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30 November 2010

Cinema for Authors


Pam's post last Friday reminded me of how much inspiration and honest-to-goodness craft authors draw from movies.

I'm currently taking Alexandra Sokoloff's fabulous Screenwriting Tricks for Novelists, where we study movies' structures to improve our books. As you can imagine, we discuss a lot of movies as the best model for our novels. Now this is not quite the same as being a favorite movie, since things like thematic similarity have to be considered as well as plot line.

Sometimes the class feels like a wild discussion among friends where everyone's trying to suggest the best possible movie for somebody else to study, including the reason why.

To my fascination, only four historical movies (in the New York publishing sense of "history") get mentioned regularly.

Chinatown
Gladiator
The Last of the Mohicans
Sense & Sensibility

Of these four, The Last of the Mohicans and Sense & Sensibility are definitely my favorite two films. I've undoubtedly seen Sense & Sensibility a lot more often. (I adore Alan Rickman in this film!)

But I'd have to say The Last of the Mohicans is much closer to my novels, for more reasons than sharing an American frontier setting with my books. I cherish the line "I will find you" as a declaration of love in the face of all odds.

What movie is most like your book or books? Is it a historical movie or a contemporary movie? How is it different from your "favorite" movies?

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12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That a print author would study cinematic techniques puzzles me, for I dislike intensely those books that remind me of movies, especially the made-for-tv sort.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I'm sorry, but Gladiator is NOT a historical movie. It's a fantasy film with a vaguely historical setting.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Doreen DeSalvo said...

Fascinating post, Diane. My BA is in Television Writing and I learned a lot from writing screenplays about pacing and tension. With film and TV, it must all be "show" and not "tell," especially since voiceovers went out of style.

Authors who study screenwriting can learn much about how to build conflict and suspense into a plot. Certainly movies have had a profound effect on books of the 20th century. We owe the film industry for the fast-paced page turners of today.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post, Diane! I get a lot of inspiration from movies, and I've learned a lot from studying them, particularly about pacing and three-act structure. I love "Sense & Sensibility" and it does have quite a bit in common with the quieter side of my books. But my books also have a lot of suspense and adventure, so in addition to watching a lot of period adaptations, study a lot of espionage thrillers ("Casino Royale" is one I watch a lot because it has a strong relationship/character thread along with the spy plot). And if we expand to tv, I've also learned a lot from analyzing "The X-Files", "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", and "Alias."

1:20 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Like Tracy, I found TV shows to be very useful (mostly they make me thing about characterization in whole new ways and push me to make my books darker than I normally would if I wasn’t consciously thinking about it). Recently I've been watching "Justified" and "Boardwalk Empire" over and over. Great shows with really complicated characters (also watch “Deadwood”, “Dexter”, “Brotherhood”, “Luthur”, “The Wire”, “Lie to Me”, and a slew of others for the same reason).

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Stephanie Burke said...

Sense and Sensibility has be be n of my all time favorite...okay, it is the only book from that author I will ever reread without a gun to my head. I adore Allen Rickman's portrayal and we all know I have a Rickman addiction to end all and be all! *g*

I think that studying how to create such wonderful screen plays would help a writer with his or her character development and world building. In fact, I took several classes in screen writing back when I was in college back when dinos roamed the earth and they have improved my ability to smack the creature in my head into something that people can relate to on paper. That is an important skill as it helps us writers create the contract with our reader. You recall the contract, I will do my best to pull you out of your word and into mine where you will want to rant and cry and laugh, and scream with my characters and want more and you will try to suspend your disbelief and become a voyeur in my world for as long as you want or need to.

Any skill set that can improve your writing is a skill set that we all as writers need to learn. And Diane, your words draw me in, your characters stay with me and your settings are memorable in my mind. If taking this class will improve upon that, do so and leave me in a coma with the next book!

Flash

2:33 PM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Isobel - I liked Gladiator's props, especially the jewelry and weapons. Characters and plot - great! History - so-so, so I'm with you on the quasi historical setting.

Doreen - I totally agree with you and Isobel about learning a lot from movies and tv about characterization. Love your suggestions and I'd like to add Babylon 5 and Firefly.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Wow, Tracy - are you too fascinated by some of the quieter scenes in Sense & Sensibility? Emma Thompson packed so much drama into some little things, like the one where Elinor finds something else/more for the Colonel to do - and it's bring Mother. The tension between those two actors in that little bit of a scene - and it's all about the simplest forms of love.

Thanks for nailing Casino Royale's attraction! So much relationship/character in that spy plot. Yum.

Oh Flash, what a neat summary of the writer's contract with her readers! I will certainly continue trying to leave you in a happy coma. :-)

4:20 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Yes, the emotional power of the "Sense & Sensibility" film is amazing--so subtle and the film so nails the underlying emotion. Emma Thompson's script is brilliant and so is Ang Lee's directing.

Inspired by your post, I'm currently watching "Casino Royale" while doing holiday cleaning...:-).

5:11 PM  
Blogger Angela said...

I find screenwriting techniques useful. They're the ultimate in show, don't tell. with vivid conflict and punchy dialogue. Good storytelling is good storytelling, regardless of the genre.

7:41 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I liked Gladiator's props, especially the jewelry and weapons. Characters and plot - great! History - so-so, so I'm with you on the quasi historical setting.

Costumes were appallingly bad (hello, the empress is wearing a Victorian corset over a sari at one point!) and the history presented is even worse (especially when it came to the plot). Enslaving a Roman citizen was punishable by death. All Maximus had to do was stand up, declare who he was, have people who knew him back him up, and it would have been a done deal. Whole film was just ridiculously stupid IMO (worse even than Braveheart, and that’s saying something).

8:13 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Wonderful post, Diane! Being an actress I always see my scenes cinematically as I write, almost as though they are playing out before my eyes on a giant screen. I don't so much see a specific film as my book (or vice versa) as hear a specific actor's voice, or remember their image in a specific costume as I create a character or place one of my characters in a given scene.

And as for the Emma Thompson/Ang Lee SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, I'm on record here at the hoydens for believing that it's the most faithful screen adaptation of an Austen novel in existence.

Interestingly, LAST OF THE MOHICANS is a highly successful film because it EVISCERATES an incredibly boring novel and turns it into a double romance with an action hero. Ordinarily I'd be tearing my hair out at such a violation of the source material but it's such an entertaining and moving film that you have to accept it on its own terms.

In any case, it's still hard to compare books and movies because one genre is intended to tell a story visually, and the audience is passively delivered the images by the creators of the work; in the other genre, it's up to the audience to imagine those images (and they will invariably be different creations, even if the author provides physical descriptions of people, locations, and atmosphere). Every reader is going to come away with her own impression of the characters and their surroundings, which is often why some film adaptations of famous) and not-so-famous) novels don't work. Viewers balk at the casting or the costumes or the art direction because it's not what they saw in their heads when they read the book.

11:00 AM  

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