"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
Information & inspiration to hone your craft and increase your cash...Since 2009

Monday, January 14, 2013

Lights, Camera, Action...Why Movie Watching is a Must For Improving Your Creative Writing

Rotating Popcorn

Most of us recognize the importance of being an avid reader when it comes to becoming a fully-realized writer. In fact, few would argue that reading the works of other talented authors allows us to examine flow, fuel our imagination, understand structure, appreciate the needs of an audience, expand our vocabularies, and explore an array of techniques for effective story telling.

But, did you know that a "flick fix" can also provide valuable "teachable moments" to enhance your writing process and help you become a more intelligent, engaging writer?

In some ways, it can even be better. Here's why.

Though good writers have a natural appreciation for books and literature, today's frantic pace may prevent many of us from immersing ourselves in a story that may take days, weeks, or months to evolve and ultimately end.

By contrast, we can derive some of the same benefits with a minimal investment of time, through movies. Though each medium has its advantages and disadvantages, don't overlook the virtues of this popular past-time. Kick back, relax and discover the merits of a little movie therapy...

Here are a few things that I've learned in the process:
  • Never insult your audience. Whether it's a movie treatment, feature story, or book, make sure that your story line is well developed, authentic, and answers key questions for optimal comprehension.
  • Get to the point. Pronto, please. I hate movies (or books) that take forever to develop and unfold. Many times, by the time they do, my interest has waned.
  • Write for your audience--not for yourself. Though there are different schools of thought here, I believe that when we put our audience's needs first, we tend to take more effort in producing our best work. We check for spelling and grammar. We review, revisit and revise. We care. We attend to the small details. If you seek to write for yourself, may I suggest a diary? :-)
  • The ending should always bring reasonable closure. A good movie, that ends really well, will make you feel like you want to light up a cigarette, (even if you don't smoke). :-)
  • Pacing is important. And so is length. If the treatment is too brief, readers feel cheated. If it's too long, readers may feel overwhelmed or bored. Balance is crucial.
  • The more you tap into universal emotions and themes, the more you're able to draw your audience in and create a connection. No matter what race, religion or age, most folks can relate to loss and sadness, to love and family dysfunction, to laughter and children, to having dreams and aspirations, to friendship. Get the point here?
  • Dissecting movies helps to improve our analytical thinking skills. Can you see any flaws? Any holes in the story? What would you do differently? These are issues good writers often explore.

  • To illustrate my point here, I'd like to offer three examples of some of the best, thoughtful, creative writing regarding movies and story development.


    OUR FAMILY WEDDING (With Lance Gross)

    MUST LOVE DOGS (John Cusak)

    If you have the opportunity to rent these, or perhaps check them out of your local library, you'll see that even though they're of different genres, (two are comedies, the other a drama), the writing and screen development is excellent. Every line makes sense. Every scene is important. The characters are convincing. The endings are nicely done and cleverly crafted. They evoke an array of emotions. To sum it up, they're "worth the price of admission".

    And your writing will be too, if you take some tips from today's movies and incorporate them in your creative work.

    Thoughts? Agree or disagree? Have you viewed any "inspiring" movie lately? Or any where you felt cheated by the end?

    Image: Stockphotosforfree


    1. I completely agree. After taking two screenwriting classes in college, I realized it's the hardest form of writing I've ever tried.

      Hollywood puts out a lot of crap, but it also produces a lot of really well written and executed art. The Golden Globes were on this week, and I always like to take note of the movies nominated for best screenplay, so I can go back and study those.

      1. Jennifer Brown BanksJanuary 14, 2013 at 6:18 PM

        Hey there, Sarah,

        Thanks for starting us off here. I have a friend who does screenwriting and it can indeed be an undertaking! That's a good idea you have; watching the G.G. and studying the winning movies. I may try that too.

    2. Some years ago I have done a Screen Writing Course,
      So because of that I sometimes look at the movies 3 Act Structure and Plot Points, as I have learned from Syd Field's Screenwriting Book.

      I once (for educational purposes) also actually wrote a (Comedy) script and also 'Back Wards', wrote out a whole script from a Sitcom episode, by just watching it, (stop & play) to be able to analyse it.

      Besides the Skyfall James Movie that also had some humor in it (with the English Queen jumping out of a Helicopter), some time ago I also saw the pretty funny and impressive 3D Movie Man In Black. Only I watched those mainly just with some friends to 'consume' and not to analyse them.

      1. Jennifer Brown BanksJanuary 15, 2013 at 10:54 AM


        Good to hear your view on this. You're right; it's also good to sometimes "consume" and not always "critique" what we watch. :-) Thanks for sharing.

