What Have YOU Learned from Hollywood?

We’ve spent this week going over a few Hollywood truisms that can help writers. So now it’s your turn.

As a writer, what have you learned from watching movies and television?

Share your best tips… and have a great weekend!

© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  9. Ishta Mercurio on February 28, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    >Think in scenes, and think in closeups. When beginning a descriptive passage, imagine your scene on screen and pay attention to where the camera is zooming in. Those are the details to put in.

  10. Anonymous on February 27, 2011 at 2:32 PM

    >Great writing deosn't always translate to every media, nor should it, otherwise it would have been written as a screenplay, which in and of itself, has a compete alternative set of directives.

  11. arbraun on February 26, 2011 at 11:06 PM

    >I've learned not to hold back, no matter how risqué the subject matter, and that sex sells.

  12. vonildawrites on February 26, 2011 at 2:59 PM

    >From movies I learned about writing dialogue. I also learned (especially from TV) the basic three-act structure, and the importance of cliffhangers. Hmmm…Now that I've said that, I need to go back to my WIP!

    I love the comment about being able to tell who is talking, even without attribution tags. Need to go back to my WIP!


  13. Linda Godfrey on February 26, 2011 at 10:42 AM

    >The few reality shows I've watched have have convinced me their appeal comes from high emotion (unchosen contestants weeping at feet of bachelor) wrung from high conflict (why did he invite those two *itches along on our private Tiki bar getaway?)between memorable characters (Ah'm Miss Petting Zoo of Florsheim Iowa, and ah say sooeeey, bachelor, ah'm comin' to git you.)

    Add literature's magic ingredients of plot and language and you may achieve even more compelling entertainment than Meet My Big Fat Ugly Fiance. Although I did watch every episode of that appalling gem.

  14. Anonymous on February 26, 2011 at 12:47 AM

    >Speaking of deleted scenes in DVDs, I think movies try too hard to make a plot "suspenseful" by leaving out vital info. And TV is guilty of using too much background noise while glossing over relevant plot points or clues (Castle, etc).

    Sure, it's good to tighten a flabby ms. but don't choke the life out of your story or characters.

  15. Anna L. Walls on February 26, 2011 at 12:24 AM

    >I've learned how to analyze how observation works. 'see through the eye of a camera'

  16. Kristin Laughtin on February 25, 2011 at 5:10 PM

    >I wrote a whole post about it on my blog a while back. The biggest thing I've taken from it is character movement. It's really easy to get trapped in having characters repeat the same actions over and over (rolling eyes, sighing, looking to the side, etc.), but looking at the way characters move and react on screen can help you mix up their actions on the page.

  17. Anonymous on February 25, 2011 at 1:36 PM

    >I'm really enjoying these comments.

    Two things helpful for me – one is the importance of consistent personalities in your comedic characters. It's often the predictability of a certain KIND of response in a character that makes for the deeper funny. The Office and (dare I say) Coupling made me realize me this.

    The other thing I learned from Lost. The general public can handle more depth than we realize. And I think they crave it, if done with skill. Lost writers took a risk here, and their trust in the audience paid off.

    ~ Lea Garner

  18. Beverly Money Luke on February 25, 2011 at 11:58 AM

    >James Scott Bell uses movies a lot when he teaches fiction writing. I started watching movies at home just to identify those places that would help me in writing my novel. And if your middle starts to sag, just kill someone off like I did in my book, "Eden's Way."

  19. B.E.T. on February 25, 2011 at 11:42 AM

    >I've learned how to make scenes, and how to consolidate certain events into episodic chunks, and a basic structure of the meat of a plot! (Seriously, attempting to do a screenplay adaptation of your own work really helps get the details straight)

  20. Hilarey Johnson on February 25, 2011 at 11:35 AM

    >I was only going to say "If you don't have a story line, blow something up."

    But after reading the comments, I remembered that my 10 year old son burst into tears when Tom Hanks yelled "Wilson!" in Castaway.

    So there is something to building a sympathetic character and increasing the stakes.

  21. Anonymous on February 25, 2011 at 11:27 AM

    >Structure, structure, structure. Novelists could learn tons from screenwriters and I wish they would because I'm an avid reader and so many novels have structural problems. If you don't have a good story,the entire thing falls apart.

  22. Sean on February 25, 2011 at 11:17 AM

    >Katie G – I agree one hundred percent. I blogged today about VD's crazy pacing. I think in this new era, fast-pacing is going to be a serious key to future success. That and free Glee door posters.

  23. Charise on February 25, 2011 at 11:03 AM

    >Writing, dialogue, characterization… but I think what I've learned most from movies is editing. I've been part of some filming. What is filmed compared to what makes it to the screen is vastly different. You can watch a dvd and see the "deleted scenes" feature as a small example of editing. Because you can "see" the editing, it has helped me to translate good film editing to (hopefully) good editing in my novels.

  24. Carrie L. Lewis on February 25, 2011 at 10:59 AM

    >The good, well-written movies have taught me a lot about three-act structure and escalating the stakes.

    However, I've also seen that a lot of today's entertainment also settles to the lowest common denominator for the broadest overall appeal and, quite often, the basest human instincts.

    I don't watch TV at all and haven't seen a movie in a theater since Racing Stripes, but the movies that we watch over and over are strong on character, conflict, and outside the box thinking.

  25. natalie on February 25, 2011 at 10:34 AM

    >You said this earlier this week, but I have to second the power of action vs. speech. I too worked in Hollywood (well, several NYC production companies) year ago, and I learned very early on that usually in a movie, a voiceover = weak writing. (There are exceptions.) If a character, in VO or dialogue, has to TELL us what she's feeling/thinking/wanting, it's not as strong as if we see her act on it.

