Jeanette Bennett

The Blog of JEANETTE M. BENNETT - Indie Author from the Scablands of Eastern Washington

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Everything You Need to Know About Writing You Can Learn From Kung Fu Panda

Okay, I confess--I love good animation. It’s an art form that is looked down upon as being too “childish.” Only recently has the Academy Awards deemed full-length animation worthy of an Oscar. Philistines!

If you haven’t seen Dreamworks Kung Fu Panda yet, go rent it. The detail on the fur and fluid motion are impressive. But pay attention to the story. I don’t know if the writers, Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, were writing about writing, but maybe they were on a subconscious level and didn’t know it.

The basic plot is Po the Panda dreams of becoming a Kung Fu master. But since he is just a fat clumsy panda, he has resigned himself to working in his adopted father’s noodle shop. (Mr. Ping is a goose, but Po hasn’t figured out he’s adopted yet.)

Po and "dad" Mr. Ping who is already proud of Po's skills
Oogway, the gentle and wise old tortoise kung fu master, has a prophetic dream that a former student, the deranged Tai Lung, will escape from prison and destroy the Valley of Peace that he and his school guards. He tells his second-in-command Shifu to round up his current students so he can select the Dragon Warrior who will save them all. The entire village comes to watch, but Po, burdened with a heavy noodle cart, doesn’t get there in time before the gate is closed. Determined to watch, he straps rockets to a chair to propel himself over the wall. It doesn’t go quite as planned, and Po literally drops from the sky at Oogway’s feet. Everyone, including Po, is shocked when Oogway proclaims Po the Dragon Warrior. Has Oogway gone senile?

Po symbolizes the person who wants to write, but doesn’t feel they can ever be good enough. The seemingly-foolish but very wise Ooway is the right side of his brain saying “yes, you can.” Shifu, the left side, keeps telling Po “no, he can’t.” He has no talent. (Is it an accident that Shifui is a red panda, also known as a lesser panda?)

left-brained Shifu and right-brained Oogway
Shifu is finally convinced by Oogway to train Po. The left side of your brain controls language. You need to learn the rules of grammar, sentence structure, spelling, etc. or your writing will either not make sense, or the mistakes will distract from your story. However the left side of you brain is too rigid to come up with original ideas. It can be a great writer, but it’s a lousy story teller.

Shifu’s other students are Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey (all actual Kung Fu styles.) Po can never become like them. He must develop his own style--Panda Style. As it turns out Oogway was right. Tai Lung will have the hardest time fighting against a style he has never seen. In the same way don’t let your left-side try to make you another Hemmingway or Virginia Wolf or Mark Twain. Be something the world has never seen--be yourself.

Viper, Crane, Tigress, Monkey & Mantis Styles of Kung Fu
At first Po is hopeless. He is clumsy and out-of-shape. But he persists. In fact he is downright stubborn. Shifu finally turns Po into a good Kung Fu fighter. But to become the great Dragon Warrior, Po must learn the secret of the Dragon Scroll left by the now departed Oogway.

The scroll turns out to be blank. Just metallic gold foil reflecting the viewer’s face. Even Shifu is baffled by this. Po feels defeated and goes back to his father’s noodle shop. To cheer him up, Mr. Ping tells Po the great family secret--the secret ingredient in his famous Secret Ingredient Soup. The secret is there is no secret ingredient. People expect there to be one so they imagine whatever flavor they crave. They put themselves into the soup. It’s then Po understands the Dragon Scroll and becomes the Dragon Warrior. He goes forth to face the terrible onslaught of the vicious Tai Lung (a.k.a. the critics of the world.)

Tai Lung who can't appreciate Panda Style
You can have a PhD in English and able to do the mechanics of writing. But until you put in the secret ingredient, yourself, you can never be a writer of fiction that people will want to read. Don’t try to channel your favorite writer, just be you. No one has exactly the same experiences, same background, same perspective, same mind as you--not even your twin. Give the world your secret ingredient--your own voice.

I have heard so many newbies ask a famous writer what is the secret to writing, and they always answer “just write.” The student walks away mumbling “Fine, don’t tell me.” But that is the secret--just write. Don’t expect to be any good at first, just keep writing. Trip, fall on your face, get up and keep going. And even when you get good you will still trip, but you will have learned to just get back up instead of whining about it first.

Learn the rules of grammar and writing, but use them as tools not as handcuffs. Write with the go-with-the-flow right-side of your brain, then edit with the rigid no-nonsense left. Write because you have to--not because someone else is making you but because there is something in you that needs to. And most importantly, stop dreaming and start writing.

Go forth Dragon Writer and conquer the world with your awesomeness!

All pictures are from the movie Kung Fu Panda and property of DreamWorks. And I can't imagine they would want to sue me for using them.


  1. I love you Poo, you are a very good person... You made my life better everydays :-)

  2. very true, we all need to find our secret ingredient!!!! Great illustration