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Inspiration for Beginning Writers

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Writing inspiration from movies

Writing Tip — Learning Deep POV from Movies

tower-viewerw-698847_1280“You have trouble with show, don’t tell.”

If one more agent told me that at the conference, I would tear my hair out. Or their hair out. Either way, I’d make the conference unforgettable. What prevented me from taking this drastic action was the recommendation of the book Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (and Really Getting It) by Janice Hardy.

Once I had studied the book, I though I was finally grasping the concept through the idea of deep point of view (POV). At around the same time, I watched a movie I hadn’t seen in years, Inferno from 1953. As I watched this country noir about a wife and her boyfriend leaving her injured husband to die in the desert, I realized that is the perfect film example of deep POV.

Deep POV is the writing technique in which everything the character thinks and senses is in the present moment. If your POV character is fleeing for her life, she can’t ruminate on the injustices her sister has committed against her over the last twenty years. She only. thinks of how to escape or turn and attack her pursuer. Deep POV gives a writers a structure that makes info dumps, such as backstories, very difficult. In every piece of fiction, somethings just need to be told to the reader, but the writer has to slip these in a natural or logical way using deep POV so as not to destroy the illusion that the reader is perceiving the literary world through the mind of the POV character.

In Inferno, there are two story threads: scenes with the wife and boyfriend trying to lead authorities astray as they look for the husband and scenes with the husband trying to survive in the Californian desert with a broken leg. Robert Ryan, the actor who plays the husband, is alone in all his scenes. So he does a voice-over to let the audience know what he’s thinking. All his thoughts pertain directly to the situation he’s in. The director didn’t add flashbacks to show how the marriage went on the rocks, which I think would ruin the suspense of the film. When the husband’s thoughts do wander, it makes perfect sense for the scenes, such as when he’s dying of thirst and he remembers how water is more plentiful during the springtime in the desert.

Another aspect of show, don’t tell is not stating the emotions characters experience, but creating gestures, facial expressions, and dialogue to convey their emotions. In Inferno, Robert Ryan’s actions and expressions perfectly match his thoughts and feelings. When he tells himself a joke, his half-smile conveys the humor but also how dumb he thinks it is. When he sits by a campfire, considering what to do with his wife and her boyfriend if he escapes, his face is grim and determined. When he thinks the boyfriend has returned to make sure he’s dead, he freezes as the awful realization of who is looking for him sinks in. Then he frantically puts out a signal fire he started and flings himself under a stunted tree. All these actions show his terror.

Robert Ryan is such a masterful actor that he makes all his scenes alone compelling, and even though his character isn’t likable at the start of the movie, he makes you sympathize with the horrible situation he’s in. If you like adventure or crime movies, you  should go out of your way to find Inferno.

What other movies have you seen where you feel you’ve really climbed into the mind of a character?

 

 

 

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: Movie Music

musical-backgroundw-3817618_1280For me, a movie’s music can elevate a good film to greatness. Or take a good movie down to mediocre level. I would love for audio books to be scored like movies, and I know a few authors who compile playlists to accompany their books. Here are two movies that have scores which make a huge difference to the quality of the movie.

Island at the Top of the World

This Disney adventure movie captured my imagination as a teenager. I don’t know if the movie was one of their top productions because there are no big name stars and the some of the special effects are clunky even for the ’70’s. Maurice Jarre composed the gorgeous score. This composer won Best Score Oscars for Lawrence of Arabia. Dr. Zhivago, and A Passage to India.

He wrote one theme to highlight the hunt for a legendary land where whales to go die. It’s slow and mysterious. He uses the same tune but with different orchestration and tempo to accompany the appearances of the Vikings. (And if you want to know why there are Vikings and whales in the same movie, click on this link.)

Ten Little Indians(1966)

Several adaptations of this Agatha Christie play have been filmed under various titles. Ten people are invited to a secluded location, where a recorded voices tells them they have gotten away with crimes until day. Now justice will be served, and the characters die off, one by one.

This 1966 version is okay. The director seems to have added scenes, like a long fist fight, because he thought audiences needed action. The performances from several wonderful British character actors are a lot of fun.

But the score is completely inappropriate. The jazz score has not a note of mystery or suspense in it. In some scenes, the brass sounds likes they are playing for a strip tease. For more on this movie, read the article from Turner Classic movies.

What are some of your favorite movie music? What are some you can’t stand?

Writing Tip — When Frustration Leads to Inspiration

manw-390339_1280Some movies are great, some movies are terrible, and some are fixer-uppers. It’s the fixer-uppers that inspire me the most. These are movies with some good bones — good direction, good acting, or a good script. But I find something could be better, and I like the movie well enough that I’m frustrated it doesn’t succeed. That’s when frustration leads to inspiration.

