Swimmin’ Pools and Movie Stars

Hello, all.  It’s Thursday, so it must be Susannah.  Welcome! 

I’ve been asked more than once — by persons whose identities I have sworn to protect — to do a series on correct usage of the comma.  I had good intentions to start that this week.  But my mind rebelled and I just couldn’t do it.  It’s summer!  This is no time for grammar.  There are pools and beaches and melting ice cream cones and . . . summer movies! 

I love movies.  Especially funny ones.  There are some movies that reduce me to a quivering, snorting mass of giggles: Zoolander, or pretty much any Ben Stiller movie, for instance.  (“Moisture is the essence of wetness.  And wetness is the essence of beauty”  “Mer-Man!”)  The original Pink Panther movies starring Peter Sellers.  (“Do you have a license for your minkey?”)  I defy you to watch those and not marvel at Sellers’ perfect comic timing.  (With all due respect to Steve Martin’s versions, No.  Just . . . No.)  Or the more restrained, romantically funny, You’ve Got Mail.  Never fails to bring a tear to my eye and a laugh to my lips.

As writers, we can learn so much from movies.  A movie tells a story in just a couple of hours, whereas a novel requires a much longer time commitment.  That’s because a movie has the advantage of giving us immediate visual satisfaction.  In a novel, we must rely on the author to create the visual for us, then we must interpret it.  

The pacing must be just right in a movie, otherwise a viewer loses interest immediately.  Ditto for novels — a saggy middle equals lost readers, who may just close up the book, never to return to it.  Or anything you, the author, ever do again. 

Movies are characterized by snappy, concise dialogue, because there just isn’t time for rambling. Guess what?  There’s no time for rambling in your novel either.   Say it, don’t spray it.

There are lots of resources out there that can help us bring screenwriting tricks to our novels.  And I don’t think any of us would turn down a movie option if were offered to us, would we?  Might as well make it as easy as possible on Hollywood and write a novel that’s movie-ready. Check out Michael Hauge for some good information.  I hope to get to one of his workshops soon.  

Tell us about your favorite movies.  Have they influenced your writing?   Feel free to give us your favorite quotes! 


16 thoughts on “Swimmin’ Pools and Movie Stars”

  1. Well said… I never thought about movies influencing my writing, but you’re right. Quentin Tarantino definitely influences me. I love everything he has ever written.
    True Romance is my favorite movie of all time.
    I’ve noticed as I get better at this writing thing, I am very critical of the writing I see on TV and in the movies.
    I sit and watch and I’ve said things like, “Wow, that was good writing.” or “eek.”
    I drive my family nuts.
    Fave movie line is in American History X: “Hate is baggage. Life’s too short to be p*ssed off all the time.”
    Thank you for a thought provoking post.

    1. I tend to do a lot of dissections of books and movies, too. Now that I’m paying attention to what makes good writing, it’s both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes it’s hard to put the “craft” aside and just enjoy the book or movie as a whole, for itself, without worrying about the flaws. I have to work at that!

  2. For me movies with writers influence me. Jack Nicholson in the Shinning! All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. That scene made me realize I’m crazy but not yet on that level!

  3. Cool post, Susannah.
    I am a TV and Movie junkie and I love romance, action and adventure. A good comedy will leave me in stitches, but I don’t like the slap stick stuff. It has to be clever and it has to ring true. Movies that aren’t necessarily funny, but have a perfect sense of comedic timeing because they add a funny line at an unexpected moment. Those are my favorite. In Fried Green Tomatoes when Cathy Bates hits the young girl’s car who just stole her parking space and she says something like, “I may be older and fatter, but I have better insurance.” Or movies like Steele Magnolias with fantastic ensemble casts that have you laughing and crying in the span of minutes. The fight scene at the cemetary between Shirley McLean and Olympia Dukakis was brilliantly unexpected. They screamed, cried, and laughed…at a cemetery. That is inspirational!

  4. I was so excited when saw I your plan to talk about commas. But loved your post none the less. I have something to look forward to. 🙂

    As for movies, I used to be a junkie, but not so much anymore. Every now and then there will be a movie someone highly recommends and I spend the money to see it. But that’s not too often. So the movies that have stuck with are pretty old, but these are my favs.

