How Movies Help Us Become Better Writers

field-of-dreams-movie-posterHave you ever noticed how movies can help you become a better writer? Let’s talk for a moment about how movies help us hone our craft.

First, movies don’t just entertain, they teach. Movies teach us how to make an emotional connection with readers in a similar way that film makes an emotional connection with us. And they do this by helping us live more reflectively.

Ken Gire, author of The Reflective Life, says it this way: “Movies are particularly good at helping us live more reflective lives. Movies give us a couple of hours in the dark, to laugh, to cry, to think, to lose ourselves in someone else’s story. What they do better than any other medium, is to help us see. The way the camera moves in for a close-up, emphasizing something important. The way the film speed slows down, extending a moment so we can experience it more fully. If we learn to see there, in a movie, it is likely we will learn to see elsewhere. That’s why I love the movies. They help us to see life.”

Gire is right. And when see life with greater clarity, we write about it better too. Movies also help us feel life. When a movie resonates with you emotionally, you’re better equipped to visualize life’s precious moments in your mind before you express them on paper. This leads to my next point.

Movies allow us to visualize & analyze story structure. Screenwriters and directors are superb storytellers. When you’re wrestling with how to structure a scene in your novel, you can take a lesson from the way it was handled in film. Films often demonstrate how to set up a scene, how to foreshadow, how to move the characters through crisis, climax, and resolution. Rather than reading another book on story structure, outlining, plot development, endings, watch a good movie that demonstrates these points.

Movies allow us to look deeply into characters and see things we didn’t see before. Gire makes this point. “Sometimes if we look at people a little more closely than we normally do, or from a little farther away, or from a different angle, or from another time, say, when they were kids, we see something in them that maybe we have never seen before.”

This says a lot about character development and how we all are, to some degree, products of our past. Thus, we need to paint characters with a detailed past that allows readers to interpret how their past shaped them and contributed to their present flaws.

Movies inspire us. I often return from movies feeling inspired to write about a related subject in my life. Movies motivate me to find better ways to tell my stories. How can I make my story resonate with readers the way that particular movie resonated with me? How can I create a similar emotional response?

Have you noticed how movies inspire you to think more deeply about a subject? One of my favorite movies is Field of Dreams. You know the story. Kevin Costner plays Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella.

Shoeless Joe JacksonThe story begins with a curve ball. (Pun intended.) Kinsella is told by a voice from heaven to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield. The baseball diamond will significantly reduce his crop yield and could force him to lose his farm. His instructions from above are cryptic and have become a part of American vernacular: “If you build it, he will come,” the voice assures him. Throughout the film we believe, along with Kinsella, that “he” refers to his estranged father’s hero, Shoeless Joe Jackson, a major league baseball player for the Chicago White Sox in the early 20th century. Kinsella concludes if he reveres his father’s hero, he may also learn to revere his deceased father.

In the final minutes of the film, as the baseball team walks off the diamond and fades into the cornfield, Shoeless Joe Jackson turns to Kinsella, “If you build it, he will come,” he says as he glances over Kinsella’s shoulder at the catcher standing behind him. Kinsella turns and slowly walks toward the catcher. As this unidentified player slowly removes his catcher’s mask, Kinsella realizes the young catcher is his father. The music comes up and emotion sweeps over the audience as Kinsella asks his father if they can play catch. In a simple game of catch hearts are reconciled. Kinsella can barely speak. Neither can we.

This film reaches far beyond baseball. It tugs, no it yanks, at the heartstrings of every father and son. This film inspired me to relish my relationship with my father and my young sons.

So, the next time you see a movie that resonates with you ask yourself a simple question. How can this story help me become a better storyteller?

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Published in: on April 17, 2014 at 9:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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