Follow by Email

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How Movies Influence Plot and Character Development

Please join me in welcoming Alex J. Cavanaugh! Alex has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He is experienced in technical editing and worked with an adult literacy program for several years. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games, and he covers those topics on his blog. His first book, CassaStar, was released last fall and is available in trade paperback and all eBook formats. The sequel, CassaFire, comes out next February.


Movies and books - they really do tie together! Besides the fact I can discuss movies anytime, I think writers can learn a lot from watching films. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Two hours isn’t a lot of time to develop characters in a movie. Some filmmakers don’t even try. (Why bother with character development? Just add more special effects!) We all know one-dimensional characters make for a crappy movie though.

However, when a filmmaker does it right, we get to see great characterization in action. Think of all the fine details: facial expressions; body language; dress; residence; personal items; the five senses in action; etc. (These things can fly past on the screen, so we have to watch for them.) All of those aspects go into developing a detailed character and once we learn to look for them, we can add them to our writing.

Plots are similar. Some storylines are so lame and poorly executed, you wonder who green-lit this mess? (Maybe the director has a photo of the producer with a donkey or something?)

I think we can learn just as much from the bad ones as from the good ones. Those plot holes big enough to drive a bus through - how would we fix them? Films that move at a snail’s pace - what could we do to speed things up a bit?

When the plot works on every level, there’s a rhythm. It hits all the right notes and maintains a good pace. While a book doesn’t move as quickly as a movie, we can still create rhythm with our words.

So the next time someone gives you grief about your movie watching habits, tell them it’s research.

You are now free to move about the movie theater!

Alex J. Cavanaugh
http://alexjcavanaugh.blogspot.com/
http://twitter.com/AlexJCavananugh
CassaStar by Alex J. Cavanaugh
Science fiction/adventure/space opera
ISBN Print 9780981621067 eBook 9780982713938

45 comments:

p.m.terrell said...

Welcome to my blogspot, Alex! I'm looking forward to your Army joining me today. I completely agree about movies and writing. When I watch a movie that elicits a strong emotion, I often buy it and turn on the Director's comments. What I learn about their inspiration and often how they turn books into movies has greatly improved my own writing.

Mason Canyon said...

Patricia, thanks for hosting Alex.

Alex, you make a great point here. Those characters that the filmmaker has put some time and thought into are the ones we want to see time and time again - Jack Sparrow, Indy Jones, and such.

Mason
Thoughts in Progress
Freelance Editing By Mason

iZombie said...

i agree, movies and plots with a dash of character development... some movies don't need it like transformers. i want to say this is why stephen king finally took his books to television. hollywood is a giant robot in disguise... if it's popular one summer expect five movies the same style the next summer. great job alex and p.m. for hosting a very insightful guy.

jeremy

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks again, Patricia!

Thanks Mason and Jeremy. Now, go watch some movies.

Stephen Tremp said...

Hmmmm ... I wonder if this research can be used as a tax write off. But seriously folks, movies are a great source of inspiration for a writer. I watched shows using wormholes so I could get a better idea of what they might look like. Fortunately, there are so many shows wmploying wormholes. Every little bit helps.

Carol Kilgore said...

Excellent points. I usually get so caught up in the story I forget about watching for the things that make it good. I pay more attention to things in a bad movie.

Tara Tyler said...

totally loved it!
and dont we all see the movie in our heads and try to capture it? not to mention dream of a movie deal?
great job, alex!

Isis Rushdan said...

Completely agree with you, Alex. Whenever I do a movie review, I try to show writers what they can learn from the film. Every time I watch a movie, it's really research :).

Bossy Betty said...

Great job, Alex! I enjoyed this!

Heidi Windmiller said...

Hi, Patricia--I'm a new follower from Alex's blog!

Alex--Yes, yes, yes! I've been struggling with craft of writing books and their general, non specific discussions of plotting stories. I've since turned to reading some how to write screenplay books and have found the help they offer in plotting films applies very well to novels. There are some differences, but looking at how screenplays are written has helped me tremendously!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Thank you Alex! Love the invitation to be free to move about the movie theater!

Many of my friends actually give me trouble about giving up cable TV and just going with Netflix and movie theater visits. As a family, we just decided we like watching stories more than . . . um, stuff without a plot. and news can be found in print or on-line easily.

I totally agree that you can learn about storytelling from movies, just ask my kids. We talk plot, characterization, pacing, and details fairly often - and it's not even something we do on purpose for education. We just talk about those things because it's fun.

Laila Knight said...

This is actually a fine post with tons of valid points. As a visual person I've found myself writing more than once and asking...hmm, how would such and such character act if he were in a movies? It really does work. :)

p.m.terrell said...

Thanks, everybody, for stopping by and leaving comments. I am love, love, loving all the feedback on movies. When I turned on the Director's comments on the "Original Sin" DVD (starring Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas) he talked about how they had to change the identity of the murderer from the book... The book had him off-stage all the time, which can't be done in movies. The audience has to SEE someone or they feel cheated. So they combined two characters into one. Information like that has helped me write my suspense/thrillers. It could be one of the main reasons readers tell me my books are so easy to visualize. I'm a movie fanatic!

Doralynn Kennedy said...

Hi P.M., thanks for having Alex as a guest blogger today. He's such a great blogger. Hi Alex, I love movies and I think I've learned a lot from them as a writer. I especially love the movies that develop character and don't move along at a "snail's pace" (though I even enjoy some of them). I'm not crazy about non-stop action with no "character", though. They bore me and wear me out.

Leovi said...

Create rhythm in cinema is much easier, as well as the word has the support of images and sound. But creating the right rhythm with just words in a literary work requires much talent. For me one of the great masters in this respect was Charles Bukowski.

Raising Marshmallows said...

I think I'll go do some research right now! Great post as always...Nikki

Donna K. Weaver said...

I know some (lots) of movie goers really love the action. I like action, too, but I especially love character development. I like to compare things to the two volanoish films that came out many years ago: Volcano and Dante's Peak. We're not talking high art here, but they were entertaining. However I've always preferred Dante's Peak because they took more time to develop the characters, made me care more about them. I could never get into Tommy Lee Jones's daughter. Let the lava eat her.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Stephen, think we can write off our movie tickets? Hey, every movie I've seen with space ships helped me envision the ones in CassaStar.

Carol, that can help as well, because we don't want to write that way!

Tara, I'm still dreaming of a movie deal!

Isis, and some research is fun!

Heidi, like Save the Cat? I got a lot out of that book even though it's about writing screenplays.

Tyrean, that makes you a smart mom!

Laila, I made valid points? A first!

Patricia, that would've been hard to do in the movie.

Thanks, Doralynn! I can handle the no-brainer action films, but I need to be prepared.

Leovi, indeed! Yeah, it's really tough in books.

Nikki, happy movie watching!

Donna, that made me laugh! I preferred Dante's Peak as well. It was more than just a rush of action.

Thanks again, Patricia!

Charles Gramlich said...

I remember being surprised at one point to find that even writers like Robert E. Howard were influenced by movies. I would not have thought so orginally. I see movie influence in my own books, although I tend to think it's fairly minimal

Karen S. Elliott said...

You can get a feel for a character in one shrug or eye roll in a movie. Or by what they do - they are a high-priced corporate attorney or a pro bono attorney; they stand up to someone who hits a woman or they don't. And this translates to "show don't tell" in the books. Good post! Thanks for sharing.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Charles, I think mine's fairly maximal. And that's not even a word!

Thanks, Karen!

Kelly said...

Great post. I think writers can learn from movies. What not to do too!

M Pax said...

I think I learn more from the bad ones, although I tend not to remember them. Is that my brain protecting itself? lol

Empty Nest Insider said...

Patricia, Thanks for hosting Alex! I agree that both books and movies have to have a "rhythm" in order to keep them interesting. I give this review 4 Hot Tamales (jumbo boxes)! Julie

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Pacing is important in both books and movies. And sometimes it takes us a while to figure it out. Good post, Alex!

p.m.terrell said...

Thanks so much, everybody, for all the great comments. I agree that Alex is the best blogger EVER, especially with his follow-up comments. And his Army Rocks!!

I will think of movie watching as research from here on...

Lynda R Young said...

Great post. I'm constantly analysing movies for their pacing and story and character development so I can learn what works and what doesn't. I probably get the most from bad movies because I'm not distracted by a good story and I get my enjoyment from ripping it apart (lol).

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Kelly, exactly!

Mary, I think it is.

Julie, thanks for the Hot Tamales! And jumbo boxes - yes!

Patricia, that's just it - it's not me, it's my awesome Army.

Lynda, yeah, it's easy to get caught up in a good story.

Powdered Toast Man said...

So now I have to lie and say that I am writing a book to get away with all my movie watching?

Damyanti said...

When the plot works on every level, there’s a rhythm. It hits all the right notes and maintains a good pace.


I totally agree, and it is very true of a book too! Thanks for hosting Alex, Patricia..he's one of the kindest and most talented bloggers I've met in the blogiverse :)

julie fedderson said...

The best movie characters jump off the screen because of the little nuances of their character. When an author captures those subtleties on paper, that's a gripping read. Totally worthy of Hot Tamales.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

PTM, yes!

Damy, thank you!

Julie, yes it is!

laughingwolf said...

well said, alex :)

thx patricia!

for a similar take, see alexandra sokoloff's blog [link in my sidebar]; she's an author AND screenwriter, dispensing her knowledge for free; she also offers courses at schools and online, for which she charges...

Michael Offutt said...

Super 8 is an example of great storytelling.

Aleta said...

I never thought about it that way, but if a movie director can develop the characters within a 2 hour time frame and complete the story as well... then it would be good research on doing the same with the written word. Nice.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Laughing Wolf, thanks! I've read Save the Cat and the idea of writing a screenplay seems daunting.

Michael, Super 8 was an amazing movie.

Thanks, Aleta!

The Golden Eagle said...

Until I started writing, I didn't pay nearly so much attention to the details when I watched movies; if it was bad, I didn't bother figuring out why. Now I focus a lot more!

Great post.

p.m.terrell said...

Alex, your Army Rocks! I love all the comments and I'm enjoying seeing how so many people have thought about their own writing in relation to what they see on The Big Screen. Very thought provoking! I'll never look at movie watching the same way again!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Golden, that's good!

Thanks again, Patricia.

Karen Lange said...

Good post! You make some great points, Alex. Patricia, thanks for hosting Alex.

Have a great weekend!

Tina said...

Books to movies is a risky business, IMHO. Those attempting this trek need (should) take the writers work and go from there. Sigh. Totally wished society wasn't so completely FUBAr-ed.
Tina @ Life is Good

Lola X said...

Absolutely fantastic blog!!! Glad I found it! Love it!!!

Lola x
http://lola-x.blogspot.com

Kari Marie said...

Great post Alex. I've been wondering about this for a while. I've been using movies to review basic plot structure within genres, but I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about character development. Of course I can always think of scenes I thought were particularly well acted, but to study those scenes from that viewpoint will be interesting. Thanks!

Nice Blog Patricia!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks, Kari! I recommend reading Save the Cat as well. It's on screenwriting, but a lot of it applies to books.

Siv Ottem said...

Nicely said ALex. Feeling a little less guilty for watching a movie instead of reading a book :) Research...I like that!