Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How Hollywood Helps Me Write

My guest today is Australian Romance Writer, Paula Roe. Many times, as writers, we play with the idea of using certain actors and their traits, for our main characters in our books. Other times we pattern the looks of our characters after certain Actors. Paula talks about how movies can help us with plot and character development.

I love, love, love movies. Many centuries ago, I used to catch every single new release at the cinema but now, with a child and a writing career (and not to mention the mucho $$$ of tickets!) my major business now goes to iTunes and the local Video Ezy. So it was a Rare Thing Indeed when, one Saturday, I had my version of “the Movie Marathon”. In the morning, my son wanted to watch ET. A few hours later, we saw Ice Age 3 at the cinema.
Later that night, we watched our newly bought Bolt DVD. And much, much later, I downloaded and watched Sweet Home Alabama.

Movies are all about story telling, just like books. My favorite ones are all about character and plot, challenges and risk taking. About characters making choices and achieving (or not) their burning desires, learning and discovering new insights. Apart from an overload of movies and a chocolate high (a must when sitting that long!) I ended up with a few interesting facts that day which I’d like to share with you:

· It’s all about character

A great story will throw you into the lives of its characters. In ET, we see a single mom struggling with her family, a young boy who wants to believe in something special and his connection with an extra-terrestrial. It’s a classic ‘boy and his dog’ story... but the dog is an alien. In Ice Age 3, it was all about Sid the sloth finding his place in the world – finding oneself. In Bolt, it was the engaging story of a dog trying to find the one person he loves and a place he belongs. And in Sweet Home Alabama, Melanie needed to find her place in the world. You see the theme here? The major characters were all searching for or wanting something.

So, Revelation 1 - a character with no burning desire to want something is boring.

· Character choice moves the plot

Something has to be happening, not just to the characters, but also from the choices they make. What would have happened if Elliott had decided to turn ET over to the authorities when he found him? If Sid hadn’t taken the T-Rex eggs because he wanted to have a family of his own? If Bolt chose to give up the journey to find his owner after he discovered he was just an ordinary dog, not a crime-fighting superhero? And if Melanie had given up trying to get her husband’s signature on the divorce papers?

Revelation 2 – a character must make choices to move the story forward - and even when they don’t make one, that’s still a choice.

· Challenges and obstacles

A plot doesn’t have to have the ripper tension and breakneck action of Speed to keep you engaged. But it does need an escalation of the story, which means throwing challenges in front of your character to see what they will do. Just when you think they’re getting somewhere or on the verge of their goal... BOOM! A spanner’s in the works. In ET, after we find out ET’s alien friends are returning for him, ET ups and dies. Oh, yeah (I still cry at that scene!) In Sweet Home Alabama, Melanie thinks she’s going to get that signature on the divorce papers once, twice, three times at least. But every time something happens to delay it. And by the time she DOES get it, she knows it’s not what she wants. In Bolt, not only does Bolt have to physically travel across the US to return to his owner, but he also encounters internal issues, like trust and loyalty. In Ice Age 3, there’s a rampaging T-rex, a very-pregnant Ellie and a hostile new world to deal with.

Revelation 3 – The more crap the characters have to overcome, the more they deserve their prize.

At a risk of waffling on too much, I’ll throw it open to comments. Is there a particular movie that was helpful to your writing? One that you think encapsulates great
Share with us and you could win a copy of Robert Kernen’s Building Better Plots (Writers Digest).
Paula Roe lives in Australia. When she’s not watching movies (or reading!) Paula is writing. Her current release is The Magnate’s Baby Promise (Silhouette Desire), out now. Last year’s Boardrooms & A Billionaire Heir are short listed for Romance Writers of Australia’s prestigious Romantic Book of the Year award in the “Short Sexy” category.

Visit her at: for more writing advice and info about her book


~Sia McKye~ said...

I want to welcome yet another wonderful Australian writer, Paula Roe, to Over Coffee.

Paula graciously allowed me to move her article from Monday, August 17th, to today. She will be in and out, but will stop by. She will be on her way to the Australian National RWA convention, plus we have a time lapse.

I'm eager to see what everyone comes up with on answering her questions!

sherrie_super said...

I really enjoyed the revelations. Excellent points, all around! Even though I don't have any handy-dandy examples of my own, I enjoyed reading about this, especially because i'd seen a bunch of the movies mentioned. Great examples!

Congrats on your success!

paularoe said...

Just a quick hi before I finish packing :-) Hi, Sia - it's great to be here!

Sherrie - it's great what you find out just by watching movies. I'm also a huge fan of TV drama, especially CSI, Veronica Mars and Firefly. The writers are especially brilliant with their characterization!

Sue BT said...

Hi Paula,
Interesting post! I love movies. I think scriptwriters have a lot to teach novel writers.
I love the Bourne Identity. It's a great film and encompasses all of your revelations.
R1)Bourne has a burning desire to discover who he is... later in the film that desire changes to bringing down Treadstone. We're all cheering him on despite the high stakes.
R2)his choices to pursue his goals bring a whole heap of trouble - CIA assassins R3)he overcomes incredible danger to find out who he is, right the wrongs he has commited and win the girl.

Kandy Shepherd said...

Hi Paula, like you, I have had to watch many children's movies over the years to keep my daughter company, some of which are more appealing to adults than others. I drew the line at Barbie movies.
But the then nine-year-old kept urging me to watch the Barbie version of Rapunzel, telling me I would love it, that it was an amazing story. Eventually I gave in. She was right. It was an amazing story with all the plot points and characterization and riveting twists and turns that we want to put in our stories. Well acted too. "I told you," said daughter.
In fact this Barbie tale of Rapunzel was so good, I watched it a few times just noting how it was structured and how well it worked.
That's when I noticed on the credits. "Story consultant - Robert McKee."
Just proves that you can pick something up from the least likely movie!

