Learning to Write through Life: Movies

You may have noticed I’ve been a little quiet lately. I’d reached a point in my writing known as burn-out. We had a multitude of events in our life, and I started to feel overwhelmed. I shut my laptop, stepped away, and enjoyed my family.

It refreshed me. Now, I’m back working on hard edits of my work-in-progress that I’m hoping to enter in contests this year.

But my break also sparked the idea for a new series.

Learning to Write Through Life.

Life is filled with learning opportunities whether you’re a child or an adult. The more I grow as a writer, the more I connect real life to fiction.

Today, I’m talking specifically about learning to write through movies and TV shows.

After a day of breaking up the millionth fight over toys or ignoring the hundredth temper tantrum, my husband and I often wind down by watching Heartland on Netflix.

The story centers around two sisters who lost their mom in a car accident and their attempts to run the ranch which has been in their family for six generations.

I’ve found that Heartland isn’t only a beautifully acted show, but the writing is also excellent. The writers weave together plots and dialogue so well that you’re immersed for the whole hour.

Books can do that too. We as a culture are used to a fast paced society. Readers expect more than ever for authors to pull them in to the book they’ve written. It’s not an easy task. It takes humility, sweat, tears, and a whole lot of thick skin.

But it’s worth it. And movies are a perfect tool to learn.

Learning to Write through Dialogue.

TV shows and movies that are well-written excel in dialogue. You can’t get in the characters mind the way you do in a book so the writers rely on dialogue, body language, and facial expression to portray the story.

When we read, we often skim the narrative for the interesting parts. If you skip something when you read a book, it’s likely other readers do the same–so cut. One of the interesting parts is dialogue which adds conflict, layers the plot, and moves the story along.

For example, in Heartland, the grandfather, Jack, uses idioms I’ve never heard of and speaks out the side of his mouth the way an older generation did.

Tim, the father, starts speaking and you think, “Oh no.”

Lou, the older sister, speaks with elegance. She spent time in the business world in New York before returning to the ranch in Canada.

Ty speaks in shorter sentences, often just giving the facts.

Amy speaks passionately about almost everything so she tends to go on tangents.

In fact, both Lou and Amy do. They speak completely differently than the men.

Doesn’t that sound like real life?

Use movies to study the art of dialogue and notice the nuances that you need to improve your writing.

No two people speak exactly the same way. Their life is shaped by their gender, personality, and background. The best way to write better dialogue is to listen. 

Learning to Write through Plot. 

I love following certain TV shows. You get to know the characters and watch them grow. In Heartland, my favorite characters are Amy and Ty. The way they react in the first episode is so different from the way they act in the most recent episode. Their getting ready to start their 11th season so time has passed. Amy grew from a teenage girl who lost her mom to a young woman with an immense gift for horses. Ty changed from a moody delinquent to a veterinarian who’s abandoned the life he thought he was destined for.

All their actions are dictated by their past experiences. We do that too. So do characters in books.

With TV shows, you see the main plot layered with sub plots, and you see the way the characters change season after season.

With movies, you see the main plot layered with subplots, as they head toward (hopefully) a happy ending.

Don’t get me wrong. You’ll get this from books. In fact, you should get this from books. But sometimes you consume books at a more leisurely pace so you may not pick up on all the layering that you would in a movie. Since a TV show is between thirty minutes to an hour, and a movie is two hours, you often watch it in one sitting so you see the way the plot develops. It’ll help you to strengthen the plot development of your own stories.

Learning to Write through Subtitles.

When I first married my husband, I discovered he listened to TV much quieter than I did. I’m hard of hearing so I naturally want to blast it.

When our kids were born, it became even more imperative that we keep the sound down so they could sleep while we relaxed. So we turned on the subtitles.

When you add the subtitles, you see exactly what they’re saying. The subtle way each character speaks a little differently. Also, the subtitles describe the sounds that we sometimes tune out.

Then, when you’re writing, you can piece together the sensory elements with the dialogue and the plot in a much stronger way.

Now, watching movies and shows isn’t the only way to improve your craft, but it is one way. I’ll be honest. My days of leisure reading and watching are long gone. Almost everything I do, I study with a writer’s eye.

Learn. Grow. Write. 

Your Turn:

Anything you’d like to add? How can you utilize movie watching for your benefit as a writer?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *