Tuesday, September 13, 2011

10 Things Writers Can Learn From Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa might not be punchy but his creator is a genius.

If you grew up watching the Rocky films written, produced and staring the one and only Sylvester Stallone, you know what I mean. The themes and literary elements used by the movie mogul in his screenplay is a study in modern fiction as well as theatre.

It doesn't matter if you think the series was overdone, or if you hated Rocky V; the fact remains that what Sly did in the first two movies alone is absolutely amazing. He hit every key ingredient that makes the kind of story that people love to watch and read. It's no wonder the films were such a success. It's no surprise that we care about Rocky Balboa, the underdog, the street-smart punk from Philadelphia.

Rocky is everything I want to be: tender, streetwise, loyal, honest, and a fighter, willing to go the distance when he feels like giving up. He's open about his weaknesses and willing to improve. He looks for and respects the good qualities of his opponent, yet expects nothing but the best from himself.

When he falls, he gets up.

When he gets discouraged, he remembers who he is.

When he loses, he digs deep into himself and finds the eye of the tiger.

Stallone's work is a shining example of character building, not only in terms of personal qualities, but also in terms of creating a timeless and endearing character that reflects the struggles we all experience in life.

If you're a reader, you have certainly discovered that you love the "Rocky's" in literature. If you're a writer, you need to take a good look at Rocky Balboa and discover Sly's brilliance.

I watched Rocky I and Rocky II this weekend with my two youngest children (it was their first time). And it was the first time I viewed these films with the mind of a writer. Man was I blown away.

My muse was in awe.

As a writer, I think it's important to consider Stallone's work, open it up and analyze it for its literary value because the Rocky films are loaded with everything you need to know about story. And if you're wondering, I checked with literary agent Donald Maass, and he concurs. Well, I didn't actually speak with him, but he agrees with me in the spirit of his thoughts on writing.

Here are 10 lessons I learned from the Rocky films.

  1. Great stories are built around the internal and external conflicts of a lovable character.
  2. Great stories teach us what it means to be exceptional and to inspire us to be more than we are.
  3. Great stories paint the path of change from where our protagonist is to where he needs and wants to be.
  4. Great stories expose the realities of life, the pain, the joy, the victories and failures that are common to all of us.
  5. Great stories have an element of romance.
  6. Great stories have a gripping plot that moves on the wheels of conflict.
  7. Great stories have tension in relationships.
  8. Great stories reflect the character of the author.
  9. Great stories are as relevant in the next generation as they are today. 
  10. Great authors never give up.
If you haven't watched the Rocky films in a while, I suggest you do. Not only will you be inspired again by the powerful tale of one of the greatest iconic heroes of our day, you will also learn how to harness the power of story that will empower your prose.

Nothing great ever came from a quitter, and we have Sylvester Stallone to thank for persevering after countess rejections, because he knew that great stories need to be told. And he proved that great authors get it done, even when they're down for the ten count.

Jeff Bennington
Author of Reunion & Murdoch's Eyes

***Please follow The Writing Bomb by email at the top right so you don't miss what's next, and by all means, buy my books so I can feed my children and put shoes on their feet.


  1. Great blog post! I always found the Rocky movies inspirational. I haven't seen them in awhile, but I remember getting chills seeing how he kept going and going and triumphed at the end. I just love underdog stories. I applied the same principles to my own quest for publication. And I admit to using the music to gear me up before nerve-wracking events. I had to do a library presentation last year and was nervous as public speaking isn't my favorite thing to so, so I was listening to a mix CD in the car that my husband had made for me - I kept replaying Eye of the Tiger and the Rocky theme song! If Rocky can take on Apollo and the Russian guy, I can get up and talk about my books!

  2. Loved the post and Tweeted about it, Jeff. You and I draw inspirations from the same sources, it seems. And we take such stories seriously.


  3. This is why you're a great author - you see things others can't in someone like Rocky Balboa!

  4. Hi Stacy,
    Thanks for visiting. When I was a kid, I'd watch Rocky and when it was over I'd go outside and dream that I was him, punching the air, running and doing sit ups. My son did the same thing. So cool. Glad I could remind you of the "power" of the Rocko!

    Thanks for RT'ing and thanks for reading. I'm a sucker for inspiration abd I think it helps me move forward even though this business is so volatile. Thanks for reading. Sign up and come back!

    Thanks, Lynnette. And you are a great cheerleader! But the reason I see things is because I have "Murdoch's Eyes" Muhahahaha

  5. A well-written post, Jeff. An inspiring message for readers and writers both.

  6. Thanks, Jeff. I'll watch Rocky movies now with the eyes of a writer. Have you read Fire in Fiction by Don Maass? That's my favorite writing book of all time. :)

  7. Thanks, Eileen I appreciate that

    Brenda, I've read Donald's "Writing the Breakout Novel". It was most excellent. I'm sure I'll revisit it. I generally read a book on writing and a genre fiction between novels....hones my ninja writing skills. Kee-ya!

  8. Good post about Rocky Balboa, such an inspiration words written here, thanks for the posting and keep posting!

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  9. Thanks Shaik, Come back and be sure to pick up your free copy of The Rumblin before you leave.

  10. Excellent post, Jeff. I'm a big fan of Rocky (used to box a bit after seeing the movies as a kid). Your 10 points are spot-on. I'd like to think I could be #10 one day!

    Thanks for sharing. I've copied and pasted your 10 points, if that's OK.

  11. Hi Jeff!

    This is such an outstanding post! Thank you for sharing the link with me. I have shared it on FB and twitter because I do believe this is a must read for all writers! This is a fantastic comparison. So very true!

    Rocky inspired me as a kid, too!

    I'm so thrilled to have met you! I've learned so much already.

  12. Hi David, Thank you for the kind words. That's so cool that you boxed. I pretended to, but didn't get that far. Something tell me you'll get to #10.

    Go-go, Thank you for visiting and sharing and stuff. I hope this inspires you to continue writing when things get hard.

  13. Excellent article! Very inspiring. There's a lot to think about pertaining to life in general here too.

  14. This is such an interesting way to look at it. I'm going to have to find Rocky I and II now... :-)

  15. Thanks Dr. Heckle, I actually thought about writing another post "10 things I've learned about life from Rocky Balboa". In fact, I think I will.

    You should watch them. You'll be ready to take on the world. Just don't hurt anyone.

  16. Well said!
    The ROCKY theme is my Get Walking Alarm tone on my iPhone.LOL!


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