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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Learning a thing or two from the movies

Please welcome guest blogger Cindy Carroll

Read any good movies lately? We all watch movies, sure. Do any of you analyse them as you watch them? After you watch them? How about reading them? Any of you find scripts online of movies you like or would like to see and read them to see just how they do it?

Reading scripts is a great way to see the three act structure. To see how screenwriters show instead of tell. Scripts are a whole different format. And the three act structure isn’t as obvious in some as it is in others. Of course, every story, whether it’s a movie or a novel needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end. You need to avoid the sagging middle in a movie just as much as in a book. With movies it’s a little easier because you have to keep everything active and show everything. There is no telling in spec scripts.

The general rule of thumb for showing in a script is you shouldn’t have anything in there that a director can’t shoot, that you can’t see. If you have a character and you want to get across that she’s a genius loner you can’t just say that. As a novel writer I found this to be the hardest part of the craft to grasp. I thought I “got it” after I finished writing my second book. I had a scene where I showed the heroine haggling over the price of a dagger. It showed she was stubborn, persistent. The light bulb had gone on. Except I didn’t quite get it. The last complete manuscript I submitted was rejected and one of the comments from the editor was that there was a problem with telling instead of showing. Back to the drawing board.

Then I started writing scripts. In the screenwriting loop I belong to they are very adamant about the show don’t tell advice. In spec scripts (scripts you write that are not contracted), you must show everything. If the director can’t see it, set up a shot for it, you can’t put it in the script. Back to our genius loner. In a book you might want to take the easy way out and say – Jane was a loner, not by choice but because she was a genius. That usually got in the way of people liking her. In a script you couldn’t write that. A director can’t set up a shot for that. In a script you would have to do something like:

INT. JANE’S APARTMENT – NIGHT

Jane breezes in, drops her keys by the door. She plops onto the sofa, turns the TV to NOVA. She takes a peek at the phone – 0 messages. She shrugs. A Mensa yearbook is the only object on the table.

That’s not the best example, granted but it should give you an idea. Seeing how it’s done in scripts really makes you think about showing instead of telling when you’re writing your book. I recommend reading scripts to see just how they show and how you can incorporate that into your novels. But make sure you’re reading a SPEC script. A production script or a script written by the director or producer won’t follow the “rules” that the rest of us writers have to follow. Production scripts will have the scene numbers in the margins.

So, go read a good movie, analyse it and see if you can use anything you learn from it in your books.


Cindy Carroll joined RWA in 1992 and started out writing novels but turned to scripts when an idea for one of her favorite television shows wouldn’t leave her alone. That first attempt, and her second teleplay for the same
show, garnered her honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest 76th Annual Writing Competition in the screenplay category. She graduated from Hal Croasmun’s screenwriting ProSeries intensive in June of 2008. Her interview with David Rambo, writer/producer for CSI appeared in the summer special edition of The Rewrit, the newsletter for Scriptscene, Romance Writers of America’s screenwriting chapter. Currently working on the rewrite of her second feature, Cindy is also developing two new television
pilots.


Keep It Moving: How Thinking Like a Screenwriter Can Improve Your Novel runs from September 6, 2010 through September 19, 2010

7 comments:

Edie Ramer said...

Cindy, great insights. In the book I'm resurrecting right now, I'm cutting a lot that the reader doesn't need to know and that might be repetitious, and keeping what's new and insightful and moves the story forward.

Harlow said...

Cindy, I love using movies as motivation and idea sparking for my stories. It's how my L.O.S.T. series was born.

Hubby was watching the Dirty Dozen for the gazillionth time, and it took that time on that day for my brain to explode with ideas. And the rest they say...is history. :)

Angelia Almos said...

Great advice! I am always learning lessons from movies and TV shows. One of my favorite hobbies is to watch a movie, read the book it was adapted from, and read the script. Then on to analyze everything that remained the same and what was changed.

Cindy Carroll said...

Hi Edie. I love going back to books and fixing things. Sometimes you wouldn't know it from some movies but it is important to chuck the stuff that doesn't move the story forward.

Cindy Carroll said...

Harlow! Can't wait to pick up your book! Believe it or not the idea for my first historical (Scotland 1314) came to me while I was watching Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Cindy Carroll said...

Angelia, that's covering all the bases! I like to do that too. I also will watch the movie with the script in front of me and follow through to see how close the final product is to the script. Things get changed at the last minute. I also pause a lot when I like something to see how they wrote it in the script.

Angelia Almos said...

I haven't tried sitting there with the script and watching. Though I have gone back and rewatched after reading the script. When it's available it's also interesting to read the first screenplay and then the shooting screenplay to see what was changed in the writing phase and then see what was changed during the actual shooting.