Friday, February 23, 2018

8 Ways To Use Movie Watching To Improve Your Writing

As I'm sure nobody has noticed, I'm a huge movie fan. Particularly superhero movies. Especially The Dark Knight. I am also, according to various reviews of various stories (Colors of Fear and Skies of Dripping Gold), a good writer. Coincidence? I think not!

I'm kidding. Could this be a huge coincidence? Yep.

But, in my case, I do know that watching movies thoughtfully and passionately has taught me many, many different writing tips and tricks. How can you use movie watching as a way to improve your writing? Pull up a chair (or a couch, given that this post will probably end up inspiring you to become a couch potato). Let's talk movies.
8 Ways To Use Movie Watching To Improve Your Writing
1. Pay attention to what's shown on screen. Movies are very intentional about what's shown on screen (the good ones, anyway). It's called Mise-en-scène: Everything that's shown in a scene, encompassing actors, props, lighting, space, etc. Apply this to your descriptive writing. Just as movies are (or at least should be) intentional about what is shown, how it's shown, and when it's shown, so should your descriptive writing follow similar rules.

2. Study the pacing in movies. You can do this for books, but it's easiest to apply to movies because movies can be consumed in around 2 hours and often have fewer subplots than novels. When watching movies, pay attention and ask yourself: When did we first meet the main character? When did the inciting incident happen? When did the climax take place? How did the movie avoid the "middle section lag"? Where there any times I lost interest in the film? Make mental (or physical) notes. This can give you a good idea of how pacing is used to move a story along. You can then take what you've learned and apply it to your story.

3. Study the camera usage in different scenes. This may seem useless to you. After all, you're a writer. Cameras don't enter into the equation. Pffft. That's what you think. Are you ready to learn something cool? Sentence structure can be directly related to camera usage. For instance: Shaky hand-held camerawork (think The Bourne Supremacy) is the film equivalent of using fragmented sentences: They're used in tense, action-packed situations. Long shots (a camera shot that is zoomed way out to show surroundings) is similar to a descriptive paragraph. Close-ups (it's what it sounds like, dummy) would closely match written scenes that convey strong character emotion. If you take note of when and how these different techniques are used, you can apply them to your writing. For instance: Long shots are often used when there's a change in scenery, which would translate to you writing in some description with each scene change. Oh, and speaking of scene changes....

4. Notice when and how movies change scenes. I'm always surprised when I get questions like: How do I jump from one scene to another? Do I have to show everything a character does in a day or only parts? How can I show a passage of time? My answer: Watch movies.
Movies are excellent at changing scenes smoothly, so take note of when and why a scene ends. Look at all of the different ways a passage of time is indicated: Description, dialogue, character demeanor. Use that to guide you through how and when to change scenes in your own story.

5. Watch movies in and outside of your genre. Sure, you can get lots of character, plot, and worldbuilding ideas by watching movies that are your same genre. But you can get even more from watching those outside of your genre. It shakes things up and allows you to see new storytelling techniques that you might not otherwise encounter.

6. Watch terrible movies. Terrible movies are incredibly educational because it helps you quickly find what it is that placed that movie in the Cone of Shame. Are the characters horrible? What made them that way and how could it have been avoided? Is it too slow? How could they have corrected the pacing? Is the world-building confusing (*cough* Looking at you, Netflix's Bright *cough* *cough*)? What caused the confusion and where could it have been corrected? You can do this exact same study with books, sure. But it's a lot easier to sit through a terrible movie in one day than it is to trudge your way through a terrible book in one week.

7. Watch movies from the 40s and 50s and pay attention to the dialogue.
Yes, this tip is incredibly specific. Why 40s and 50s? Because the writing in those movies is unparalleled. And the dialogue, specifically in RomComs, is unmatched. If you've ever seen one, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't seen one, start with these: The Thin Man, Bringing Up Baby, Arsenic and Old Lace, Double Wedding, Holiday, Desk Set. Note how dialogue is used: Character's don't often say what they mean, and the dialogue is directly tied to pacing, character development, and mood. Also notice how characters move when they talk: Are they sitting, standing, performing an action? What expression is plastered on their face? If you take what you've learned from these movies and try to follow their dialogue rules in your own writing, you can't go wrong.

8. Notice how many people it takes to make a film. Seriously. Watch the credits. Do you see the crazy amount of people it takes to make a movie? The head creator wasn't on their own. You shouldn't be, either. Just as directors and writers have people to talk to about costume design, lighting, character arcs, set design, etc, you should have people you can talk to about: "Is this a stupid idea?" and "How's this character arc?" and "Is this culturally accurate?" and more. And, just like as a movie set is full of people, you should be able to get outside every once in a while and *gasps of horror* be in the near vicinity of other humans. It's a good way to get ideas and, you know, not ruin your health by staring at a computer screen for hours on end.

And those are just a few ways you can use movies to improve your writing. Know of any others? Please let me know in the comment section! I'm always looking for new reasons to see movies. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to watch The Dark Knight. For the 42nd time.

Related articles:
9 Ways to Use Reading to Improve Your Writing
6 Easy Ways to Gain Writing Inspiration

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  1. Love it! Excellent tips (as always).

    I love looking at other types of media to strengthen my writing. I already did it for characters and stories and stuff, but I never thought of the correlation in the technical side of things, like camera usage and sentence structure. Thanks for the advice! Now I can watch my tv shows in the secure knowledge that it's research.

  2. YES! I've produced a couple shorts, so when I started writing my current book my brain was coming up with all these sweeping angles... now I have to translate it all to prose, which is fascinating in and of itself.
    One thing to keep in mind: there is a slight difference in the structure of books and movies. A book usually has a longer resolution, tying up subplots and such, which readers will absorb happily. Movies tend to have very short resolutions, partly because viewers who've been watching for 2 hours aren't as dedicated to the story as a reader who's been immersed in a book for a week (keeping viewers interested is a huge headache for filmmakers), and also because in a movie there isn't time for as many subplots as a book has.
    Thank you Hannah!

  3. Though, I haven't 'properly' read this post, I have to say that these tips definitely seem helpful. However, I don't really like movies, so I'll just stick to dramas when looking out for these things :P

  4. Thanks for pointing out those places we should be looking. It's so easy to get swept up in watching... I love your tip about paying attention to how the cameras are used, I'll have to pay more attention to the cinematography next time I watch a movie.

  5. As a film fan as well who's already done a few posts on movies, I loved this post! Just saw Black Panther and I'm thinking of doing a review on it maybe next week or at least in the near future.(It was really good, by the way.) ;)

    I'm personally glad to have not seen Bright, even though I had just seen the Dirk Gently series at the time and heard the writer Max Landis was doing it. But yeah, it's pretty disappointing as the idea itself of an alternate world wouldn't have been that half bad. A video I saw recently goes into those issues really well, explaining them in great detail:

    As for this post, I really enjoyed it. Hope you write more on movies some time! :D

  6. Great tips. I actually just wrote a similar post on my blog, so I'm glad to see I'm not the only person who watches movies to help with their writing. Although, I'll admit I've never watched the Dark Knight (Joker's too creepy for me). I like the other ones in the trilogy though. :)

  7. Excellent post, Hannah. Especially about applying camera angles and shots to sentence structure. 110% agree.


  8. Love it that you used Desk Set as an example. That just may be my favorite RomCom. I plan to watch again but with my new writer's eye. Thanks!


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