    3. I watch the older movies several times. Each time I see "Rear Window", I see something different than before. I like to watch a movie several times for this reason. In "A Christmas Carol" the 1950's version, I hear scripture being quoted or read in at least two places.

      1. Jennifer Brown BanksJanuary 15, 2013 at 3:14 PM


        You bring up a good point; it seems whenever I watch a movie, I see something the second time, that I didn't see the first too. But I don't mind if they have great entertainment value. Always good to connect with
        you. Thanks for your thoughts :-)

    4. Yes, also with the 'Sixth Sense' you have a Movie that offers a whole Paradigm Shift at the end of the movie, and suddenly you can actually see the whole movie in an entirely different light than before.

      1. Jennifer Brown BanksJanuary 16, 2013 at 12:37 PM


        I've never seen 6th Sense; will have to make a note of it.

    5. Hi Jen,

      I loved this post because I enjoy watching movies. In fact, I tend to head to my library's movie section first before I borrow books. I read the Kite Runner before I saw the movie, and I enjoyed both. I also like to watch foreign language movies and recently watched Raise the Red Lantern, a movie set in China, which had me thinking long after the movie about the characters and themes raised in the movie.

      1. Jennifer Brown BanksJanuary 16, 2013 at 11:51 AM


        Your eclectic tastes and open attitude are indeed the embodiment of "a beautiful mind." :-)
        Though I can't say that I share your enthusiasm for foreign films. lol

        Thanks for stopping by and weighing in...as always. :-)

    6. Love this comparison - it's so true. The more I write, the more I find myself examining films in light of these kinds of things. Watched Little Shop Around the Corner with Jimmy Stewart recently and noticed a few interesting details that I'd previously missed. Always something to learn!

    7. Jennifer Brown BanksJanuary 16, 2013 at 6:35 PM


      So lovely to have you chime in on this. :-) Always appreciate your perspective. Thanks much.

    8. Since I do have some back ground in Screenwriting, I thought about actually writing Movie Reviews, for a Movie Blog of mine,

      Only since the Writing Blog grows and gets more visitors, and also especially the Home Business Blog, gets much more (also actual responsive) visitors than the Movie Blog, I hardly wrote any posts for the Movie Blog yet.

      Possibly somewhere in the future I will write actual movie reviews for it, only recently the Music Blog also starts to get a lot more traffic, and because of that I recently actually wrote a new post for that blog :)

    9. I recently saw Les Miserable's. I've seen it before on stage and one other movie version (non-musical with Liam Neeson playing Val Jean). I've also read the book. I've been singing the songs from the musical all week. The imagery in both the (latest)movie and the book is astounding. I totally agree with you, Jennifer, that we should do both. Good reading begets good writing and movie watching adds another necessary and valuable element. Great post!

      1. Jennifer Brown BanksJanuary 17, 2013 at 1:39 PM


        It seems we have this in common too: I love singing songs from musicals. LOL Glad you liked the post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

    10. Well, this happened right up my alley... for I decided to take myself to the movies this weekend (so, note that that was not a typo... this 'happened' days ago). Yet not with much thought into needing the mental vacation and great insight you offer in this post.

      I went to see Django on Friday; Gangster Squad on Saturday; Zero Dark Thirty on Monday, and I did sit there and 'review' each movie in my head even while enjoying them. In all 3 I laughed at Hollywood's penchant to allow the heroes to dodge multiple bullets, and hit the bad guys with one shot... even killing them with a shot in the shoulder. We all want and need to be the hero in our lives. Of course, Zero Dark Thirty was less of a screen writer's scripted bullet dodge.

      All had a nice touch of humor, even with the inside jokes. All invited me to 'talk' to the screen (no audience interruption LOL). All found a way to touch my creative flow. Now I believe why. Thanks.

      1. Jennifer Brown BanksJanuary 17, 2013 at 1:45 PM


        Welcome back on the blog block. :-) You bring up some good points here: Hollywood does indeed take a "creative license" in how it portrays violent scenes and unrealistic situations for entertainment value. Sounds like you had a real movie marathon there; glad you enjoyed it. Appreciate your input. :-)

      2. Some time ago I did a little research into the nature of violence, and while I originally thought that violence was only some sort of misguided emotional behaviour...,

        To my surprise I discovered that - as far as I understand - violence isn't (only) about emotion, but actually about - Rationality -

        Rationality usually as a combined orientation arround Purpose, value/belief, affect and tradition.

    11. Jennifer Brown BanksJanuary 17, 2013 at 4:00 PM

      Forgot to mention, all,
      One of the ultimate "story tellers" on screen was Alfred Hitchcock; I saw one of his movies last night and it reminded me of this discussion here. Any Hitchcock fans out there?