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The Writer as the Movie Director
M Romero Nunn
Posted: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 4:56 PM
Joined: 12/13/2011
Posts: 15

Hello fellow paisanos of Bookcountry,
Just joined this month from the UK and rather enjoying this lovely part of the world. So, I was wondering just how many of us are influenced by movie Directors and their innovative digital (celluloid, if you still remember the stuff) eye? 

I'm going all out on an assumption now: The stories we create have substance, space and total imagery in our minds, so effectively we are the Directors of our alphabet moving-pictures.  Does anyone look to favourite movies/particular scenes/fave Directors for inspiration on scene setting? How to begin a chapter, which scenes to depict in a particular chapter? 

Maybe among you there's someone bold enough to have created a story with similar cut scenes to Tarantino's Pulp Fiction or the meandering, seemingly unconnected person to person following that Robert Altman likes to use? It doesn't have to be a particular Director, maybe it's a neat scene trick you've seen that tickles your fancy. I'd be interested to hear. You never know, it might inspire us too? 

Of course, then comes the real game as a wirter and that is to take the picture you can see in the way you want it cut and translate it to the page. What amazes me about that is that the frame in your head lasts a couple of seconds and on paper it can be up to a page long depending on how busy and vital the frame is. Brings a whole new meaning to a 'picture is worth a thousand words.'  But what do you all think? And for those diehards out there who say the writer invented the scene styles before the Director was inspired by them, there may be some truth to that too...

Danielle Poiesz
Posted: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 9:06 AM
What an interesting idea, M! I actually haven't ever considered directors in my prose writing, though of course have in my screenwriting.

I think it's trickier to think screen to novel, though, that it is to go from novel to screen. When you think of a novel in terms of a film I think you run the risk of nothing giving the reader enough, of running into the problem of having a skeletal structure of a story instead of a fully fleshed narrative. With film there are so many other senses involved, so many different ways to express something. With novels, we only have our words. So, while I think it's great to get inspiration from wherever you can--it's hard to find after all!--I also think it's a slippery slope to create written word with the idea of it as a film in mind.

Alexander Hollins
Posted: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 10:20 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

Absolutely with Danielle on this one, it would be VERY easy to turn a novel into a script by accident.

That said, I do tend to follow some movie tropes of specifically not describing certain things, only describe, for instance, the killers hands, to hide things.

Posted: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 11:49 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

I do agree it's a slippery slope.  For me, I definitely see the scene play out in my mind and try to translate that to the page.  But I also try to deepen it.  In film you can't go inside the character's head.  It's the challenge of the printed word to get into a character's head.  If you get too married to the movie scenes playing out in your head I think you run the risk of cheapening your narrative and your characters.

That said, I am a visual learner so seeing written words played out in TV and movies helps me to pick up little tricks I can use in my own writing to improve my craft.
Angela Martello
Posted: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 9:00 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394

Whenever I start a new chapter or section of a chapter, I tend to start with the dialog, which, by the time I set fingers to keyboard, I have already mulled over in my head several times. So, in many ways, my writing starts out as a script - almost Shakespearean, with very little "action." After I capture the dialog, then I go back through and flesh out the section, adding the POV character's perspective, setting, action, and so on.

Carl E Reed
Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2012 5:34 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

That is a very interesting question, M Romero Nunn!

I'm afraid my response might be a bit disappointing. Because far from seeing myself as a director: staging shots, arranging scenery and coaching actors—I instead endeavor to project myself into the scene as an active participant (in the case of a character) or close observer (in the case of gathering details to use in my "pull-back POVs": 3rd-person limited or 3rd-person omniscient, as opposed to the immediacy, narcissism and straight-jacketing of narrative options that result from telling the story from a 1st-person perspective).

Now, that isn’t to say that I don’t consciously select details of furniture, clothing, weapons, etc.—I do—but I usually dial those details in after the fact. What I mean by this is that when I first sit down to write I oftentimes haven’t the slightest idea of what is going to happen or how it is going to occur. An initial sentence, theme or plot element might suggest itself to me, or a story ending pop into my mind and I go from there. That’s the adventure of the process of writing for me. (And oftentimes the immediate dead-end I run into as quickly as I start. Almost any seasoned professional will tell you: don’t write like this. You’ll waste an awful lot of time. Better to outline, plan, prioritize. I would if I could, but . . . Note-taking feels like note-taking; writing feels like writing. I’m hopeless. . . .)

