The above clip is one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies. Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the Bog of Eternal Stench, you’ve seen the Jim Henson/George Lucas cult classic Labyrinth, so I’m not going to give you the entire synopsis (if you haven’t seen it – GO! Get it now and watch! You will not be disappointed). But in case it’s been a while, here’s a rundown – Sarah must navigate a tricky maze filled with whacky characters in order to reach the castle and save her little brother from Jareth, the bulge-tastic Goblin King.
Are you all caught up and wondering what this video has to do with the Mystic series? Well, it has to do with most stories, and I’ll tell you how.
I’ve been a Labyrinth fan since I was too young to understand the appeal of Jareth’s bulging codpiece, and while the above scene has always struck my funny bone, it wasn’t until I watched it as an author that I comprehended the wisdom of the worm and how it relates to practically every suspenseful story ever told, including the Mystic series. To understand how, let’s break it down.
Sarah was hopeful when she entered the maze. “It’s a piece of cake,” she declared, but the first corridor goes on and on with no turns or passageways. After
running jogging for what seems like forever, she gets discouraged and slumps down the slimy wall creeping with eyeball fungi.
And that’s when we hear “Ello.”
Okay, first, I gotta say – I love this worm. As child I thought he was funny and cute with his spunky, blue ponytails and tiny voice. As an author I think he delivers the best creative summation of how conflict should work that I’ve ever heard.
We’ll start with Sarah’s third question – “You don’t by any chance know the way through this labyrinth, do you?”
Oh, if only it were that easy… we wouldn’t have a story, but I digress. It’s the worm’s reply I want to focus on.
“Who me? Naw, I’m just a worm.”
Now, I know some writers plot their entire stories before jotting down paragraph one, but that’s not me. I develop a vague idea about characters, setting and conflict then start writing, so the worm’s reply strikes a chord with me. If at the beginning of Descension Layla had asked me “Do you know how I can find my family and save us all from the wrath that will soon rain down on me?”, I can see myself having answered “Who me? Naw, I’m just the author.” And like the worm, who then invites Sarah in to meet the missus, I went about distracting Layla with Quin.
But the distractions only last so long before the plot is spurred by the protagonist’s curiosity and the reader’s need for more, which brings me back to the worm’s wisdom. Following Sarah’s complaint that there aren’t any turns or openings in the maze, the worm says, “Well you ain’t looking right. It’s full of openings; it’s just you ain’t seen ’em.”
Wise words and true for every story with a resolution. The solutions are there, but the character doesn’t see them at the beginning. They are revealed slowly or saved up for an explosive end, but they are there, down a path the protagonist has yet to discover. It’s the author’s job to set the character on this path in a creative way, and though the worm would make a tremendous author, at this point, he’s the tool that reveals to Sarah there’s an opening right across from her. Sounds too easy, right? Well, we’ll get to that 😉
Sarah stubbornly argues, as protagonists often do, and the worm once again tries to distract her (this time with tea), as authors often do (coffee anyone?). But Sarah’s curiosity prevails and she insists there’s no opening. That’s when the worm delivers this bit of knowledge “Things are not always what they seem in this place, so you can’t take anything for granted.”
Isn’t that the key to so many suspenseful stories, to the twists that are so common they’re almost expected? The parallel is so recognizable, I’m almost convinced this is what the script writers were going for.
Okay, now we’re to the part that inspired the title of this post. Following the worm’s bit of advice, Sarah discovers an opening cleverly blended into the wall. Her mood lightens as hope rekindles and she heads left down the new path. And that’s when the worm convinces me he’s an author.
“Hey, hang on,” he calls, stopping Sarah in her tracks. She thanks him for being incredibly helpful, but little does she know that little worm, as cute and polite as he is, is about to ruin her day while making the viewer’s so much better.
“But don’t go that way,” he tells her. She’s confused, so he reiterates “I said, don’t go that way. Never go that way.”
He’s been helpful thus far, so Sarah takes him for his word and sets off the other way, a bounce to her hopeful steps. Once she’s out of view, that ornery worm, in true author fashion, shakes his head and says “If she’d kept on going down that way, she’d gone straight to that castle.” (We knew this seemed too easy!)
In this teeny worm, this seemingly small, side character, lies the key to many great tales. As authors, it’s our job to give protagonists a nudge in the right direction, and then crush their rekindled hope to smithereens by throwing yet another conflict in the mix. If they need to get across the ocean, we provide them with a boat, but we don’t tell them its engine will die as soon as they’re in open water. If they need a way out of a burning building, we guide them to a clear hallway, but we don’t tell them the ceiling will cave in when they’re halfway down it. We set them up for failure over and over again, and that’s a vital factor in a worthwhile story.
I love my characters. I truly do, but one might question that proclamation when reading the hell I put them through. That’s my job, though. If I’m not mean to my beautiful, kind-hearted Layla, I don’t have a worthwhile story. Is it hard to torture the characters I love? Well, let’s just say it’s no “piece of cake” to write and cry and blow your nose all at the same time. I’ve shed rivers for them, and I harbor guilt over the torture and terror I inflict on not only them, but on my readers as well. At the end of the day, though, I know it’s necessary, because if she’d kept on going down that way… there wouldn’t be an incredible story to tell.
So what do you think? Am I crazy for reading so much into this scene? Or is this a connection you’ve already made and I’m just slow to catch on? What other tidbits of wisdom did you gleam from one of the greatest movies of all time? I love hearing from you, so speak up, and don’t forget to subscribe by email at the top of the HOME page.
If you haven’t read the Mystic series and want to catch up, wait no longer. Just click on the titles below!