Kandy Shepherd said...

Hey Paula, forgot to say how much I enjoyed your post!

Sisters-in-Sync said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sisters-in-Sync said...

Good morning Sia.

and good morning to you Paula.

Excellent post and great examples. I recently watched CHOCOLAT. I'm sorry to say this was the first time I'd seen it and had actually never heard of it until my sister recommended it. I was watching for research reasons and boy did I learn.
The characters were amazing, especially the heroine. I loved her right from the beginning. I loved her for her strength and her vulnerabilty. And then Johnny Depp walked still my beating heart.
The plot was not complex, but it was heartfelt. I was even rooting for the bad guy in hopes he could turn his life around.
There were so many what-ifs in this film. What if she hadn't picked that town? What if she'd attended church just because everyone else in town did? What if she hadn't helped all those people? And the biggest...What if...well I won't go there just in case someone else hasn't seen this film.

Have a fantastic day!


Christina Hollis said...

Hi Paula,
Those are excellent points, and really helpful. 'The Writer's Journey' by Christopher Vogler is also a great source of help and inspiration, but you put it so much more succinctly!
Best wishes

CC said...

Hi Paula, that was a great post and most thought-provoking. I agree with you, Christina, Paula put it so succinctly and really, that's what we need in these busy lives of ours. I can't think of a fave movie to give as an example - although there are many - brain just isn't functioning. But over the next few weeks, I'll jot some down as I think of them and get them out and watch them again. Thanks for the post and I think you should expand on it with other movie examples and turn it into an article!

~Sia McKye~ said...

CC, I thought Paula's article here would be a great seminar at a conference. Just sayin' Paula. :-)

aries18 said...

Great article Paula! When I write I often 'watch' the movie in my mind. I describe what I see and follow the action. Watching the 'movie' in my mind I can slow down the action and write it out. I'm a huge movie buff and have watched probably hundreds of movies over my looong life.

I agree, your article would be a great seminar topic. Thanks for agreeing to be a guest on Sia's blog. She always manages to bring us the best guests.

Thanks Sia for another great choice! Hope your sit down is feeling better hon.

Sandra said...

Hi Paual (and Sia). Great post. Like Airies18 I often try to watch the movie of my book as I write it so I can see the body language of the characters etc. A lot of what you said applies really well to individual scenes as well as the whole story too.

paularoe said...

arghh!! Just lost my entire post!! Must type again...

Okay, a quick fly by just before I go to catch my train (can't stay away, accursed technology :D))

Hi Sue BT - Yep, the Bourne Identity is a great example. YOu can see it so clearly.

Hi Kandy! - kids' movies have taught me so much, especially Toy Story (the ultimate buddy movie!), Ice Age, Robots, CHicken Little... And am not surprised Robert McKee (scriptwriter/helper/doctor extraordinaire) had a hand in a great story!

Sisters-in-Sinc: you said the J word :grin: Johhny could be reading the phone book and I'd be there with bells on :swoon: ALthough I must admit, I haven't seen Chocolat.

Hi Christina - I love Chris Vogler's book too! Got heaps about structure from it.

Hi CC - hmmm... an article? Would have to find some time :)

Hi Aries18 - I watch them over again in my head. Funny how the mind starts to wander when you get older, but I can recall plots, movies and actors at the drop of a hat. And a workshop? Oh, I could talk about movies... heaven!

jennjmcleod said...

Hi Paula, you always make soooo much sense of the stuff us newbie writers seem to have thrown at us. I love your website. It should have giant footy field lights shining on it as it is full of major light bulb moments.

I think my fav movie for would be The Ammerican President and Notebook. Have a great conference.
Jenn McLeod

Sheila Deeth said...

Very neat. Wise revelations, nicely given. And coffee too. Thanks.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I think that's a great way to use movies to help you write. And you are right - not making a decision is STILL making a choice!

L. Diane Wolfe “Spunk On A Stick”

paula roe said...

okay, just about to walk out the door of the hotel to our fancy dress cocktail party - theme, Arabian Nights (photos will go up soon on my blog LOL).

Hi Jenny! I thank you for the great comments on my website ;-)

Hi L Diane! - I find the movies to be so very visual (I'm a visual learner) and more people have seen a movie than read a particular book. Makes it extremely easy to use as e.g.s

Sharon Archer said...

Hey, Paula!
It's Saturday morning, about morning tea time, and I bet you're having a blast talking ninety to the dozen with all your lovely writing pals at the RWAust conference!

Anyway, great blog post! When I watch movies these days, I can't help dissecting them a bit too!

I found a copy of Made of Honour on sale the other day. Mmmm, two hours of Patrick Dempsey - such hardship! LOL! I enjoyed the movie but at the end, I couldn't help thinking his character, Tom, seemed to be the one that had made the huge choices, overcame the biggest obstacles and actually went after his heart's desire. So I was a bit annoyed with Hannah, who looked as though she'd have just gone ahead and married her Scotsman if Tom hadn't catapulted himself into the middle of the ceremony.

Have fun!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Useful, useful. I've been writing film scripts lately and it truly helps with fiction writing. Fun to change genres.

paula roe said...

Hey, Sharon! mmm.... Patrick Dempsey! Must get me that movie...

Hi Conda and thanks for dropping by!

So just to wrap up, thanks everyone for taking time out to visit and to comment. And as I draw a ticket from my hat, the winner of Building Better Plots is Sue BT. Congrats, Sue!

Sue BT said...

Thanks so much Paula! This book is so timely. YAY!