Writing Cinematically: 10 Movie Techniques to Apply to Your Novel

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:

1. Cliffhanger 

Books are often labeled as cliffhangers, but the word originated as a film term. Regardless, ending every scene or chapter on a cliffhanger—leaving your character in imminent danger, or at least with an urgent text message pinging—is a good way to keep your reader turning pages. Don’t wrap everything in a tidy bow at the close of a chapter. Instead, end each scene in the middle of the action. Force the reader to turn the page to find out whether your character will survive or not. Just be certain you show that cliffhanger instead of telling your reader about it.

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

In film, an establishing shot is a long or wide-angle shot opening a scene to show the audience the locale/setting (or era, weather, time of day… whatever is most important for them to know as the scene begins). In writing, sometimes this type of opening is written in omniscient point of view, and the author then zooms in on a more specific point in the setting—inside a house, for instance. This is a great way to paint the big picture. Just remember: today’s readers don’t have patience for more than a paragraph or two of description. And omniscient is a tricky point of view to write, so you likely will want to get quickly into the head of your protagonist. Here’s how I accomplished that in my RITA award-winning novel Beneath a Southern Sky.


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

Don’t feel you must have a distinct beginning and ending for every scene. You don’t always need a formal introduction or a good-bye to the phone call. It’s usually far more effective to jump into a scene in the middle of action already in progress (without knowing what route your character took, or what kind of car she drove to get there). It’s also fine—even preferred—to end a scene in the middle of the action and simply jump to the next scene. Just be sure the opening of that scene conveys to the reader clearly and early on where the setting has moved to and how much time has passed.

4. Dissolve

In a similar way, you can end one scene and transition gradually to the next by taking a visual element from the first scene and using it in the next. In the movies, a dissolve is a film editing technique where the final image of one scene slowly morphs into the opening image of the next scene on screen. Often one element in the image will stay constant in both scenes. For example, in the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the camera might zoom in on the deadly apple as the wicked stepmother poisons it, then the image gradually changes to the next scene with an close-up of the apple in Snow White’s hand as she brings it to her mouth.

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.

5. Zooms

If the movie camera zooms in on an object, you can bet that object will play a significant role in the story later. By zooming your writer’s “camera” in and describing a close-up view of an object or action, you give it the same importance as an object zoomed in on by a cinematographer. Just don’t forget to complete the circle and come back to that object you highlighted.

6. Lighting
Describing the light in your scene—bright and sunny, hazy, moonlit, etc.—not only gives the reader a visual image to picture, but also sets the mood, or creates a metaphor for good/evil, happiness/depression, etc. The beauty of using lighting in your novel is that it can be done with just a handful of ordinary, but well-chosen words. Here’s how Robin Lee Hatcher did it in her novel Whenever You Come Around (Thomas Nelson).

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

Speaking of lighting, camera crews spend endless hours waiting for the warm but fleeting glow of sunrise or the clear blue light of evening, just before dark. Writers have the luxury of being able to capture that “magic hour” any time they choose. But it’s about so much more than what the eye can see. Setting numerous scenes in that mystical, ephemeral light can have the effect of giving your novel a surreal and magical mood. This is especially true if you write fantasy or romance, or employ elements of magical realism.

8. Soundtrack/Score
You can also create a wonderful mood for your scene by helping the reader hear the music that would be the soundtrack if your novel were a movie. Before “my” movie was released, the director sent me a rough cut—before the musical score had been added. When my husband and I were able to attend the movie premiere in Hollywood a few months later, and I saw the completed film for the first time, I was astonished at the difference music made.

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

In cinema, crosscut is the technique of interweaving clips of multiple scenes, usually chronologically, to show simultaneous events (or sometimes to emphasize themes). In writing, this can be especially effective in a thriller or suspense novel when the clock is ticking and many things are happening at once, and the reader needs to be aware of them all. These might be short scenes comprising a chapter, or consecutive chapters of only two or three pages each. Robert Parker’s novels are nearly 100 chapters long, although some of those chapters are mere paragraphs long. But they keep his novels moving at a nice clip (and his sales, too!)