Oftentimes I add critical details in later drafts. My initial drafts focus on action and dialogue; it’s only later that I realize—good grief!—I’ve only used the visual sense in this entire chapter. Or forgotten to describe what people are wearing. Or what they look like. Or I’ve used generic details that need to be sharpened into more concrete descriptors: changing “car” into “a dead-lizard green, four-door sedan with spoked-wheel rims and a gleaming grill”, or “the runner” into “a thin loping man in a sweat-stained gray tracksuit with a mane of sweaty black hair and a face pinched somewhere between a leer and a snarl”. Hardly deathless prose but you get the idea. . . .

But hold on! I realize that there is indeed one area in which I do exert total authorial control before setting down word one and that is deciding on which POV to use in telling the story.

It may seem strange that I can decide on POV before I know what’s going to happen in my weird tales but there you have it. My subconscious communicates at least this much to my conscious mind.

GD Deckard
Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2012 3:43 PM
I'm with Carl on this.
My personal preference is to think of books as being content for movies. But even then, some aspects of written communication cannot be photographed.

I do often look at my scenes from a perspective not unlike a camera, a closeup of a character's face or a view of the setting. But my best "view" of a well written story remains only a partial understanding of it. All of which may just mean I ain't ever gonna be a useful movie director.
M Romero Nunn
Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2012 2:37 PM
Joined: 12/13/2011
Posts: 15

Hi all,
I'm glad my question provoked an analysis of  our use/non use of visual scenes. For those who do see their stories in a cinematographic way, you may even  have been inspired by scenes/styling/plotting concepts that certain Directors are famous for. I find that a very interesting idea myself, as I'm often surprised, after writing a scene and re-reading it to find I've unconsciously produced a scene in a Robert Altman -esque way or some other Director.  

Like some of you i'm vey much a visual scene setter. I walk through the scenes of the chapter as if they were scenes in a film. Because of the visuality I can see where my characters stand, the props/environment around them, their facial expressions, how they react to each other in tell-tale signs etc. I find it all really helpful as when i start to write the chapter i've a wealth of visual knowledge for the scene that it make it easy to write the descriptions, dialogue and actions of my character, in, I hope, a more plausible way.  

I certainly use the concept of being the 'director' of my story as an aid to writing the chapters. Then i literally flesh out the scenes as much as needed because, as I mentioned at the beginning, a picture really does need a 1000 words to bring it to literary life.

Yet, i've come to the conclusion that my strength is in dialogue. Could this be because i work cinematographically/visually with the chapters first?  
It would be interesting to find out if any of you guys have found working more visually strengthens a certain aspect of your writing? Moving on from that perhaps reading certain types of books/authors improves other aspects of your writing style...OK. Maybe that's a question worthy of its own thread. Still. I'm all ears on any opinions.



Angela Martello
Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2012 6:33 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394

I think since most of us have grown up watching television and movies, we do - whether consciously or subconsciously - have a tendency to think visually, to think in scenes. As I'm capturing a dialog I've been working on, I do often have a clear image in my head of the setting around the characters and what they're doing while they're speaking. If they're in the forest, I imagine what they're seeing, hearing, and even smelling; whether they're cold or warm. I imagine how they're sitting, what they may be doing with their hands (holding a cup, checking a scanner or a weapon, toying with a loose thread or a lock of hair), what kind of facial expressions they have, and so on. Not all of that necessarily makes it into the text - especially if I'm trying not to bog down the dialog (or trying to keep the word count manageable).

As far as how I see these scenes in my head - that is, has a director influenced me or not - again, I'd have to say that I'm sure that I've been (either consciously or subconsciously) influenced by the direction in my favorite movies (for example, the LOTR trilogy).

Human imagination and the different ways we express it has always fascinated me - whether that expression has been the written word, film, art, dance, music, or a garden display.

M Romero Nunn
Posted: Monday, February 20, 2012 2:41 PM
Joined: 12/13/2011
Posts: 15

Yeah. That's what I'm talking about Angela the visual scene in our head can be so full with data but we don't necessarily print it all. Still it serves to give the writer complete familiarity with the scene before putting that pen to paper. 

I can definitely say I am influenced by how Directors slice their films together. So when i'm looking for a different start to a chapter/scene or, as is more the case, what scenes i'll keep in the chapters to keep momemtum or suspense going, I think about my fave movies and analyse the plus points of a director's scene, then figure out if and how i can use that style in print (with its obvious limitations of course).   A lot is talked about a writer's inspiration and the fact that just because we're not writing doesn't mean we're not working mentally on the story. Definitely my way of working mentally is to visualise scenes and cut/splice scenes together which to me is no different to what a Director does. While he/she marries his filming with conscious use of colour, visual arrangement, focus etc I marry my scenes with conscious use of descriptions and dialogue. In doing so, and probably because of my interest in films,  I do spot scenes that could have come out of a Tarantino movie or a Nora Ephron film.

I certainly agree with you there, the human imagination we use to work on our craft is definitely fascinating.



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