Within the Book Community, movies normally get a bad reputation, especially if the film is based on a book. Movies don’t capture all the important details. Movies change names and physical features of characters. And sometimes, to the horrors of book nerds and writers everywhere, they even alter the plot!
But today, I’m here to tell you three reasons why writers should watch movies and use them as an educational resource to better their own stories.
Reason #1: Movies Teach “Show, Don’t Tell”
One of the best reasons why writers should watch movies, and watch them closely, is that they are the perfect teaching tool for the “show, don’t tell” writing method. By “show, don’t tell”, I mean, as you’re writing, you are showing events and dropping hints, relying on readers to pick up on significant points instead of blatantly telling them what’s going on through the narrative or dialogue.
Being they’re a form of visual art, movies have mastered the art of “showing” a story unfold. Writers, if we want to learn how to “show”, one of the best ways we can learn is to watch a film on mute. You heard me right. And without captions.
While we’re watching a movie on mute, it allows us to see if we can still follow the gist of the movie’s story solely by 1) B-roll shots of scenery/setting, objects, etc. and 2) Facial expressions and body language. If the movie is effective at storytelling, chances are, we’ll still be able to figure out the story line without sound.
We, as writers, have to convey our stories without sound. Likewise, we need to learn to write about the subtleties that, in small parts, make up the bigger story instead of just aligning obvious points together and not allowing the audience to put the puzzle pieces together themselves.
Reason #2: Movies Teach Better Dialogue Practices
Since movies also rely on sound, mostly in the form of conversations between characters, they’re also fantastic sources for learning how to write good dialogue. Writing dialogue without hearing it can be tricky, but I’m sure each and every one of us can determine the difference between juicy, realistic dialogue in a movie, and conversations that sound like they were written by an emotionless robot from Planet Boredom.
If for some reason you’re confused on what separates good dialogue from bad dialogue, consider some of your favorite movies, and then some of the worst ones you’ve ever seen. Chances are, the dialogue in your favorites had varying emotion, cadence, and methods of delivery. Through the dialogue, you could feel what the characters are feeling, and became further invested in the movie. Now, for those terrible films, I can almost guarantee you couldn’t relate to the characters at all. You thought they sounded like Siri having a conversation with Alexa, but 100 times more stilted and awkward. The level of investment you had while watching the dialogue take place onscreen determines the quality of the dialogue nine times out of ten. If it’s good, you won’t want to look away (or stop reading). If it’s bad, then you’ll want to cut it off, or DNF the book.
To put this study into practice, be sure to un-mute the movie for this! Pay close attention to the characters as they speak to one another. Note their tone, the inflection, the accents. Just like with Reason #1, pay attention to how their words match their body language and facial expressions. This will equip you to write better dialogue between your own characters, because you’ll be better able to both hear and visualize the conversation unfolding in your imagination. Be prepared to write some killer conversations after this. Especially arguments. Trust me on this one. 😉
Reason #3: Movies Show the Three-Act Story Structure in Action
You may have heard of the writing aid Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, but did you know the book stemmed from a book on writing movie scripts? The overall structure of books and movies are more alike than we think. Books just allow more room for subtle details.
If you’re having trouble trying to understand a three-act story structure breakdown (either Brody’s Save the Cat, or, as I’ve used in the past, Abbie Emmon’s worksheet. There may be more available on the interwebs, too), try watching a movie and making notes of the events that happen as they align with the story structure cheat sheet. Though I honestly haven’t sat down and tried this out yet, Abbie Emmons has referenced films for illustrating different parts of the three act story structure on her YouTube channel, and I highly recommend scoping out those videos to get a better understanding of what the three-act story structure is and how it’s effective.
Talk to Me, Arrowheads!
Are you a movie nerd? What have movies taught you about writing that I didn’t mention in this post? Let me know in the comments!
Aim high, stay strong, and always hit your mark.