10. Product Placement

Alas, a novelist doesn’t usually get paid to use the name or logo of a trademarked product in his book, but that doesn’t mean product placement can’t be used to great advantage. Bill Higgs in his debut novel Eden Hill (Tyndale House), plopped his readers firmly into 1963 with his clever (but well-integrated) mentions of a Philco radio, two-tone Nash Metropolitan automobile, Brownie camera, Oxydol detergent, and Hostess Twinkies. You probably don’t want to kill a character with a poisoned Twinkie, but you can certainly use namebrand products in a positive way to create visual images or evoke an era in your reader’s mind.

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!

TWEETABLES

Writing Cinematically by Deborah Raney (Click to Tweet)

Bring your story to the reader in living color.~ 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:

Why did their differences matter so much?


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?

Blinded by the White – Three Ways to Deal With Writers Block

by Jennifer Slattery

The white screen of death—it’s inevitable.

Even the most brilliant writers experience writer’s block on occasion, and often at the most inopportune times. This time period can be shortened, and perhaps even prevented, however, when a writer takes time to refuel, trusts God’s sovereignty, and maintains a posture of surrender.
Take time to refuel
I think it’s fair to say, most writers are idea people. We’re great at hatching—then chasing after—countless dreams. Until our schedule gets out of hand and we begin to feel depleted. Add to this all the other demands writers face each day, from marketing to editing to blogging, and it’s no wonder our brains check out from time to time.
When we’re fighting for words that refuse to come, often the best thing we can do is step away. Rest and take time to refuel—however is most effective for you. Regardless if you feel you have time to do so. In fact, it’s when we feel we’re most feeling squeezed that we need to step away. Even if that means leaving something undone.
I have a group of women I love hanging out with for the simple fact that they make me laugh. When I’m feeling drained or squeezed, I close my computer and give them a call. Laughter is healing and has the capacity to draw out the most stubborn muse. Plus, it relieves stress, and stress is a major creativity killer.
Trust God’s Sovereignty
Last week, staring at the bones of a new story and a calendar full of articles, keynotes, and guest blogs, I felt as if everything writerly in me had completely dried up. And I began to grow anxious, because really, a writer is only as good as their next idea, right? It stands to reason, when one’s creativity dies, their career dies with it.
Right?
Except, God is still in control even when our creativity stalls. Ephesians 2:10 tells me He has a plan for me. A plan He is working out, at this moment. A plan He is lovingly crafting and equipping me to fulfill. Knowing this allows me to rest in Him. As I do, something beautiful happens—I begin to die to myself, to my limited, anxious ways, and His Spirit is given free reign.
If we want to create lasting, intriguing, heart-stirring, beautiful work, we need to connect, deeply, with the Creator. With the God who formed galaxies out of nothing and who created the most colorful, diverse, and unexpected creatures. Because here’s the deal—our gift of creativity (and it is a gift) comes not from within ourselves but from God, the giver of every good and perfect gift. Our ability to create comes directly from Christ.
Creativity is Fed by Surrender
I know this. I know my greatest work, my greatest accomplishments, come from God’s Spirit working in and through me. I know only He can fulfill me, refuel me, and set my heart and mind on fire. And yet, so often, He is the very One I crowd out. I allow all my “have tos” to overshadow what I need most.
But when I pause and put God first, I find He has a way of working everything else out. Although that might result in a bit of redirecting, and yet, because God is a God of perfect wisdom and unfailing love, when He does nudge me right, left, or on a round-about, the result is always good. Better than good. Because He is good.
Writers block, unchecked, can literally lead to the death of a writer. But if God opened a door for us, be it through a contract or assignment, then we can rest assured He will enable us to walk through it. We can help on our end by taking time to refuel, trusting in His sovereignty, and maintaining a posture of surrender. By doing so, we place ourselves in the perfect position to be infused with and empowered by His unfathomably creative Holy Spirit.  
Novelist and speaker Jennifer Slattery has a passion for helping women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, (http://whollyloved.com) she and her team put on events at partnering churches designed to help women rest in their true worth and live with maximum impact. She writes devotions for Internet Café Devotions, Christian living articles for Crosswalk.com, and edits for Firefy, a Southern fiction imprint with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. When not writing, reading, or editing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband.
Visit with Jennifer online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com and connect with her on Facebook




