This month marks 25 years since the UK release of Independence Day, the archetypal pre-Marvel summer blockbuster.
With standout performances from Will Smith (playing Captain Steve Hiller), Jeff Goldblum (playing that guy from Jurassic Park) and Bill Pullman (as the best on-screen US president not to be played by Morgan Freeman), it became the highest-grossing film of 1996 and an instant classic.
It has its fair share of spectacular set-pieces: apocalyptic city levelling; UFO air battles; a dog leaping in slow motion through an open door.
But the film’s true “hairs standing on end” moment?
Unquestionably, it’s President Whitmore’s rabble-rousing speech, delivered to beleaguered troops from the back of an armoured jeep on the tarmac of Area 51.
Here are three lessons you can learn from this iconic speech and apply – or not apply – to your own writing.
1. Take your time
Co-writer Dean Devlin admitted to Complex back in 2016 that he might have rushed the writing of the scene slightly.
He told director Roland Emmerich he would “just vomit out something really fast now and […] spend a lot of time on it later to rewrite and make it perfect.”
The rewrite never happened.
“I went into the other room and literally in five minutes I whipped the speech out,” Devlin continued. “We didn’t even read it. It was just a placeholder.”
The result was much more than that. It supplied the emotional impetus and a springboard to the film’s climactic battle.
But the point here is that Devlin got lucky.
Even if you’re an experienced writer, it rarely pays to rush the blog content you put out.
You might find the “vomiting” approach works well for a first draft. If you’re not the type to meticulously plan, a stream of consciousness style can be a great way to get your ideas onto paper. Just be sure to go back and finesse your writing, accentuating your main points and editing ruthlessly.
2. Make use of repetition
Repetition is a particularly powerful technique in persuasive writing. We are all familiar with the “rule of three” (Blair’s “education, education, education”; Trump’s “jobs, jobs, jobs”).
We remember things more easily in threes (especially if the three things in question are, in fact, the same thing). Repeating something three times, especially alliteratively, can help get your message across and make your content more emotive.
Whitmore addresses his audience directly using the word “you”. He alludes to America’s fight for independence to speak directly to their own history. He then adds a group of three:
“You will once again be fighting for our freedom, not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution – but from annihilation.”
Later, the speech makes use of the lesser-known “rule of four”:
“We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We will live on! We will survive!”
But then, it was written in five minutes.
3. Remember Aristotle’s ethos, pathos, and logos
The president’s address is loosely based on the St Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V. Shakespeare’s monarch delivers the famous oration to his outnumbered troops before the 1415 Battle of Agincourt.
President Whitmore’s Independence Day speech takes inspiration from another earlier source too. It makes use of the writings of Aristotle (384BC to 322BC) and his rhetorical strategies. They can be broken down into three parts.
When you write content, you need to convince your audience that you can be trusted.
President Whitmore, speaking on the eve of a great battle, has the benefit of being both the US president and a former fighter pilot. But he still needs to make sure that his message gets across.
“In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world and you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind.”
The use of “you” ensures every listener feels the president is talking directly to them.
Your business will have many years of experience and expertise. This is the reason why your clients trust you. Use “you” in your content to speak directly to them.
Don’t just explain that you are experienced in your field. Explain why that matters and what benefit that brings to your clients.
Pathos is an appeal to emotions. President Whitmore uses a switch from “you” to “we” to show that he and his audience (and humanity as a whole) are in this together. The allusion to America’s Independence Day further appeals to the emotions of his listeners.
The threat of annihilation is an emotive topic, but so is money.
You understand the emotional benefits of long-term financial planning: providing for loved ones, protecting against the unexpected, living a desired lifestyle in later life. Make sure it’s clear to your audience too.
Logos is an appeal to logic.
Independence Day is a film about an alien invasion.
There’s little room for logos in Whitmore’s speech. It is, though, an appeal to logic that first convinces the president of the alien threat. David (Jeff Goldblum) uses his MIT training and a hastily scrawled diagram to reveal the code hidden in an alien transmission.
Use your expertise to appeal to your client’s sense of logic around financial issues. And be sure to use facts and figures to back up your claims.
Tables, graphs, and statistics add validity to your words and increase a reader’s sense of your knowledge. When used correctly, data can remove ambiguity, helping your readers to separate fact from fiction and understand the crux of an issue.
Get in touch
If you can only spare five minutes to write content, you might get lucky. Or you could just come to us. The Yardstick Agency can supply engaging and high-quality content to make a fictional US president proud. Get in touch now.
Email [email protected] or call 0115 8965 300.