Monday, November 7, 2011

Writing Tip #5

This is a general rule I follow that always helps. I wouldn't have finished Among the People Lost without this, and it's something I'll use on every book or story I ever write, I think.

Tip #5: Picture your book like it's a movie.

There are a lot of ways to picture a scene in your mind. In my mind, it's always very cinematic. I don't think it's a conscious effort at this point. As scenes play out, my "view" switches just like camera angles switch and such. It makes things much more dramatic and intense, and definitely helps define the way my characters interact.

Let's use I Am Legend (the movie, not the book) as an example. If you haven't seen it, go see it bear with me. The movie is about Robert Neville, the last man alive in New York City who has a dog and a whole bunch of firearms to fight off savage vampire creatures that were once human. Sounds pleasant, right? Anyway, there's a scene near the beginning of the movie where Neville walks on a road that's crammed with dozens and dozens of abandoned cars that area all covered in weeds. The camera zooms out as he's walking down this street, and that's all you see - abandoned cars and empty buildings.

About a minute in on this trailer:

As a writer, you have to get across that same feeling of emptiness, loneliness, and abandonment without any fancy camera angles. If the cars are what would be seen first, then talk about the graveyard of cars and the empty buildings on the horizon. If the empty buildings come into view before your character goes over a hill or something and sees the cars, then talk about the abandoned skeletons of skyscrapers overlooking a sea of broken cars.

Mood is important in all stories, and so is seeing things from your character's eyes. The following is from Among the People Lost in a scene where Dante is standing on the roof of a building:
He stood at the edge of the roof, leaning on the chest-high wall ringing the building and staring out over the city. Lightning flashed in the distance.
It goes from the closest thing to him (the wall), to the things he sees in front of him (the buildings), and finishes with the lightning on the horizon. If that lightning was mentioned first, it's natural for the reader to place that lightning close to him.

When we read, we sort of start with the character we're reading about and build the scene around that person. When we picture things as a movie, camera angles often do the same thing. They start zoomed in on the character and then reveal the scene piece by piece. 

Good movies have good cinematography. Good books can, too! It's just a matter of making your reader really see what you're trying to convey.

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