Friday, November 12, 2010


Anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm a movie lover. Always have been. Perhaps my love affair with film is the reason I write the way I do. When I write, I visualize my scenes and my characters. In fact, when I start a new project, one of the first things I do is to search the Internet for photos of actors that I feel would be perfect for the characters’ roles in the film. Before acquiring my Macbook and Scrivener, I used to print the photos out and tape them to the wall in my writing area. Life has become simpler with new technology and now I’m able to import them into my Scrivener resources folder so I can look at them any time I wish. It’s kind of handy and inspiring to gaze into my character’s eyes when I’m wondering how he or she would react to certain situation.

In addition, at the very beginning I try to create an “establishing shot.” Just like they do in Hollywood! This is like the opening scene in the movie version of your book. It provides a description that will help to put the reader into the scene by offering all the sensory input they need in order to be right there with the characters involved in the scene. Filmmakers did this much better back in the 40s and 50s than they do today, in my opinion. But, as a writer, if you can create a dramatic and dynamic establishing shot, you can pull the reader into the scene rather than leaving them on the sidelines as a casual observer. (And this is directly related to our earlier discussion on opening lines from some time ago.)

Admittedly, creating a perfect establishing shot is sometimes not the easiest thing to do, and it requires practice. A lot of writers want to give the reader a lot of backstory. Film directors don't typically fall into this trap. In film, it's all about action. So take off your storyteller's hat at the opening and put on your director's hat. If you can create a dynamic establishing shot, your writing will come alive from the very start and grab the attention of your readers. True, it's not easy, but it's actually easier for a writer than it is for a film director. As a writer you have the ability to bring in not only the visual images and the sounds, like in film, but you can also add the senses of smell, taste, and touch.

Once you've created the establishing shot, you still need to play the film director when you're switching scenes. Transitions are critical in keeping the reader’s attention — especially at chapter endings. And doing them well is the difference between a good writer and a great one. If you can leave your spunky character with a bit of a sticky wicket at the ending of a scene (chapter) it will encourage page turning. Which is exactly what we're striving for, isn't it?

As a final thought, I'll leave you with this. Sometimes it's helpful to listen to some audio. If you're writing a spooky scene, the right orchestral arrangement can add to your creativity. If it's a love story, violins usually do the trick for me. So keep that in mind as you write. If you add a little sensory input, it can help create a little more sensory output. 

I hope I've inspired at least one of you to think like a film director and try to create a dramatic establishing shot. Let me know what you think and what works for you. Other readers would like to hear your tips, tricks and (ssshhhh!) secrets. We're all in this together.

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