Sunday, March 13, 2016

How Watching Film Can Help You Write...and Write Well

Last weekend, I and a handful of my fellow authors and friends (including my much-valued critique partner, who was skeptical at first but ended up attending if only to give herself a deserved break) attended a Bob Mayer workshop here in Shreveport. Admittedly, I didn't know much about Bob Mayer. He writes to every genre, including non-fiction, so it wasn't for lack of simply not reading what he puts out there. When I'm writing, I tend to re-read stories that make me feel comfortable and well-kept in my tiny little author bubble. Sounds strange, maybe, but I'll be willing to wager there's a fair lot of you who know exactly what I'm talking about.

Bob spoke of many things. In fact, I imagine the spread of subjects he covered would've been easier to fully teach over a span of perhaps 2-3 days, rather than 9-5. However, he did a great job, and I learned more than I anticipated, especially for the low fee ($50). 

One morsel in the bowl he touched on more than once was watching film to learn and understand how Goal, Motivation, and Conflict really work. Simple, really: Hollywood spends millions of dollars to put screenplays to film production and while some movies appeal more to one group than others and very seldom everyone, they almost always are well thought out in their scene-by-scene escalade to a (hopefully) satisfactory ending. In fact, a fellow author once suggested I watch the "deleted scenes" selection of a few movies, just to help with editing and knowing what should be cut. Good advice.

Bob explained there should ideally be two levels of conflict in every scene -- internal and external.

An easy example would be the scene from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in which Frodo and his three hobbit companions arrive at the Inn of the Prancing Pony. They've just narrowly escaped the Nazg├╗l (external) and are safe a the inn at which they expect to meet up with Gandalf. Seated and enjoying their ale, they talk amongst themselves, all the while nervous and noting stares from many people in the room, including that strange hooded bloke in the corner (external). Since we're in Frodo's PoV, of course, we gather from his body language and from his absentminded rolling of the Ring around his fingertips that he is already warring with the power embodied within the Ring itself (internal). 

Admittedly, it's pretty fun to do this, if you're OK with not sitting down and just enjoying a movie for entertainment value. I'd suggest practicing on films you've already seen. In Becoming Jane (which I'm watching as I type this), there is a scene in which the hero, Tom, a city boy in every sense of the word, has just arrived in the country and is, unsurprisingly, not fitting in. At the suggestion of his uncle, he takes a walk into the woods to gain his bearings. He swats at greenery with his expensive cane (external) because he is irritated of being sent to the country (internal). And then he runs into Jane, a country girl who is quite comfortable in her surroundings--the same girl he insulted not half an hour prior (external). Jane is walking the woods to blow of steam, too, after Tom slammed her writing (internal). When she sees him, she tries for avoidance but he's already spotted her (external), and so she tries to be polite. An amusing ping-pong match of polite insults ensues and they part ways far more frustrated than they were before they attempted to find calm in the wood (internal). 

So, there's two examples of, one, how GMC works in film of two totally different genres and, two, how GMC can equally work in our written words. The reader should be transported, seatbelt fastened for a full immersion into the world we've created and the characters who drive the story.

Hope this is helpful. Make sure to check out Bob Mayer's website at

Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,


1 comment

Andrew Leon said...

A story is a story whether it's written or visual.

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