Craft,  Creativity

How To Make Your Scenes More Cinematic

Have you ever read a book whose scenes felt movie-like?

You’ve read the books that flowed seamlessly from one scene to another.

You’ve read over the descriptions of the settings that were rich and details. As you turned the pages, you may have had a sense of action and tension that felt exactly right. As you read the dialogue, you could actually hear the characters speaking. You saw them bust into the safe, stash the jewels into their pockets, and scurry out the back door before the owner walked in the front. You love books that read like movies. 

The scenes of the book are so rich, you’re tempted to whip up a batch of popcorn.

You can write your books that way too. But it will take vibrant and action-packed scenes.

Cut out long descriptions. If you want your book to play in a reader’s head like a movie, then you need to keep the “camera” moving through the scenes. In a film, the camera wouldn’t spend too much time on the detail of an inactive object or a setting because it would bore the reader. The director is counting on the viewer to put information together on their own. In the same way, you can give your reader only the necessary details of the description. Your goal is to make your scenes into a rich world, but do it concisely so that the reader stays interested.

Reduce the inner dialogue for characters. A well-composed character has lots of pain, desires, and quirks. It’s tempting to over-monologue the character because you’ve put so much thought into him. Don’t do it. Like too much description, too much characterization can bog the story down and bore the reader. Instead, reveal the personality in the main character’s actions and dialogue. Scenes full of showing, not telling, will keep the story moving.

Keep the characters moving. With each scene, give your character’s reason to get up and get going. They need to do stuff with their hands. They need to pick their cuticles, feed the dog or tap their fingers on the steering wheel while they are driving. These little actions create a visual image for your reader. If their action changes it can also add tension. You want tension in all your scenes!

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Be diligent about the backstory. You may have spent months crafting the backstory of your hero. You’ve labored over his desires and goals. You know all his tragedies and fears. You’ve worked at him. Unfortunately, your reader won’t find his story as interesting as you do. Some backstory is always necessary, but it can slow down the pacing. Be brutal when cutting it out. Only share what is the most necessary.

Don’t spoon-feed your reader with the obvious. A film director has to get his entire story told in 90 minutes. He can’t afford to underscore each point for the viewer. He has to depend that the viewers will the blanks in as they watch (Or lean over and ask their wives what the heck is going on, and then she promptly elbows him in the gut and tells him to be quiet!) In the same way, you need to keep up your pacing and hope that the reader will follow. If you’ve done everything else well, he probably will!

Give each scene a clear objective: either the main character got one more step closer to the goal or he didn’t. Before you write a new scene, ask yourself: will he get closer or not? How can I take victory out of his hands? Can I push him to success unexpectedly? How can I garner sympathy from the reader in his plight? Can I get the reader to cheer his success? If your scenes aren’t making that distinction, then you’re creating something static. Don’t bore your reader with inaction.

Understand the emotional temperature of each character in the scene. I find it helpful to see a scene in my head and list the characters in it. Then I list their exact emotions during that scene. I make sure that they react to the events in a logical way. Also, I make sure that they argue or find conflict. No two people see the same thing the same way. Your characters should be no different. Make their actions and their dialogue reflect these varying emotional differences.

Choose vibrant verbs. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing, choose active verbs! “We went to the store,” is boring. “We ambled to the pharmacy,” is so much better.

End chapters with a question or mid-conflict. The scene finishes and you’re just about to tell the reader how it sums up, except don’t. Your characters have spent five pages getting to the treasure. They open it up but you don’t tell your reader what’s in it! The friends drove to that great party on the other side of town, but they get into an argument on the way there about that girl. They show up at the party not speaking to each other. The reader will be forced to wonder, do they make up or not? 

You can also look at this article by Jody Hedlund. She has advice about this too!  And you can also see a different viewpoint altogether on K.M. Weiland’s blog too. 

To make your books feel more like a theatrical experience, think action in nearly every way. Your readers will feel like they are playing out the story alongside your characters. And you? You’ll be the next Michael Bay or Tim Burton.

Now, please pass the popcorn!

Katharine Grubb is an author, poet, homeschooling mother, camping enthusiast, bread-baker, and believer in working in small increments of time. She leads 10 Minute Novelists, an international Facebook group of time-crunched writers. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.