3 Things that Work in Movies but Not in Prose

When starting a new story, there are a lot of pitfalls to avoid. We all know the normal warning: Don’t start with descriptions of the weather. Don’t start with dialogue. Write what you know.

Most writers today have proven this advice wrong, but there are new traps to watch out for.

Movies are an integral part of today’s society, and they have influenced the way we write fiction. When you get stuck, one of the best pieces of advice is to just sit back and watch the scene in your head like a movie. This helps us focus on the most intriguing elements. But a movie is a visual medium and can get away with things that traditional prose cannot. Here are three things you can do in movies but can’t in prose.

Starting With an Action Sequence

We must start a story with action. We all know that. And we know that action requires a character doing something, not just sitting and contemplating life. And the best place to look for action is in movies.

So you imagine yourself in a movie theater, waiting for the subtitles to finish, and then relax as movement explodes across the scene. It could be a battle, an evacuation, a take-over, or just a dance number. Then you open your eyes and start writing your own version of a battle, evacuation, take-over or dance party. And you’ve done it perfectly.

But the problem is: who cares?

Why should we care about the people in this scene?

We don’t know them.

Well, we also don’t know the people in the first scene of that movie. So why does it matter?

Because a movie is a visual medium. And it’s an auditorium medium. You see it and you hear it at the exact same time. It has double the power to pull you in and keep your mind engaged.

A novel, on the other hand, is only visual or auditory. There aren’t a thousand movements, a million sounds, happening at once, only lines of text.

But don’t worry: You can use the exact same scene in the opening of your story. You just have to slow it down and let the character take charge.

While they’re running and leaping, inject a strong emotion into the movements. Show us why their goal is so vital. Show us what will happen if they fail.

Inserting Scenes from the Antagonist’s Point-of-View

This is a trope we see most often in mystery and suspense stories. Writers in this genre need to keep the tension high, so they expose parts of the evil the antagonist is planning to keep the reader turning pages.

And this can work–sparingly.

A single scene deep into the story where the reader is invested in the protagonist and has a good understanding of the antagonist.

Many movies, though, bring the antagonist on screen much earlier and more frequently. This goes back to the fact that it’s a visual medium. A scene on screen can be as short as five seconds, a snapshot of the character doing a vital action that will change the course of the plot.

Those five seconds would take a lot longer on page.

Remember that your only tool is words, and it will take a lot of them to paint new surroundings, establish the antagonist’s personality, and show their motivations. Readers will want all this and more if they’re forced to leave their favorite character for so long.

Comedic Relief and Party Scenes

This is a hard one to avoid and an even harder one to explain. Because the comedy is most people’s favorite part of a movie. Because it’s easy to just write two characters batting retorts back and forth.

And it’s sort of amusing the first read-through.

Movies use humor to break the tension and bring some lightness to heavier scenes.

And this is exactly what we don’t want.

Tension is a very slippery thing in a novel. Like I said before, there is a lot going on the screen to keep a viewer occupied, so even if the story is dragging, there’s less worry of boredom. But the only thing keeping reader interest is tension, that underlying hum of energy and emotion that keeps you turning the page. If that energy is broken by a scene of comedic relief, you run a great risk of breaking your reader’s attention.

So there you have it. Three extra things to keep in mind when crafting your novel. But if you want to grab reader interest, keep it, and never lose it, these are essential.