Good day, book people. Authors provide excellent advice on how to write. Many will simply say “read” in order to gain insight into what works and what doesn’t. Others may advise on studying the craft of writing, informally and formally. No doubt this is all great advice. However, today’s guest, Bryan Johnston, an accomplished writer and author of Death Warrant has some slightly different advice to give to would-be writers. He suggests you watch movies. Please help me welcome Bryan Johnston to the blog and let’s learn a bit more about watching movies and the craft of writing. Thank you, Mr. Johnston, for joining us today. I’ll now turn the blog over to you.
Watch movies to help you write your novel
by Bryan Johnston
I’m a huge movie fan. I even had the great good fortune to review films on television and radio for a decade. (Sweetest. Gig. Ever.) At first blush, one would think that writing a screenplay and writing a novel would be quite similar. It’s still storytelling, right? However, they are very different disciplines. An old colleague of mine, Mike Rich, who wrote the films Finding Forrester, Secretariat, and The Rookie, among others, told me recently that when he tried to write a book his editor was constantly on him to be more descriptive. He didn’t have the luxury of images on a screen to help the reader visualize something. In movies, characters are revealed through action and dialogue, while in novels the development of the players is brought to life through description and internal monologue. However, you can still learn a lot about how to structure your novel by watching movies. Case in point: scenes.
In a standard three-act movie that runs 120 minutes there will be, on average, between 40-60 scenes. About a dozen scenes in the Set-Up (the Hook), twenty-five scenes in the Confrontation (the Middle Build), and about another dozen scenes in the Resolution (the Payoff). 25%/50%/25%.
When I began writing my current work in progress, I started as I always do with a story outline and then began making short one or two-sentence descriptions of what took place in each scene. I wrote these descriptions on sticky notes and stuck them to my closet doors. I know that there’s actual software for this (Scrivener comes to mind) but I’m too tactile for that. I like to be able to stand back twelve feet from my wall of scenes and take it all in before invariably moving the sticky notes around as the story evolves.
And this is where it got interesting.
I had my sticky note scenes broken out into three acts, but I’d done it purely on instinct. I thought, hmmm, this scene wraps up the first act nicely, this scene wraps up the second act nicely, and this scene makes a strong conclusion. I hadn’t counted scenes, I hadn’t figured out the 25/50/25 percentages, I wrote it how I saw my story play out like a movie.
Here’s how the scenes are numbered:
Act 1—13 scenes
Act 2—24 scenes
Act 3—13 scenes
None of this was planned. It was completely instinctual. And if you ask me, I’d say it probably had something to do with the fact that I’ve watched a gazillion movies and the structure had ingrained itself in my head purely through osmosis.
Some writers feel flopping on the couch and binge-watching Netflix or watching a Quentin Tarantino marathon is time you could be spending writing the next great novel. I say don’t feel guilty in the least. Watching stories on the screen is a great way to see how a narrative arc is structured and carried out. As a learning tool, I’d give it two thumbs up! ♦
by Bryan Johnston
June 1-30, 2022 Virtual Book Tour
Death Makes Great TV.
Frankie Percival is cashing in her chips. To save her brother from financial ruin, Frankie―a single stage performer and mentalist who never made it big―agrees to be assassinated on the most popular television show on the planet: Death Warrant. Once she signs her life away, her memory is wiped clean of the agreement, leaving her with no idea she will soon be killed spectacularly for global entertainment.
After years of working in low-rent theaters, Frankie prepares for the biggest performance of her life as her Death Warrant assassin closes in on her. Every person she encounters could be her killer. Every day could be her last.
She could be a star, if only she lives that long.
Praise for Death Warrant:
“I absolutely loved Death Warrant! This will definitely make the ‘Best of 2022’ list.”
—Elle Ellsberry, Content Acquisition & Partnerships, Scribd
Bryan Johnston takes tremendous pride in being an eleven-time Emmy award-winning writer and producer during his 25 years in local network television. Following his career in broadcast, he became the Creative Director for a Seattle-based creative agency, developing concepts and writing scripts for companies like Microsoft, Starbucks, T-Mobile, and Amazon. He has authored several books and written for numerous magazines and websites. Bryan lives in the Seattle, Washington area with his wife, two kids, and one large Goldendoodle. He is a devout movie lover, sports fan, and avid reader. His one great hope is for the Seattle Mariners to make it to the World Series before he dies. He’s not holding his breath.
Catch Up With Bryan Johnston:
Twitter – @BryanRJohnston
Facebook – @bryan.johnston.370
Join us in the InstaChat at #bryanjohnston
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