    For a great example of this, watch the movie "Rabbit Proof Fence." Very little dialogue, but we're never in any question about what the main characters want. And when they do speak–Gracie's insistence that they change course because she's heard a rumor about her mother–it's so powerful it's stunning.

  26. Anonymous on February 25, 2011 at 10:24 AM

    >Love that cartoon! 🙂

  27. IanBontems on February 25, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    >Have to agree with Beth here. The best TV shows all have excellent character-specific dialogue.

    (For YA TV with dialogue that zings and bites, I'd recommend the british show, Misfits)

    It's also good for structure, as TV shows are rigid in length and have their beginnings, middles and endings all clearly defined.

  28. Joshua on February 25, 2011 at 9:59 AM

    >Sadly, Firefly is niche. But powerful.

    And to piggy-back on this and the comment about Veronica Mars and the like, dialogue establishes character personality.

    So do sunglasses, but not in the good way. I'm talking to you, Horatio.

  29. Timothy Fish on February 25, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    >Another thing I learned from television is that it is okay to use the same plot week after week.

  30. Julie Nilson on February 25, 2011 at 9:15 AM

    >I've realized that the shows I really love, the ones that I must watch immediately when I see them on the DVR and eventually buy on DVD, are the ones that have snappy, character-specific dialogue. If you took a script for Veronica Mars, Leverage, or The Big Bang Theory, you could take the character names off and still know who was speaking, not only because of what they're saying, but how they're expressing themselves. That's what I want to capture in my fiction writing.

  31. Beth on February 25, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    >Having had a friend watch her screenplay mutilated after it was optioned, it's almost hard to find it funny. Definitely true.

  32. Catherine West on February 25, 2011 at 8:10 AM

    >Okay, you'd think since my opinion is that most of television today is drivel, you wouldn't get me answering this. However. I remember last year or it could have been the year before – I was in the middle of a rewrite and you asked if I watched LOST. I didn't, so your example of great writing was LOST on me (sorry, had to do that). This summer we started watching from Season 1. Finished the last season just before Christmas. And I totally get it now. I know now what all my books need. Really flawed characters, but you somehow love them anyway. No huge info dumps, just a teeny bit of information dripped in here and there that totally knocks the wind out of you, smart, snappy dialogue. And a Hurley.

  33. Timothy Fish on February 25, 2011 at 7:39 AM

    >One of the things I’ve learned is that some of the best stories are about two people locked in a room. To lessen the visual effects burden, sci-fi shows like to throw in episodes like that. Many times, those are the best written episodes of the season. We don’t have to worry about the cost of visual effects, but trapping two people together who don’t get along still makes for a great story.

  34. Author Sandra D. Bricker on February 25, 2011 at 7:19 AM

    >I've learned that CHARACTER is everything. If we don't create a rich, flawed, identifiable and compelling character, no one cares what they go through.

    I've also learned that the VISUAL is just as important as the dialogue. Paint a picture that frames your story.

    And I've learned that people are more likely to plunk down $12 to see a bad movie than to read a bad book. Make yours sing. The market is volatile.

  35. Katie Ganshert on February 25, 2011 at 6:38 AM

    >I'm obsessed with Vampire Diaries. Yep. I'm always amazed with the writers of that show. They bring it every single week. You think they won't kill off such and such character until the season finale, or you think they won't resolve this issue until the season finale, but nope. It's like every single episode is the season finale. And every single episode ends with some crazy twist. It makes me realize how important it is to delight the reader. And sometimes drawing something out doesn't add to the tension, it just annoys the reader. Why not wrap it up and throw something else delicious their way?

  36. Rosemary Gemmell on February 25, 2011 at 4:32 AM

    >Probably that character is everything as that's what we tend to remember most. And good dialogue. But also something that leaves the reader/audience with new knowledge, or empathy with the characters' situation, or a satisfying emotion (whether laughter, tears, joy, or fear etc).

  37. Atomic Jelly on February 25, 2011 at 4:22 AM

    >I think the differences are that the old adage of pictures being worth 1000 words is still true.

    The consequences of this are that:
    i) the original taut text that is being adapted, can lose out in the need to provide additional visual detail

    ii) there is very definitely a different style associated with films versus books. A book primary conversation is in your head, with all of the visualisation being done by the reader. A film removes that enjoyment/responsibility by providing the pictures relegating the 'writer' in us to passive engagers.

    This is not to say that all adapted books are rubbish in films. This is patently not the case. Just that the emotional processes that a reader goes through, are different to the understanding a film-goer has.

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  39. Angela @ HomegrownMom on February 25, 2011 at 1:14 AM

    >I've learned that everyone wants to be kept in suspense about something!

  40. Gabryyl on February 25, 2011 at 1:02 AM

    >Add a Mega-something to your title and Syfy will buy the film rights…no actual book required.

  41. Jess on February 25, 2011 at 12:59 AM

    >I just heard a tag line for a movie tonight that instantly made me want to know more, and I thought, "Now THAT'S a good 1 sentence pitch". It was short, but managed to provide detail while still leaving me wanting more. Brilliant.

  42. ARJules on February 25, 2011 at 12:50 AM

    >Don't be afraid to go to the dark places. That's where the fairy tales live.
    Also, write the best story that you want to write. Don't write the story that the viewers/readers WANT you to write. Go with your gut.

  43. Michael K. Reynolds on February 25, 2011 at 12:44 AM

    >The best lesson I learned through my documentary work is the more you cut the more dynamic the film. Edit it down until your copy starts to scream.

  44. Cheryl Barker on February 25, 2011 at 12:27 AM

    >When it comes to movies and tv, writing is king. Even the best actors have trouble saving a poor story or dialogue.