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones is a fixer-upper for me. My husband and I watched this in the theater while we were dating. It was much better than The Phantom Menace. Watching tiny Yoda face-off against the towering Christopher Lee, one of my favorite villains, in a light saber duel was worth the price of admission. But I sense a missed opportunity, and so my imagination took off.

Because Clones was the second movie in a trilogy, I though it should mirror The Empire Strikes Back, the second movie in the first set of Star Wars films. Senator Palpatine could instruct Anakin in the dark side of the Force, doing the flip side of what Yoda taught Luke.

Another movie I thoroughly enjoyed was Leave No Trace (2018). This wonderful movie, about a traumatized U.S. veteran and his teenage daughter living off the grid in the Pacific Northwest, succeeded on so many levels: acting, directing, casting, and more. What let me down were the final, few scenes. I thought the father’s action didn’t ring true with how his character acted during the rest of the movie. Because I like it so well, I analyzed why I felt those scenes didn’t work and what the screenwriters could have done to achieve the same ending in a way that made more sense for the characters.

Exercises like this give my imagination a work out. It helps it stay sharp when I tackle my own writing. I keep in mind the lessons that I’ve learned from watching fixer-upper movies, such as when I write a scene, and the words or actions of a character sound as wrong as an out-of-tune piano. I know I’m not writing about him or her in a consistent way and must go back and fix the scene.

Sometimes a movie frustrates so much, I want to take its scenes and work them into one of my stories, just to prove to myself that I can be written differently.

What movies have you found frustrating? How would you fix them?

Writing Tip — Casting Against Type

acting1-4013244_1280Last week, I mentioned director Alfred Hitchcock’s rule of maximizing a setting. He was also brilliant with his casting. He had to be. In a thriller, there’s little time for backstory or deep character development. I believe Hitchcock knew that if he cast certain kinds of actors who already carried a certain persona with them that would help flesh out their characters without a word of dialogue. If he needed a relatable, easy-going all-American male, he cast James Stewart. If he wanted a debonair leading man, he cast Cary Grant. But Hitchcock also knew the value of casting against type.

Strangers on a Train

In this movie from 1951, two strangers meet on a train. One is a well-known tennis player, Guy Haines . The other is a rich man’s grown son, Bruno Anthony. Haines’s troubled marriage is well publicized, and Anthony suggests they swap murders — he’ll do in Haines’s wife if Haines will kill his father. Haines’s gets away from the weirdo but humoring him and saying he agrees with the idea. Anthony takes him seriously and kills his wife. Now he expects Haines to uphold his end of the deal.

What made Bruno Anthony one of classic movie’s great villains was that he was played by an actor known for his cute, boy-next-door roles. To cast such an actor as a spoiled brat psycho was unusual at the time, but actor Robert Walker was up to the task. His Bruno glides into a room and charms everyone he meets. But when someone thwarts his plans, he’s like a child having a temper tantrum. Only this child has no problem committing murder.

Pyscho

Hitchcock pulled the same trick in Pyscho, casting Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. Up until that role, the actor had specialized in sensitive types, sometimes battling against stronger characters or his own emotions or neuroses. Norman Bates can be seen as an extreme example of these roles. Anthony Perkins was cast so well that many people in Hollywood couldn’t see him in any part but a psycho after that.

Know Your Genre

One way to create characters that are cast against type is to have a thorough knowledge of the genre in which you write. In YA novels, the bratty rich kid and the decent poor kid are types I find over and over again. Often, the poor kid has won a scholarship to a private school and must deal with mistreatment at the hands of the rich kids until she is accepted or fights back or is changed by some dramatic events. Why not have the poor kid as the villain? One of the rich students could be the main character and comes under the sway of the new, poor kid, who uses others to get ahead.

What character types are you tired of? How would you cast them against type?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: Who Are Your Favorite Movie Villains?

canvasw-3001164_1280A hero looks even better matched with a worthy villain. Would Sherlock Holmes have near the enduring popularity if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hadn’t invented Professor Moriarity to combat him? A couple of my favorites are:

Supreme Chancellor Palpatine from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Revenge of the SithThe Chancellor is a wonderful villain before he becomes the evil Emperor. I wish the writers had given him more scenes because actor Ian McDiarmid does such a marvelous job of conveying the character’s insidious campaign of seducing Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side. His scene with Anakin in a theater lets you figure out just how evil the Chancellor is.

Harry Lime from The Third ManIn this film noir, American Holly Martins comes to Vienna right after WWII to meet his friend Harry Lime only to learn that his friend has died in a car accident. Martins suspects murder and conducts his own investigation. The character of Harry Lime is discussed throughout the investigation, and the audience gets to know him from the various descriptions from different characters. It all builds to a intriguing picture of a charming rogue, who, at some point, abandoned the charm, and is now a murderous rogue. I don’t want to spoil the movie, but Harry Lime is one of the all time great villains of movie history.

Who are your favorite movie villains?

 

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