Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Caitlin Hensley: Learning from Screenwriters

Today I am very happy to share with you a guest post by Caitlin Hensley. Caitlin was interviewed here a few weeks ago, and you can find her interview by clicking on the "Interviews" tab at the top of the page. To easily find this post in the future just click on the "Guest Posts" tab. Enjoy!


Authors can learn a lot from screenwriters. "But books," you might say. "They're totally different from movies!" And that's true, I agree. Yet you can still learn from examining the process that screenwriters go through, and thus improve your own writing. Here are five tips from screenplays that might help you with your book.

1. Imagine the first part of your book as a screenplay. If your book's beginning was playing on a big screen, what would the audience think? How would they react? Would the opening scenes engage or bore them?

2. Writers are always dealing with the dilemma of showing versus telling. One great way to determine whether a piece is showing or telling is to think to yourself: Can the camera see this? If the lines in your book were actually scenes being acted out and filmed, what would be happening? "My mother likes books" can't be shown on camera. But "My mother can often be found in the armchair in the living room, legs curled up under her, a worn paperback open on her lap" is perfect. That's showing, not telling.

3. Another good thing to remember is to start late. In individual scenes, don't waste time on characters greeting each other politely and talking about the weather. Launch right in to the scene and get things moving. You don't want your readers (or viewers) to fall asleep before the characters get to the juicy part of the scene. In a book, sometimes cutting the first few and last few lines of dialogue really strengthens a scene.

4. Characters need to be memorable so that they don't blend in with millions of other characters that fill the fictional world around us. And these characters need memorable first entrances as well. The first time that a character enters your story, it can't be boring. Do they trip over a rug and knock a vase off the table with an explosion of shattering glass? Are they sitting up in a tree reading when another character walks past below? Are they found kissing another character's boyfriend? Whatever you decide, make that first time the character walks onto the page memorable enough that the reader will remember.

5. In movies, props are great to use in revealing character. You could use the same technique. Instead of saying that a woman is depressed, write about a wastebasket overflowing with crumpled tissues. Have another character notice the mascara smeared under her eyes and the way she keeps sniffling. Describe the dirty dishes piled on the kitchen counter and mail left unopened on the front porch.

Start using these screenwriting tips in your own writing, and you'll definitely notice a difference. Also, study movies and watch what works and what doesn't. How is a certain character introduced? How does the dialogue work? Are certain scenes awkward or boring; should parts have been cut out?

Caitlin Hensley is the author of the novelette Together Alone and the full-length novel Paranormal Legacy, scheduled to be released in March. She lives in rural Oklahoma with her family and a nutty Chihuahua. Visit her blog or Facebook page for more information.

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