Mitch, a contractor and house-flipper, is restoring a beautiful old house in an idyllic Midwestern neighborhood. Angela, a woman filled with regrets and recently transplanted to his area, is anything but idyllic. She’s almost his worst nightmare, and she s also working on restoring something herself. As he struggles to keep his business afloat and she works to overcome mistakes of her past, these two unlikely friends soon discover they have something unexpected in common, a young mom who is fighting to give her children a better life after her husband’s incarceration. While both Mitch and Angela are drawn to help this young mother survive, they also find themselves drawn to each other. Will a lifetime of regrets hold them back or unite them and bring redemption along with true love?

5 Ways to Spark Connections with Your Story

by Michèle Phoenix

1. Find a significant point of connection
As an English teacher, I was constantly telling my students to “write what you know.” By that, I didn’t mean that each one of their short stories, poems and screenplays needed to be autobiographical. What I was suggesting is something I’ve found to be true: if there’s a place, a character or an element of the plot line that links me to the story—so much so that I can write it out of intimate knowledge and personal identification—it will infuse the rest of the book with a sense of authority.
That’s exactly what I did in Of Stillness and Storm. My parents were missionaries to France for forty years, and I lived surrounded by devoted Christians whose hearts were in the right place, but whose priorities were sometimes obscured by their zeal to reach the unbelieving. Lauren and Sam—with their laudable strengths and deplorable flaws—are composites of the family friends who populated my childhood.
Did I have to do research into locations, lifestyles and medical details? Of course, I did. But ministry flows through my veins, and anchoring the book to that real-life knowledge helped me to write confidently and ultimately galvanized the creative process.
2. Look for “the spark” in unexpected places
To be honest, I’d wanted to write a story set on the mission field for some time, but lacked that illusive but crucial spark that becomes the impetus to sit down and start typing. I had bits and pieces floating around my mind—hints of personalities and shades of conflict—but it wasn’t until 2012, when I traveled to Kathmandu for the first time, the novel began to crystallize. I was struck by the beauty and brokenness of Nepal, and I saw in its desolate landscape and difficult living conditions a metaphor for the toll an honorable but reckless ministry can take on good people.
A story centered on a missionary couple’s personal journey from their first encounter to their moment of reckoning emerged from the geographical symbol I’d found while traveling for other reasons.
3. Let your characters teach you who they are
I’ve never been someone who carefully crafts characters before the writing begins, so for me much of the initial process is just waiting for them to reveal themselves. When Lauren first spirited her way into my mind, she carried with her the weight of a past I couldn’t wait to explore. Learning who she was and why she was became a powerful incentive to keep digging deeper.
Loving one’s characters, flawed and fallible as they may be, is also imperative. It empowers the writer to be courageous in exposing their struggles. Because I felt so devoted to Lauren, the evolution of her marriage to Sam was a story I strove to treat with unflinching honesty. The degradation of her bonds with a son she loved so fiercely was an aching exercise in resisting the urge to settle for happy endings. Aidan’s reappearance in her life was a complete surprise, even to me. But once he emerged with those four simple words—is it really you—he became someone I wanted to write boldly, a galvanizing presence in Lauren’s grappling with purpose and identity.
4. Step away, but don’t give up
Of the books I’ve had published so far (there’s one more coming in September 2017!), this is the one that was the hardest to write. Though the first drafts of other novels took me just three or four weeks to pour out, this one took me months. And here I’d thought familiarity with the context would simplify the process! There were times when I wanted to scratch it all and find another story to tell, but there was an intensity to Lauren’s “occupation” of my creative spaces that I couldn’t quell. So I powered through.
Once I found the courage to share what I’d written with select friends and critics, early feedback wasn’t all encouraging—though it was exactly right. When my college writing professor, who had volunteered to read an early draft, sent a rather bluntly-worded email to me, I realized my best intentions and efforts were not paying off. “I’m past chapter eight,” she wrote. “What will keep me reading? Is it coming soon?”
Oh, the temptation to throw in the towel—or throw out the Macbook! I set the manuscript aside for several weeks, perhaps hoping that leaving it unattended would cause a sort of literary fermentation to happen that would miraculously elevate the novel from boring to readable. Still, it tugged at my consciousness, the unfinished story crescendoing from a dull hum to an attention-grabbing screech. So when my period of pouting was over, I set to work deconstructing and reconstructing what I already had, shifting some scenes and deleting others, and generally distilling the book to its most basic, focused form.
Of Stillness and Storm was born.
5. Live around your writing
Writing is something I do. It is not the measure of my worth. Over the years, I’ve taught a handful of students who boldly declared, as Aidan does in the novel, that they—are—their—art. They were willing to rest their self-assessment and sense of value on an occupation that offers absolutely no guaranteed outcomes. How dangerous to base one’s identity on something as subjective and unpredictable as writing.
Though I’ve always loved the written word and fancied myself an author, I was fortunate enough to discover in my early adulthood that I have other strengths too—skills that have brought me a sense of purpose and productivity beyond the Russian Roulette of traditional publishing. Would my life still have meaning if Tyndale and Thomas Nelson had passed on my books? Absolutely—because there are other areas in it that motivate and fulfill me too.
Writing is important. It can be life-shaping and world-altering. So can kindness, investment in others and finding novel ways of using all one’s strengths for the betterment of self and others.
TWEETABLES

