by Elle Cyre
Many thoughts on how writing has influenced my life.
|I like to watch my story unfold in my head like a movie. Sometimes I wish what I see and imagine could translate to the page when I write. Who doesn't?
Pictures are worth a thousand words. Movies are moving pictures, so they can express a hundred pages in little less than a few minutes. However, usually something gets lost in the adaptation of a book to the big screen, whether it is a beloved character left out, a couple names changed around, an alteration of the plot or something along those lines. Producers and writers have reasons why they never film a movie word-for-word with the book (sensible reasons, I'm sure, like time and money) but who isn't frustrated by a favorite part left out or classic dialog skipped? Why do they think they can do better than the person who wrote it to begin with?
Anyway, this isn't going to be a rant about screen-writers. In fact, we can learn a lot from them and the scene directors, for movie-making can be more artistic than writing. Authors have lively imaginations and create worlds and characters from thin air; movies go one step further with the help of digital artwork and bring those unbelievable worlds to life. I always think of Avatar; I didn't like the movie but I still remember the beautiful planet with the luminescent plants and animals, like something out of a wild dream. Unfortunately, in cases like those, a movie spends all its budget on the visual sensations and the writing is painfully shallow.
Unless you are a digital artist or enjoy painting in your spare time between writing, you have to figure out how to describe such scenes and that is where the lesson comes in; picture the night scene in Avatar when they are wandering through the plants. Jake strokes a leaf and it changes color beneath his hand; he also cradles a floating sort of pollen. Without those details that bring the surroundings to life, the beautiful world would just be a background painting. Remember the old movies that used actual paintings?
Describing a field of flowers or an exotic planet is useless to your reader unless they can hear, touch, taste or smell it. Use your senses; describe the fragrance of the lily and the delicate curve of its petal, moist with dew. Give a tangible description or it will be nothing more than a vague picture in the background.
Now think of the scenes of dialog in movies. How often do two characters stand rigid, face-to-face, and have a lengthy discussion? Never; they wander around, move their arms, change positions, touch their mouth and chin, etc. Do they use the same tone of voice the entire time? Does their face change expression with their changing emotions? These are all obvious and I think the easiest to write. In fact, I think we, as writers, tend to over-do it if anything. Our characters swing back and forth on an emotional swing and shout, growl, whine and sob too much. If we watched the conversation like a movie scene, I think we would say the people were overacting.
Internal conflict is the one short-coming in translating books to movies. Unless they do a character voice-over of all the thoughts, worries and dreams that they experience in the book, they can seem wooden. I can think of a couple YA novels that were made into popular films but, having never read the books, I couldn't really connect with the main protagonist. Internal monologue is my least favorite to read but the easiest to write. It guarantees that the reader is on the same page as the protagonist and asking the same questions. However, like I said, I don't like reading it;, it's repetitious; I'm already wondering how the story will end and hope it turns out well for the main character--I don't need to be pounded over the head with all their worries, hopes and fears..
Now to get to the action scenes. Movies obviously have a huge advantage here and until they invent some way of mentally projecting a scene into reality, we have to rely on our simple words as the only way to tell the story. A good exercise is taking a favorite scene from a movie and putting in into words. Try it. How do you describe the slow-motion parts, the close-ups? How do you create the same lingering tension or suspense?
I struggled applying all the rules of writing to my action scenes and I thought they had to unfold as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, if you move rapidly, your reader will miss something, and if you move too slow, they will get frustrated. I've read some scenes that promised action and then dragged on and on; in reality, they built suspense and tension that I otherwise would not have felt if it had dropped out of the blue on me. Think of it as a flashback, or flash-forward, that some shows use; they start off by showing you the climax and then re-wind to "24 hrs earlier" or something of that sort. Some authors start off their chapters by commenting on what was to come and then take their sweet time getting there.
But what about the actual scene? Well, I'm no expert, but there is a reason that movies use slow-motion. They want to emphasize something or make sure the viewer doesn't miss it. Take that approach; slow down; describe your action scenes thoroughly. I don't mean obscure or out-of-place details, like what each person had for breakfast that morning, but don't be afraid to establish the lay-out of the room or street or wherever it takes place. Just be sure that you mix everything together; don't start with ten descriptive paragraphs before the action even starts or your reader will lose focus. Start by promising the conflict or action; then set the scene; blend the specific details of sounds, smells and textures within the actual movements of the character. For instance, if someone gets punched in the face, mention the metallic taste of blood in their mouth instead of stating the visual fact of their lip bleeding. If someone starts crying, describe the hot, burning tears streaming down their cheeks and their salty taste or the heaving, broken breaths they take that constitute sobbing.
Don't be afraid to write what you see in your head. The trouble is, sometimes all we have is a vague idea of what happens so when we write it down, that is all it is: a vague outline. However, if we focused on the details of every scene we wrote, we probably wouldn't finish anything we started, so reserve this method for the scenes of most importance. Imprint them in your reader's mind and they'll never forget it.
Writing in such a way isn't easy, by any means, but if you concentrate enough effort and focus on each detail of the scene, you can create a live-action scene rivaling the best movies.