by Deborah Raney
If I’d known my first novel—a story about a family dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease—would be made into a movie, I would have written it very differently. But when I got my first glimpse of the script, I understood immediately why the screenwriters had changed so many elements from my novel. Too many of my scenes took place in a character’s head—in his memories or her internal dialogue. I’m so grateful it was my first novel that made it to the silver screen because the experience of seeing my story turned into a script changed the way I wrote my next thirty novels.
Since learning more about screenwriting, I’ve discovered methods of applying film techniques to my writing in a way that makes my novels more visually vivid, more “cinematic,” and hopefully more likely to be turned into movies in the future! Here are ten techniques that translate particularly well to books:
Don't say: Little did he know it would be their last night together.
Instead: The doorbell made him jump. He flipped off the hallway light and pushed back the curtain. A police cruiser idled on the snowy driveway, the exhaust forming eerie clouds in the chill night air. The emergency lights strobed, then dimmed, and a paunchy officer stepped out of the driver’s seat.
Don’t reveal why that officer is there until the next chapter… or maybe two. (But also, don’t frustrate your reader by making them wait too long for answers.)
2. Establishing shot
The thin trail of smoke slithered toward the clouds like a cobra charmed by the music of the coming rain. Though it was hard to tell how far in the distance the fire was, it worried Daria. It seemed more than a bonfire. And hours too early for that besides
She turned back to the flatbread she was making, slapping the coarse dough hard with the heel of her hand, forming a thin disc that would fry crisp in a pan of grease over the coals.3. Jump cuts and fade outs
Literary “dissolves” work especially well in comedy where a character says, “Oh, Harvey would never do that." And of course, the next scene opens with Harvey doing exactly that.
It didn’t take long to pull on jeans, T-shirt, and boots. Then he headed for the back door. The night air was cool, and the moon had risen, casting a soft white glow over the valley.7. Magic Hour
Don’t make the mistake of sending your book into the world before the soundtrack is laid! Give your character a musical instrument to play. Have him always singing or humming or whistling. Have music from a grocery store waft to her ears. The reader will “hear” those songs, and your story will be so much richer for it. And don’t forget that rain, wind, whispering leaves, ocean waves, etc. make a music all their own.
It would take a big chunk of your advance to quote too many words of a song’s lyrics, but you can cite titles to your heart’s content. Here’s how I evoked a soundtrack for A Nest of Sparrows (WaterBrook Press/Random House) and my country music-loving hero Wade Sullivan.
Wade flipped on the radio and cranked up the volume. Garth Brooks’s voice carried over the wind. The lyrics wove a story from the old cliché, blood is thicker than water. But it was the last line of the song that caused his throat to tighten and a knot to form in his gut. But love is thicker than blood. Wade hoped a certain judge at the Coyote County courthouse believed that.And later, a different kind of music:
Wade listened to the everyday sounds of his house—the patter of the kids’ bare feet on the hardwood floors, the creaking of the house’s old pipes as the kids turned the water off and on, the lilt of their thin voices wafting downstairs. He’d taken it all for granted. Too late, he recognized it as music. A melodic air that had changed keys and been transposed to a dirge before he’d made time to appreciate the happy tune.9. Crosscut
10. Product Placement
These are only a few of the film techniques that can be adapted to novel writing and thus bring your story to the reader in living color. There are no doubt others that could be translated for literary use, but for now, that’s a wrap!
Writing Cinematically by Deborah Raney (Click to Tweet)
DEBORAH RANEY's first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title and launched her writing career after twenty happy years as a stay-at-home mom. She has since written over 30 books, including novels for Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Harlequin. Deb is on the board of the 2600-member American Christian Fiction Writers, and teaches at writers conferences around the country. Deb and husband, Ken Raney, traded small-town life in Kansas––the setting of many of Deb's novels––for life in the friendly city of Wichita. They love traveling to visit four children and a growing brood of grandchildren who all live much too far away. Visit Deb on the Web at www.deborahraney.com.
Book Blurb for Home at Last:
Link Whitman has settled into the role of bachelor without ever intending to. Now he’s stuck in a dead-end job and, as the next Whitman wedding fast approaches, he is the last one standing. The pressure from his sisters’ efforts to play matchmaker is getting hard to bear as Link pulls extra shifts at work, and helps his parents at the Chicory Inn.
All her life, Shayla Michaels has felt as if she straddled two worlds. Her mother’s white family labeled her African American father with names Shayla didn’t repeat in polite–well, in any company. Her father’s family disapproved as well, though they eventually embraced Shayla as their own. After the death of her mother, and her brother Jerry’s incarceration, life has left Shayla’s father bitter, her niece, Portia, an orphan, and Shayla responsible for them all. She knows God loves them all, but why couldn’t people accept each other for what was on the inside? For their hearts?
Everything changes one icy morning when a child runs into the street and Link nearly hits her with his pickup. Soon he is falling in love with the little girl’s aunt, Shayla, the beautiful woman who runs Coffee’s On, the bakery in Langhorne. Can Shayla and Link overcome society’s view of their differences and find true love? Is there hope of changing the sometimes-ugly world around them into something better for them all?