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The Critical Writing Lesson I Learned from ‘Enter the

Don’t dismiss the artistic effectiveness of punching somebody repeatedly in the face

There are no perfect films, but there are quite a few that know a couple of tricks

Few films are as singularly successful as Enter the Dragon at steadily building a sense of anticipation

Anticipation and payoff can combine to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its

The film itself is hyperaware of what its audience wants, and it delivers spectacularly in the final

It takes great skill as an artist to create the kind of anticipation that generates suspense

Some critics are too elitist to recognize what’s happening

“I saw that twist coming a mile away,” they say smugly, as if that proves they are

Anticipation is awesome! Knowing something is coming can also be awesome!

You know it’s going to happen right? Heck, knowing something is about to happen can be

You might anticipate kissing somebody for days in advance! It’s great to have something like that

The most satisfying moment in the history of film is when Bruce Lee smacks that first guy

Enter the dragon is a long build-up followed by a rush of glorious indulgence

It’s only after you’ve played with these for a few minutes that you realize the

Then, on your very first attempt at swinging your homemade nunchucks, you smash yourself in the face

She takes one look at you and says, “Were you watching Enter the Dragon?”

When I was growing up, you could keep track of who had seen the film by observing

When you finally sit down to watch, you realize Enter the Dragon is kind of a slog

You can’t skip ahead to the best parts of Enter the Dragon and get the full

Building tension is not always pleasant but audiences will put up with it

You stay because you know he’s going to… and you’re right!

That might not seem like a big deal today, but this was one of the first films

This scene is so great because you’ve been spending the whole viewing time waiting for Bruce

Bruce Lee not smashing people in the face is like having a gun that doesn’t shoot

They’re not the kind of dramatic action you were hoping for when you bought the ticket

This was back before movies could actually show a guy getting head stomped to death, so instead

But in Bruce Lee’s case, it’s not egg yolk, it’s the sensation of the

You’re sitting there thinking, “This isn’t the fight I expected

You know you’re about to be rewarded with some kind of payoff when Bruce Lee goes

It’s designed so that the audience can delight in what’s coming

Every few seconds, Bruce Lee is confronted by a new guy carrying some sort of weapon

Literally every time somebody new approaches, the audience knows Lee is going to grab that weapon away

You start shouting things like, “Why don’t you try a shovel?” at the screen

This guy comes marching up with a staff and it’s like, grab, whack! This is all

They’re sort of like the fries you eat in between the bites you take out of

When the audience knows something is coming, a writer should have enough sense to drag it out

They’re like, “When is he going to get around to punching that guy in the face?”

The secret to good writing is understanding that your audience loves the anticipation even more than whatever

They love being caught in that moment where they think the punch to the face is about

They’re sitting there going, “wait for it, wait for it” they’re literally trembling with excitement

When editors ask for a “hook,” give them a right hook (I couldn’t resist)!

Heck, you know that’s going to happen from the moment you start thinking about watching the

It’s on your mind when you get in the car and drive to the retro theater

“Somebody’s gonna get hit in the face with some nunchucks!”

You wait for it, the pressure builds, you wait for it, the pressure builds…

Sooner or later somebody’s going to have to bring in some nunchucks, right?

People start constantly running into the frame only for Bruce Lee to hit them in the face

Somebody tries to hit Bruce lee with a stick, so he kicks them in the face and

Don’t believe all that nonsense about how every word in a book has to have some

Heck, the people who like excessive self-indulgence are more likely to buy your book in the first

When the guy finally shows up with the nunchucks, it makes you squeal with delight

Bruce Lee goes on to use that weapon to beat up all kinds of other guys

His nunchucks are left wrapped around Lee’s short stick that he picked up earlier

But if you hit fast forward on your VCR, you wouldn’t know that

It’s hilarious, the whole audience cheers, and before you can complain that it’s over, a

The sequence ends with a guy getting tossed into a vat of acid (always a crowd favorite),

It’s kind of amazing what an audience will accept if a writer manipulates them skillfully enough

But seriously, why does he have that? Is it just for duels to the death with his

Does he invite people over to his house for cookies only to stalk them in his corridor

Somewhere, deep down in the back of your mind, the moment Enter the Dragon starts you think, “

” Then, when you actually get the mirror scene, you don’t even care about how implausible it

The takeaway here is that your work can be a cultural phenomenon even if it has inherent

You just have to make sure that you know what the audience wants, and that you eventually

You’re even allowed to make the audience feel miserable along the way

These days you have to crank up the entertainment value of the early sequences, while also building

The wonderful thing about anticipation is that it’s extremely versatile

You can apply it to a paragraph, you can apply it to a chapter, you can apply

Know what your audience wants, tease them with it, and then give it to them