Friday, December 7, 2012

Why Writers Should Watch Movies

Photo Credit:
Writers should watch movies.

Before you all flock to the nearest theater or video store and spend all your egg money on popcorn and soda pop, let's talk about a great way to get your money's worth out of that oh-so-expensive theater ticket.

Disclaimer: I will not be held responsible if vindictive theater go-ers come to this post thinking I put you up to shouting at the screen because the hero didn't get the heroine, I will vehemently deny it. ;-)

While you as a reader can consume a novel relatively quickly, it generally will not be read within a two and a half hour period. By the time you've reached the ending, there are aspects about that book that you remember and have learned and gleaned from, but it's often harder to be critical of the overall picture of a novel than the overall picture of a movie.

Within two hours, you've got: home world, inciting incident, noble quest, hero's journey, black moment, storm the castle and happily ever after.

Just thinking about how much has to be packed into a two hour movie makes my head spin! But the best movies do it with masterful skill. Within two hours, you've got a story that would have taken you three days at the least (most likely) to read.

When you enter your theater (be it home or professional) don't go just to be entertained, watch how the actors and writers work together on the scream to paint a story. What do they do WITHOUT speaking that speaks the loudest? Identify the inciting incident and watch how long it takes the hero to decide whether he is going to save the damsel in distress. Watch the middle. How do they keep it from sagging, while also continuing to contribute to characterization and plot momentum? Watch how the character changes on the screen. The best movies don't stand up and shout: LOOK OUT OUR CHARACTER IS CHANGING. The best movies make subtle changes until the character is confronted with a choice and the answer to that choice truly shows the audience that he is a different person than when he started.

The best movies will make it clear of something the hero can do at the end that he couldn't do at the beginning. Most often in our books we forget to add this concept or make it obvious. Movies, because they are visual, do a great job of making it obvious. You as a reader might not overtly notice, but inherently, you have noticed a difference and it makes all the stronger theater-going-viewer experience.

Find a really great television show. Don't watch it as a it airs every week. Wait until it comes out on disk and get it from Netflix and watch it one show and disk at a time, one right after the other. A GREAT example of this would be ABC's Castle. I don't get the channel and have started watching all the shows from the beginning. Talk about great characterization! Since the beginning of the show, I've been watching the characters change and grow on minute levels across three seasons. We don't come back week after week, show after show for the murders, we come back for the relationship between Castle and Beckett that is ever evolving and changing. The writers are masterful as SHOWING everything and trusting the viewer to be an intelligent audience. We get it. We love it. Take a lesson from great television shows and watch how they extend a relationship over hundreds of shows.

Learn the lesson of showing and not telling from movies. What they utilize for characterization by body language, facial expressions and tics that belong only to the character who uses them. How do you as a viewer identify with those characters because of how they act? Use that to your advantage upon the page in your descriptions. What does your character do, that speaks for all the words they don't say?

So much to learn and glean from in movies! Even from the ones you don't like. Instead of saying "I didn't like that film" identify WHY you didn't like it and use those skills to improve your own writing and what same concepts might be showing up.

Let's talk: what's the latest movie you watched and loved? Why?

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in rural Eastern Oregon in a town more densely populated with cows than people.


Sherrinda said...

Castle!!!!!!! Oh how I love Castle and the fun relationship between Castle and Beckett. Seriously awesome writing!

I love watching movies and can sometimes go in and critique as I watch, but if it is an awesome movie, then I lose myself in it and have to mull over it later. :)

I'm trying to think of a movie i've seen recently and can't even think of one. Hhhhmmm, one of my favorite movies EVER is Return to Me. I love the conflict and the build up between the hero and heroine. It just works great...and the secondary characters are AMAZING!

Jeanne T said...

Great post, Casey. Makes me want to go to the theater, composition book in hand, to take notes on all these things. Loved this!

Casey said...

You got me turned onto Castle, and now I'm done with season four and have to wait foreverrrr for #5! Grouse... :(

ANYWAY, yes, Return to Me is a great film. Makes me want to go back and watch it now. And yes, like you, I get sucked in too and have to go back with a more critical thought process later. :)

Casey said...

Jeanne, either that or rent it in your home and take all the notes you like! ;)

Keli Gwyn told me she likes to put the subtitles up on the screen so she can watch the flow of dialogue. I thought that was a great idea. :)

Anne Mateer said...

Great post! So true! We recently saw Lincoln. It was great, especially watching it as a writer of historical fiction. I loved the detail and how historical characters were fleshed out to be real, relatable people.

Melissa Tagg said...

One of my favorite things we've done in My Book Therapy is watch a movie and analyze it as we watched. Such a good exercise in learning story.

I love movies like crazy, but I've been so tunnel vision-y lately trying to finish my book that I haven't watched many. One of my favorites, though, is His Girl Friday. Old movie, awesome dialogue and great for reviewing the elements of story.

Mary Vee said...

I happened upon a copy of Sense and Sensibility, the one with Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant and Kate Winslet. Two outstanding performances I want to quickly mention.

Hugh Grant is a master of the pause. No one else could have played his role in this movie so well. He uses the pause to deliver jokes, to convey regret, sorrow, cheer. It's amazing.

Kate Winslet, was younger in this movie. She demonstrated her acting gift every moment on stage. My favorite was how she filled time waiting for Emma Thompson to finish delivering her lines. She picked up a package, fumbled with the ribbon and then slapped it back on the pile. She didn't have a line, but her small action, rightly timed conveyed the mood.

Bravo to both!

Julia M. Reffner said...

You two got me hooked on Castle, too. We just finished watching season 1 on DVD though last night. And I think it is the rare male/female show, we like it equally. I think Castle is great for improving dialogue.

AND you ladies got me hooked on DA, too. Stinkers :) I think DA is great for helping flesh out characters.

Sherrinda said...

Ooooo, yes, Julia...Downton Abby! Love it!

Karen Schravemade said...

Such a clever post, Casey. You're so right about the condensed time-frame of a movie - yet I don't think I'd ever thought of it quite that way before. I'm with Jeanne - now I want to take notes!

Casey said...

Oh I forgot my comments! I'm sorry. :(

Anne, that's one I've just recently heard about. I'm loving watching more romantic comedies especially the ones with great dialogue. :)

Casey said...

Melissa, I did that too with a small workshop I went to with Susie and Chip. I actually took more notes about why I DIDN'T like the movie, but it was still a great exercise. Helps, I think, to do with many other writers.

Casey said...

Mary, don't you just love how dialogue will speak louder than dialogue? I love it! Love to write it too.

Casey said...

Julia, oh darn, now you have two great television shows to watch. ;-) I've finished all of Castle up to this season playing now. Oh LOVE the chemistry on that show. DA is great for the writing of each story line to keep the reader very much vested.

Casey said...

Karen, it pushes you to think through story harder, doesn't it? Now I want to watch a movie... :)