No, But I Saw the Movie

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* No, But I Saw the Movie
* A Few Notes
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

No, But I Saw the Movie

This is a guest post by Michaele Lockhart. If it looks familiar, it was first posted in the old Pro Writers Writing (PWW) website for which Michaele was a weekly contributor.

Ah, the movies….

Our lives brim with audio-visual cues. Movies and television shows and even YouTube videos clamor for our attention. We’re conditioned to experiencing the world accompanied by moving images and sound. Does this mean that writing is somehow less effective for communication?

The answer is a resounding “No!”

Let’s back up for a moment. The movies (it’s much easier this way, calling the sum of all audio-visual entertainment “the movies”) arrived on the scene relatively late in human history. After several millennia of written tradition, the first bare-bones example of projected moving images appeared around 1888. Then it was about another thirty years before sound joined the images.

From Gone with the Wind to Gone Girl and the many Harry Potter movies, the book has always come first.

Scriptwriters strip out all atmosphere and color and detail from a book before adding it back in different forms. For the movies, sound and music and special lighting are always at play, constantly evoking mood for the viewer.

Who isn’t familiar with the pulsing staccato rhythms and crescendos that accompany an onscreen swashbuckling swordfight or a barroom brawl? Or the soaring music that reveals the isolation of wide open prairies and an infinite sky? Or a herd of wild horses thundering by? The measured, tense bass notes of dark suspense? The special music that indicates two star-crossed lovers have finally found one another?

A writer translates the scenes and sounds in his head and associated imagery to “words on paper.” This keeps the reader in the scene for as long as the writer intends, not just a passing glimpse of a few dozen frames. Pacing, from long flowing sentences to short terse paragraphs, precisely manipulates time for the reader. These techniques, actually richer in many ways than any film, keep the reader thoroughly immersed in a scene.

In film media, special lighting and selective focus, along with panning of the camera, help direct the viewer. In the sample below (taken from one of my older novels), see how the reader can follow and visualize light in the scene as written:

An isolated shaft of sunlight angled across the group gathered before the altar, illuminating centuries-old dust motes that hung in the church’s air, selectively highlighting one side of Dora’s hair and extending to glitter off the double row of gold buttons on John Donahue’s jacket.

The writer can also put one object into focus using words, while letting the rest of a scene fade away into a softer focus. In photography, we call that “controlling depth of field.”

With audio-visuals, there are all sorts of on-scene cues that let the viewer know what’s going on and why and where—whether it’s a bathroom, a bedroom, a courtroom, a classroom, the side of a mountain, or the middle of a desert. But words can take a reader there—and keep him there.

Identifying relative ages and relations of one character to another and their roles (sheriff, teacher, lovers, servants, escaped convicts, adults or children, etc.) is fairly straightforward in the movies. The viewer is guaranteed to be grounded in the scene and the setting if not the story line. The writer accomplishes this with language, how s/he uses the tools of the writing trade.

Even the most high-tech theater experience has yet to reproduce the aroma of roasting turkey, the evocative smells of a campfire, or the unique scent of the desert after a rainstorm. However, a writer does have these tools. We’re mighty lucky—and we can prolong these sensations for as long as we want!

Movie goers must be totally grounded in the fictive reality or the movie doesn’t sell. With books and the written word, the reader must also be thoroughly grounded—or s/he won’t stay on reading the book.

As writers we don’t have audio-visual tools. What we have is something better, actually richer. We can create all of the above with one tool only: how we use words on paper. The reader must feel that he is totally in the scene with the characters as the action unfolds.

How many times have you said, “Oh, the book was much better than the movie”? A safe guess is, most of the time.

Any thoughts?

* * *

Thanks, Michaele! Michaele Lockhart is that rare combination of excellent fictionist and excellent copyeditor and instructor. She lives in Tucson.

A Few Notes

1. As I’m writing this, the connection with my hosting service is only intermittent. So if any of my websites are “down” when you visit, that’s why. If I’m unable to post this on the Journal website, I’ll still copy/paste it into the substack and it will go out anyway. That’s one more reason to subscribe through substack at

2. Not sure whether I’ll continue the YouTube thing, at least not live. Probably not for this coming Sunday. We’ll see. Going “live” is filled with gremlins for me. What works one day doesn’t work the next and so on. Maybe from time to time I’ll record a video and upload that to YouTube instead.

But then, I already say pretty much everything I want to say to writers in this Journal, and I’ve yet to receive even one email or comment from the (small) crowd over at the free short story StanbroughWrites substack wanting to know anything about my characters, worlds, etc.  And that’s mostly what I wanted to talk about on YouTube. So for me it’s kind of a time-suck. I wouldn’t get anything out of it (I already know the character, worlds, etc.) and nobody else seems interested.

3. Scott Carpenter’s WIBBOW rule is strongly in effect for me, as are Heinlein’s Rules. If you’re a writer, y’gotta write. I had a 6,000 word day on the new novel yesterday, and I can only barely wait to get back to it.

I think that’s it for now. Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

How to Sell Books Direct to Readers: The Complete Guide READ THIS. And thanks to Bob B for pointing it out. I even copied and pasted this into a Word document so I would have it handy as a reference.

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1080

Writing of TJ Blackwell: The Origin Story

Day 1…… 6139 words. To date…… 6139
Day 2…… XXXX words. To date…… XXXXX

Fiction for March…………………….…. 38905
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 20347
Fiction since October 1………………… 506553
Nonfiction for March…………………… 208100
Nonfiction for 2024……………………… 120000
2024 consumable words……………… 316278

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 5
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 87
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…… 239
Short story collections………………… 31

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

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