Writing / Editing Tips

What makes a great story? Misunderstandings


What makes a great story?


What drives plot forward, besides a strong, identifiable goal?


Warning: almost all of these examples include SPOILERS for the movie or book mentioned

Examples of Misunderstandings

The Mask of Zorro

(another Fandom of mine! After all this time blogging, I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this)

A disguise is a misunderstanding all on its own – it could the villain disguising himself, or the hero/heroine. Either way, someone is going to think one thing, and then realize later on, that what they thought was true, wasn’t true at all.

In Zorro, Don Diego De La Vega (Anthony Hopkins) dresses up as a butler, in order to become closer to his daughter, who was kidnapped when she was an infant and raised by a meanie named Montero. (yes, I used the word meanie!). Alejandro (Antonio Banderas) who is the current Zorro, pretends to be a nobleman, Don Alejandro del Castillo y García, to fool Montero into trusting him enough to bring him into his inner circle. The misunderstanding – Montero thinks he can trust both of them. Of course, that proved to be a devastating misunderstanding.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl: 

(one of my BIGGEST fandoms! I think I’m a sucker for sword fighting )

When Elizabeth Swan is captured by Captain Barbosa and the crew of the Black Pearl, she gives him her name as Elizabeth Turner, because she is under the impression that giving her real name would put her in more danger. She doesn’t realize (until the  captain tells her outright) that he’s after the kin of Bill Turner and therefore unknowingly, she has put her life in even more danger – driving the entire plot of the movie forward.

Well – if they had thought she wasn’t a kin of Bill Turner, they’d have dropped her back off at shore, (or killed her, maybe) and then Will and Sparrow and her father would never have gone after her, and The Black Pearl.

The Shoemaker’s Wife

Missed opportunities are often the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding, and missed opportunities are what drive this story forward. More than once, the main characters, Ciro and Enza. cross paths after each one has separately immigrated to the United States. At one point, Ciro has finally decided to go and ask Enza for her hand in marriage, only to discover that she has left the house in which she’d previously been employed as a servant girl. The mistress she’d worked for claims she went back to Italy. Though he doesn’t believe the foul-mouthed woman entirely, the fact that she is gone is true enough. He takes this as a hint that their love is not to be. And so, he goes off to war for several years.  There are a myriad of missed chances and misunderstandings throughout this story that make it the beautiful story of life and love that has become.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

In many stories, a key misunderstanding encompasses the entire plot. In this WWII era story told from the viewpoint of a child, Bruno is forced to move to a house out in the country with his family so that his father can be “closer to work” as it were. Bruno befriends a little boy behind a chain-linked fence. He thinks that the boy and his family and friends live on a farm.

The boy in the stripped pajamas definitely does not live on a farm. 

If you’ve never read this book, I will not spoil it for you. Read it, watch the movie, or look it up. It’s riveting.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Deception and lies are misunderstandings on the victim’s part. When Edmond, the younger brother of the four children in the Chronicles of Narnia, ends up traveling to Narnia, he meets the White Witch. She promises to make him a prince and gives him all sorts of goodies, including some chocolate, which she enchants. She promises power, if he delivers his brother and sisters to the Witch. Of course, once the Witch gets what she wants, she negates her promise and proceeds with her evil-doing, as witches are want to do. The entire “bargain” sets up the story. Poor Edmond. At least he apologizes (In the movie anyway – I have not read the book in many, many years)

There are so many other stories full of misunderstandings that drive the plot (or subplot) forward. I chose popular stories that most people would likely recognize.

What is your favorite example of a misunderstanding in a movie/book? Let me know in the comments!

Check out the rest of my What makes a great story series

What makes a great story: Character conflict

What makes a great story: High stakes

What makes a great story: The little things


8 Comments on “What makes a great story? Misunderstandings

    1. Thanks! I got the idea while watching Curse of the Black Pearl and thinking, wow, the story would’ve just evaporated without that interesting little misunderstanding!

  1. You’re very right about misunderstandings. They add such tension to stories. Pirates of the Caribbean is such a perfect example & one of my favourite films 🙂
    Brilliant post 🙂

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