On Wednesday, Words and Pictures is publishing a great feature by a children's television writer, who also writes children's books. Writing for the screen, big or small, is a bit different from writing for print. Have you ever thought of whether your book would make a good film?
Very few writers are lucky enough to snag a movie deal. It's the Holy Grail for your editors and agents, but rare enough to be a cause for celebration. Even selling a book to a movie company is unusual, and then most optioned books are never made into films, even though the author will still be paid something.
But even if your book never makes it to the Oscars, you can use the idea of aiming for the movies to help you make your story stronger.
A high-concept idea
'High-concept' is Hollywood-speak for an idea that is easy to understand and explain and sounds interesting. It can be your 'blurb', the short synopsis/'elevator pitch'/logline/one-sentence pitch that your agent, editor, publisher and marketing team use to get people interested in your book. You need one even if your book is about 'life'.
If you can’t tell me about it in one quick line, well, buddy I’m on to something else.... The number one thing a good logline must have, the single most important element, is: irony… It’s what we who struggle with loglines like to call the hook.
–Blake Snyder in Save the Cat
A memorable title
As a writer, you may not get to choose the final title of your book, especially if you are new to publishing. All the same, coming up with your own great title is better than leaving it to a committee at the publishing house.
I immediately emailed [my friend Ronnie Yu] and said: ”Are you really directing a movie called Snakes on a Plane?” And he was like, ”Yeah. Why?” And I said, ”Because I want to be in it!”
–Actor Samuel L. Jackson
A relatable hero
'Relatable' is another word that may not be in the dictionary (yet) but that is used a lot both in publishing and the movie business. Is your hero or heroine someone people can identify with?
As screenwriter and teacher David Kukoff says, you don't have to have a likable or even a good person as your hero. But you have to give the reader/audience some reason to cheer for her or him. If he's cruel, make him funny. If she's thoughtless, make her kind. If he's a hardbitten police detective, make him have a soft spot for children.
I call it the ‘Save the Cat’ scene…. It’s the scene where we meet the hero and the hero does something– like saving a cat– that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him.
–Blake Snyder in Save the Cat
Picture your story on the screen. What do you see? If it's just 'talking heads', you have a problem. In a book you can see inside people's heads; in a movie, everything is seen from the outside, like an omniscient narrator. This means the story has to have visual appeal.
Keeping in mind the 'visuals' for your story can help make it vivid and real at all times. For example, imagine the point of view of the camera. What does it see? Who(m) does it focus on? What sounds are in the background? When does the scene change?
Recently, children's movies have been getting "bigger" both in budget and in scope. World-building is important for any book, but if you actually do dream of your book's being made into a movie, think big.
Will executives and producers who read your logline be able to envision your story as a big summer or Christmas release?
Of course, writing books has some advantages over writing for the screen!
Whenever I turned in a script...they would say “George, this is great but ...you need to cut it down. You currently have 126 characters — we have a budget for six.” When I went back to prose, there were suddenly no limits: I could write something huge with all the characters I wanted, with battles, dragons and immense settings. Of course, I thought this will be unfilmable and that I’d never have to worry about Hollywood again.
–George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones series
Julie Sullivan has two children in the entertainment business.