5 Ways to Spark Connections with Your Story by Michèle Phoenix (Click to Tweet)

Step away, but don’t give up~ Michèle Phoenix (Click to Tweet)

Bio:
Born in France to a Canadian father and an American mother, Michèle Phoenix is a consultant, writer and speaker with a heart for Third Culture Kids. She taught for 20 years at Black Forest Academy (Germany) before launching her own advocacy venture under Global Outreach Mission. Michèle travels globally to consult and teach on topics related to this unique people group. She loves good conversations, mischievous students, Marvel movies and paths to healing. Learn more at michelephoenix.com Twitter: @frenchphoenix
Book Blurb:
“I felt torn between two worlds. Each with its own mystery. One more captivating than the other, but the other more real and breathing.”
It took Lauren and her husband ten years to achieve their dream—reaching primitive tribes in remote regions of Nepal. But while Sam treks into the Himalayas for weeks at a time, finding passion and purpose in his work among the needy, Lauren and Ryan stay behind, their daily reality more taxing than inspiring. For them, what started as a calling begins to feel like the family’s undoing. 
At the peak of her isolation and disillusion, a friend from Lauren’s past enters her life again. But as her communication with Aidan intensifies, so does the tension of coping with the present while reengaging with the past. It’s thirteen-year-old Ryan who most keenly bears the brunt of her distraction.
Intimate and bold, Of Stillness and Storm weaves profound dilemmas into a tale of troubled love and honorable intentions gone awry.

