How Movies Make Us Better Writers
Let me know if this sounds familiar:
You read a fantastic book. You hear they’re making it into a movie. You gather all your cautious optimism and stand first in line for release day. When the credits roll, you get up—heart at your feet—and tell anyone within earshot that THE BOOK WAS BETTER.
And you were probably right. Books offer luxuries that movies don’t. They allow us to delve deeper into characters’ heads. There are no people on the screen thwarting our personal image of the characters. We build relationships with books—we take them with us on trains and subways, and into airports. They sit on our bedside. And we invest much more time in them.
But movies have a lot to teach writers. I’ve known many writers over the years who take acting classes because they think it makes their work better. So the next time you curl up on your couch or at your movie theater to watch the next big blockbuster (or most-hyped independent film), take a moment to notice all the intricacies that make the movie good (or bad, for that matter). You can take that knowledge with you when you sit with pen and paper.
Here are a few things to look for:
- Characterization. How does the movie portray its characters? What kind of clothes are they wearing? What are their mannerisms and accents? What do these things tell you about the character?
- Tone. What is the tone of the movie, and how is it demonstrated? Think of the lighting in The Godfather, or the colors in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. How does this set the mood and tone for the movie? How would the movie change if these things were different?
- Dialogue. Does it sound natural? Why or why not?
- Pacing. How do you feel as you’re watching the movie? Are you on a wild ride, or moving at a slow clip? If it’s slow, is it too slow? If it’s just right, what makes it so? Are action scenes tempered with softer moments? Are horror scares offset with moments of peace and calm?
- Plot. Does the story take you from one conceivable point to the next? Are there any messy loose ends? How did the characters change, and how did that affect your experience as a moviegoer?
Yes, we all know books are the superior form of entertainment.
But movies have a lot to teach us. You just have to be willing to listen—or watch, as the case may be.