    Thomas Crown Affair…Now if I could write like that. Quick, witty, sensual, creative…that whole end scene with the top hats and the music pumping until it all makes sense, and you’re left with a smile. Loved it!

    The Ref…I still laugh when I think of that movie. A bad guy who chooses the wrong house to rob.

    An adventure movies are high on my list too….The Pirate’s, Indiana Jones, Narnia

    When it comes down to it, it’s the creativity and uniqueness that draws me in. That is what I hope I bring to the table with my own writing.

  5. Guilty as charged on all counts: dissecting the plot, predicting the ending, and loving movies. My husband and I met at the movie theater where we both worked. Our first date – a movie. And a really bad one – Ghostbusters 2. We still laugh about that. I have taken the day off to see movies on opening day (Harry Potter #1, LOTR, and Spiderman are just a few). My family, including my mother and friends, all went to see Toy Story 2 on opening day – Thanksgiving day!!

    Speaking of HP, we’re going to see #8 today. It will be a bittersweet moment for me. The kids were 5 and 7 at the first HP movie. Do the math – they’re not kids anymore (sniff!). In my life, at least, I can measure milestones by the movies we’ve seen together.

    My favorite movie lines — I have so many, but I’ll choose the first one that comes to mind – “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller.

    Words to live by!

    p.s. – you’re still not off the hook for the commas.

  6. Hitch is one of my favorite romantic comedies. And Bridesmaids, of course. Loved that one. I liked the unlikely hero in Hitch (Kevin James as Albert), and I liked the way everything the pretty girl liked about Albert was his own mojo, you know? For Bridesmaids, I just loved the emotional depth of that movie. I really felt it, and that’s rare. Thanks for the post! Very fun!

  7. Movies, love ’em – most of ’em! I tend to gravitate toward the indies – Fargo, Sideways (“I’m not drinking any ****ing Merlot!” We actually had a wine expert in Sonoma tell us that quote single-handedly brought down the sale of Merlot for years), Stealing Beauty, Brokeback Mountain… come to think of it, anything with an emphasis in scenery because it gives characters a sense of place, allowing us to visit someplace new, making their motivations relatable (mostly). And heck, aren’t we all aspiring to move our stories to the big screen?
    Love Actually had me ready to find Colin Firth in London at Christmastime, A Christmas Story and 1940’s Indiana? Who can’t relate to wanting a toy that badly? Movies are definitely an escape, a diversion from real life and when we’re affected viscerally, so that we want to keep revisiting them – that’s storytelling done right!
    Thanks for the great post!

  8. I love movies, too. I love Hugh Grant movies. Music and Lyrics is one of my favorites. I actually even have the soundtrack. He’s not a bad singer! He’s just funny, so droll. When I taught writing classes in the corporate world, I always used movies to talk about logical flow of the narrative, tone, pacing. Love Actually, Pulp Fiction, and the Sound of Music are great examples of different types of story telling.

  9. Gotta go with a couple classics – The Godfather and The Graduate. Read the book then analyse how it is translated into a movie. The Godfather especially has scenes where so much is said by what is said in so few words. “Leave the gun, take the canoli” “Oh. Who’s being naive, Kay?” “It’s a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.” “Oh, Paulie… won’t see him no more.”

  10. When I watch a movie, I want comedy. The sillier, the better. (2 sentences, 2 commas) Watching The Cider House Rules after reading the book soured me on movies based on novels. I looked forward to watching it for a week, but found it thoroughly disappointing. The book was amazing. You knew and loved or hated the characters. Not so in the movie. It just can’t be done in 2 hours. The only point I am really trying to make with this rambling is that a good movie will never replace a good book. So, read on and don’t forget the commas!

  11. There is nothing to take the place of a great comedy. Peter Sellers was brilliant in “The Pink Panther”, and so was Peter Falk as Columbo. Timing is everything. No telling in movies, only showing. My fav movie is “Pretty Woman” and Dancing with Wolves.

    In Michael Hauge’s workshop the weekend after RWA convention he discussed Outer Motivation/Inner Motivation. Defining a visible objective for the hero. A visible finish line outwardly apparent to the reader, as opposed to invisible desires such as acceptance, belonging, revenge, and fulfillment.The desire must be visible, another words show don’t tell There’s the “show don’t tell” rule again Susannah mentioned in her post.

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