In storytelling, there are three important things you need to do to establish your characters. It doesn’t matter if it’s a book, a movie, a video game, or whatever. If you don’t do these three things, your character isn’t destined to last. They are:
- Give the audience their name
- Establish their backstory
- Establish their goal
Now, you don’t necessarily need to do it in that order. Plenty of great characters don’t. By withholding one of these things, you can create mystery and intrigue. You can make your audience ask questions, such as “Who is that?”, “Why are they doing this?”, or “What are they after?” However, if they’re asking all three of these things at once in any scene after their introduction, you’ve got a bit of a problem.
The Princess Bride, whether it be the book or the movie, does a spectacular job at this. It doesn’t take very long at all to get to know the various cooky characters inhabiting this world. Buttercup, Westly, Fezzik, so on and so forth. But none do it better than the subject of today’s article: Inigo Montoya.
Specifically, with his one line. But we’ll get to that.
You know what Princess Bride has aside from characters? Quotable lines! Seriously, you can find a great quote just about any line from any scene in this movie! This movie has one of the best scripts out there, which still holds up to this day!
Which leads back to that line I mentioned earlier. You all know it. Say it with me now!
Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.It’s so simple but GOD it’s so good!
Take a good look at that quote. Notice anything? You should be able to! The strength of this line is its simplicity and its ability to perfectly communicate to you what the character is about. That line is Inigo Montoya!
For one: it’s literally an introduction. Inigo is literally introducing himself here. Hard to miss his name there. Second: he establishes a loose backstory; some guy done killed his dad. This carries on into the next line, which establishes his goal: to kill this person. Presumably the person he plans to say this to.
Just like that, you know everything you need to know about this character. It basically beats you over the head with it like a club. Hard to miss it.
But it is pretty easy to miss the subtlety behind it. Much like how you can miss the form put behind the club swing.
This line also establishes the character’s key personality traits: confidence, honor, and honesty. This isn’t the line of a crafty assassin that uses trickery to get what he wants. This is what you say when you look your opponent straight in the face and vow to kill them. Plus, what else says “I’ve got big dick energy” like that?! This is what you say when you know that you can kill a bastard!
Granted, by the time you hear this line, you’ll already know that little detail about him. He demonstrates it perfectly when he offers Westly the rope up and swears not to kill him with it and through the sword battle. It’s pretty easy to figure out that this dude is honest.
But that goes back to my point! This one line completely encapsulates everything about his character! You could give this line to someone who has never seen/read (mostly the former; very few people have actually read the book) Princess Bride and they’d be able to figure out what this dude is all about.
On the surface, this line is super simple. But in all actuality, it’s a masterclass in character dialogue. It isn’t just iconic because it sounds cool. It’s because this line is Inigo Montoya himself.
God damn it, I just watched this movie and now I need to go and watch it again.