor was it the meticulous attention to authentic details (which had been more or less verified by the undersea exploration of the Titanic's remains). No, it was one factor above all else: This is good storytelling.
First off, if you're an aspiring creative writer, I recommend you go see this movie -- and keep a critical eye out for the fantastic dramatic techniques that keep the audience enthralled. If you can learn those techniques, and if you have talent for writing, then you can possibly become an excellent creative writer.
What are those elements? Well, if you've never taken a creative writing course, I beg you to avail yourself of that necessary foundation. Once you have, you'll be able to watch any movie, read any novel, and instinctively get a feel for what entertains and conveys important thematic stories to the public.
In Titanic, we have specific characters to identify with; and not just any characters, like average citizens, but a gorgeous, seemingly rich young, unhappy woman; a handsome, but poor, talented, struggling artist. What person couldn't put themselves into one of those doomed characters' roles? Then, we're given someone to hate: a super-wealthy, snobbish s.o.b, to whom our heroine is engaged. Always give us someone to dislike, even if we may be allowed to glimpse why this character has such flaws. In Hollywood versions, there is usually no development in that direction; but in novels, it is a nice touch. The suspense isn't so much about what happens with the ship: We already know that. The suspense is what will happen to the characters we're emotionally involved with. And then to top it all off, we've got a moving, evocative love story -- one which doesn't have the standard happy ending, yet manages to give us a worthwhile message: become a survivor!
For Hollywood, such movies come along once in a blue moon; but to artfully blend high drama, meaningful theme and recreate an authentic tragedy with amazing special effects that puts the audience right in the monstrously large sinking ship...it's no less than utterly stunning.
Writers can learn from this movie; and the public can learn something meaningful as well. Go see it, you'll be glad you did.
[Update Note: Or if you've seen it a long time ago, watch it again with focused attention on the dramatic elements.]