Before You Write. . . You Must Choose a Lens

by Cynthia L Simmons

Before you began to write, you must choose which point of view, POV, you will use. That seems like an easy decision yet it’s crucial to the outcome of your work. Point of view tells who speaks to the reader, who is holding the camera. Each perspective has its strengths and weaknesses.
First person uses the pronouns ‘I, me, mine’ for singular and ‘we, us’ for plural. If you want your audience to connect emotionally, this is your best option. Joshua employed this POV when he wrote, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Remember in order to use this POV, you’ll share only what you know rather than the thoughts of others.
The pronoun employed in second person is ‘you’, which is both singular and plural. This POV doesn’t work well for story telling because it tends to have an authoritarian tone. Think about the Ten Commandments: “You shall not murder”.  Recipes use this POV because the author tells what to do: mix the eggs and butter well. You’ll also see it in letters, greeting cards, and poetry and song lyrics: “You are my sunshine…”
Third person uses the pronouns ‘he, she, it, they, we, and us’.  This POV offers many possibilities, but let’s start with omniscient. The narrator in Omniscient POV knows the thoughts and actions of everyone in the room. This POV has drawbacks. First, your audience doesn’t connect to the emotions as quickly. Second, readers can be confused as the narrator jumps in and out of character’s inner thoughts. Writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers used omniscient POV. Here’s an excerpt from The Body in the Library by Christie. “In her sleep, Mrs. Bantry frowned. Something disturbing was penetrating through the dream state.” If one is sleeping, they aren’t conscious of their own thoughts, so the narrator reveals information Mrs. Bantry wouldn’t be aware of until later.
Another form of third person is limited POV, and many authors prefer this one. The POV character can only reveal what he sees and knows. Think about the story of Moses. He found an Egyptian beating a fellow Israelite. After looking around to make sure no one saw him, he killed the Egyptian and hid the body. Later, however, when he stopped two Israelites from fighting, they knew both knew about the Egyptian. Moses had limited knowledge. He thought no one saw, but he was wrong.
Deep POV is another type of third person, and many Christian writers put this POV into action for their novels. This POV can be tricky. The author must sink into the POV character revealing thoughts and emotions. Readers tend to enjoy this POV because they feel dropped into the story even sensing emotions the POV character experiences. To utilize this POV, apply third person pronouns while writing as if you are in first person. Avoid words like ‘saw’ and ‘felt’ so you can describe gut reactions. DiAnn Mills wrote deep POV in this sample from her novel, Breach of Trust: “Paige’s pulse raced into high gear as her foot pressed the accelerator. If the guy thought he’d succeed in making her nervous, he’d better think again. She changed lanes again while watching him in the mirror.” Notice Paige assumed what her pursuer intended, but she didn’t know. You see her heart beat faster in response to what she believed.
In summary, authors have several POVs to choose from. Those who want to write novels can choose first person, third person omniscient, limited, or deep POV. For instructional material, letters or poetry, authors will get the best results from second person. Perfecting your POV polishes your work and makes your readers want more.

TWEETABLE

Before You Write. . . You Must Choose a Lens by Cynthia L. Simmons (Click to Tweet)

Bio:
Cynthia L Simmons and her husband, Ray, have five children and reside in Atlanta. She has taught for over thirty years as a homeschool mother and Bible teacher. She’s a columnist for Leading Hearts Magazine and she directs Atlanta Christian Writing Conference. Cyndi has a heart for encouraging women in today’s crazy, upside-down world. She loves history and peppers her speaking and teaching with fascinating vignettes from the past. Her first book, Struggles and Triumphs, was nominated for 2008 Georgia Author of the Year. She co-founded Homeschool Answers and hosts Heart of the Matter Radio. Visit her at www.clsimmons.com.
Book Blurb:
With his father dead and his business partner incapacitated, Peter Chandler inherits the leadership of a bank in economic crisis. With only a newly minted college degree and little experience, Peter joins his partner’s daughter, Mary Beth Roper, in a struggle to keep C&R Bank afloat while the Civil War rages around Chattanooga. Political pressure for unsecured loans of gold to the government stirs up trouble as tempers and prices rise. Their problems multiply when Mary Beth discovers counterfeit money with Peter’s forged signature. Can they find the forger before the bank fails? The two friends must pursue gold on behalf of their business, as they learn to pursue their heavenly Father to find hope and peace.