So You Want to Be a Writer? - Part 2 #amwriting

Alex, here! Happy September, Britcrimers! 
September means back to school, and as it happens, I’ll be teaching my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop as one of the novel writing Masterclasses at the Bloody Scotland Crime Festival this week.
I’ve been teaching this workshop for writing groups and conventions all over the US and internationally for several years now, to aspiring authors and bestselling authors alike (as well as teaching these story structure techniques to film students in Los Angeles). Because I have limited time to teach (I’m a full-time crime novelist and screenwriter) I’ve also compiled all the information from my workshops into three writing workbooks. The newest (and biggest!) is out this month, and we’re giving a copy away here as well as on my website:

Buy the Print book 

Buy the e book

Enter to win a copy of the book

Another chance to win

Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

I’ve found that writers at all levels catch on to the concepts instantly (really, within five or ten minutes!). Because what I teach is something you already know. You just need someone to point it out to you.
What I teach is how to write novels by learning from your favourite movies.
The thing is, film is such a compressed and concise medium that it’s like seeing an X-ray of a story. In film you have two hours, usually a little less, to tell the story. It’s a very stripped-down form that even so, often has enormous emotional power. Plus we’ve usually seen more of these movies than we’ve read specific books, so they’re a more universal frame of reference for discussion.

It’s often easier to see the mechanics of structure in a film than in a novel.

Film and television are based on a Three-Act, Eight-Sequence structure, a rhythm of storytelling that began thousands of years ago with the great classic plays of ancient Greece, and refined in the 20th century by the technical requirements of film and then television.

And there’s a really, really good reason to be aware of the rhythm of film and television structure.
Because your reader or audience knows this rhythm, too.

How can we not, after all the thousands (yes, thousands!) of films and TV shows we’ve seen over the course of our lifetimes? Your readers or audience have been absorbing this structure all their lives, and unconsciously EXPECT it. Which means if you’re not delivering this rhythm, your reader or audience is going to start worrying that something’s not right, and you have a real chance of losing them. You don’t want to do that!

I know, I know. You’re writing a book, right? But successful authors use this rhythm, too, whether they’re aware of it or not. Film has had an enormous influence on contemporary novels, and on publishing. And not just structurally. Editors love books with the high concept premises, pacing, and visual and emotional impact of movies, so being aware of classic and blockbuster films and the film techniques that got them that status can help you write novels that will actually sell in today’s market. If you’re indie publishing, it’s even more important to use every trick in the book to make sure that your novel stands out from the crowd.

So authors can give themselves an edge by stealing— I mean using —some of these film techniques to make their stories more immediately appealing and easily marketable — and by the way, to create better, more engaging books. I’ve seen this in action: any novelist, from aspiring to multiply published; traditional, indie, or hybrid; and aspiring screenwriters as well, can benefit from these screenwriting tricks of the trade.

Even beyond that, studying movies is fun, and fun is something writers just don’t let themselves have enough of. If you train yourself to watch for some of these structural elements, then every time you go to the movies or watch something on television, you’re actually honing your craft (even on a date or while spending quality time with your loved ones!), and after a while you won’t even notice you’re doing it.

When the work is play, you’ve got the best of all possible worlds.

If you’d like to follow along with the Masterclass, this is the first exercise I always have my students do:

> List ten books and films that are similar to your own story in structure and/or genre (at least five books and three movies if you’re writing a book, at least five movies if you’re writing a script.).

Or if you’re trying to decide on the right project for you to work on, then make a list of ten books and films that you wish you had written!

I have my students make these lists because I think it’s important that when you start to study movies, you’re looking at examples that have had the most emotional impact on you, personally.

In my next blog here I’ll help you analyze what that list means about the book that you’re writing!

And if you’d like to know more about the Three-Act, Eight-Sequence structure, we’re giving away two copies of STEALING HOLLYWOOD this week: here and on my website.

Buy the Print book 

Buy the e book

Enter to win a copy of the book!

Another chance to win

Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

Alexandra Sokoloff is the bestselling, Thriller Award-winning and Bram Stoker and Anthony Award-
nominated author of twelve supernatural, paranormal and crime thrillers. The New York Times has called her "a daughter of Mary Shelley" and her books "Some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre.

As a screenwriter she has sold original suspense and horror scripts and written novel adaptations for numerous Hollywood studios (Sony, Fox, Disney, Miramax), for producers such as Michael Bay, David Heyman, Laura Ziskin and Neal Moritz.

She is also the workshop leader of the internationally acclaimed Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshops, based on her Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks and blog. 

Her Thriller Award-nominated Huntress Moon series, following a haunted FBI agent on the hunt for a female serial killer, is out now from Thomas & Mercer, and has been optioned for television (Huntress Moon, Blood Moon, Cold Moon)

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