Dream the Movie, Write the Novel
by Marcus A. Nannini
So you want to write, to apply an extremely overused phrase, the great American novel. Wow! Not exactly an original opening on my part, and just about now you have likely decided you know where I’m going with this so you have decided to stop reading and move on. Bear with me, because I tend to take my stories on unexpected tangents. (Read the reviews.)
As a writer – or aspiring writer – you have ideas and you have confidence, a confidence solidly based on your life experiences. Perhaps your junior high English Composition teacher told you she liked your writing style. Or maybe it was a high school teacher who took an interest in your writing. But until now, you never went anywhere with it. Somehow life got in the way. Doesn’t something always get in the way?
Now, however, you have determined you want to express yourself with written words – words so damned wonderful and compelling that at least 5 million people will pay retail price to read them. Maybe 6 million. It’s time for you to pursue the life path you always desired which, of course, means sitting in front of a white screen, just waiting for you to fill it with words.
Suddenly you wake up. You’re sweating, though the A/C is pumping away. Your heart is racing. Around you everything is familiar, and all is in place – yet it isn’t. Something is different, but what?
You can hear your partner lightly snoring, just loudly enough to drown out your dog’s heavy breathing. The familiar mechanical whine of the A/C is serving as white noise. But something is different. You can feel the difference.
You find yourself energized, though it is not yet four in the morning. You can’t go back to sleep, so you grope your way over to the laptop, open Word, hit the File tab, then the New tab, and right before your eyes appears a blank white page. (Scroll down.)
Yeah, yeah, you’ve been here before. Congratulations. But there’s something different this time. You know there is definitely something different. You are feeling a resolve. A resolve unlike anything you’ve experienced before. The dream from which you suddenly awoke depicted a future that had become a reality, a reality from which you detoured years ago. But detours are intended to ultimately put the traveler back onto the correct road – and your detour has finally come to its end.
By God, you are about to change the pattern of your life. You are going to write a novel, and this time you are going to see it through to publication. You know in your bones you will finish what you are about to start, and it’s going to be the best thing you’ve ever written. In fact, it will be the best compilation of words you have ever strung together, and this is only the beginning. You promise yourself this time things will definitely be different.
You woke up with a movie playing in your head. It wasn’t a movie you’d ever seen: somehow it was your book in movie format. The beginning scene, a gripping, hold-onto-your-seats vision, is something you suddenly know how to translate into writing. Your dream has handed you the first 25 percent of your novel in movie format. You’ve always had a gift for expressing what your eyes can see with words, and this movie is the visual that’s been the missing element in all your prior book-writing endeavors.
You race through a quick outline of the first fourth of your novel and come face-to-face with the dreaded middle 50 percent – the part of the book where your protagonist never seemed quite capable of pulling off the story. Their challenges were tired and over-used, your characters were wishy-washy, and your antagonist was always a singular, never a plural. But you witnessed the movie in your dream. In the space of another hour, you have finished the working outline for the previously dreaded middle 50 percent. Something is definitely different!
It’s about seven in the morning, so you take a break to make a 14-cup pot of extra strong French Roast coffee. Now it’s time to outline a great finish. In the past, you failed to create proper climatic buildup, which always resulted in your beta readers hemming and hawing when pressed for their opinions. This time, you’ve seen the movie, you own the script, and by darn, you’ve just outlined a smash-bang final 25 percent of your novel that is certain to force the reader to stay up until they finish it.
Based on your dream movie, you have envisioned the outline of your novel and can begin to fully express your story with words. You are an author now, and you literally envisage each scene and each character because you have lived the scenes and witnessed the characters on the big screen within your head. Each page substitutes words for the action in your dream film. You convey the entire story, right down to the last detail. But it’s a book, not a movie script.
A movie script sets up scenes and provides dialogue, but it is up to the director and actors to bring the story to life on the big screen. You are the author, and as such you determine the locations and describe the settings. You are simultaneously the director, the wardrobe department, the makeup stylist, and the editor. Nobody appears in your story who is not exactly as you want them to be, where you want them to be, and doing what you want them to do. Your convert your dream into words.
When I find myself staring at a blank page, I imagine the movie I’m about to present in the form of words. Sometimes I envision a single scene and paint it with words, much as they do in the storyboarding process of moviemaking. A storyboard can help me bridge a gap in the story. Perhaps my approach is the reason I have never suffered from what is referred to as writer’s block.
Tempo is critically important in movies, and at least doubly so in books. Should a character be plopped on the head with bird poop, you needn’t get bogged down in your description of the bird. Detail is necessary, but it can spill into overkill if you are not careful.
A writer doesn’t need to actually experience a dream to be successful. Success is measured in many ways, but for an author I believe it means seeing your book published, at no cost to you with respect to the physical act of publishing. Making the time to write is an entirely different matter. Just as is making the time to pitch your masterpiece to the publishing houses, of which there are hundreds. I hear so many would-be authors complain about lacking the time to write. Others say they try to designate a specific time of day for writing, but it frequently doesn’t work out.
I won’t go into the nuts and bolts of time management. We’re all adults and can figure out how to better use our time – and if your novel is potentially that good, you will find a way to manufacture the needed time. I know that simply scheduling a specific time of day for writing does not work for me, unless I have a deadline.
Writing requires creativity and, for me, programming a time of day to be creative is something I have trouble with. I don’t think creativity can be scheduled. I prefer to set a daily goal and work around it. For example, with my current nonfiction project, the publisher wants me to come in between 60,000 and 63,000 words and keep my photos to not more than 40 or 50. While the word count is one-third less than a novel, the research time is onerous.
My daily goal is 1,000 words, based upon the date by which I want my first draft completed and ready to send off to Oxford, seeking the green light to proceed and with a contract in hand. Many days I easily write 2,000 words; other days I might only manage 600. It depends mostly on the research element. But the time of day I write is fluid, changing from day to day, based upon my mood and life interferences.
I set goals, but they are not hard and fast. I may decide to take most of a weekend off and modify my goals accordingly. The creative juices flow best, for me, when I am not forcing the issue and backing myself into self-created deadline corners. I must be flexible to be at my book-drafting best.
I believe if a person is having trouble dedicating time to writing, they should probably pull back from the project and take a deep breath. I suggest using word-count goals for each week, rather than setting aside specific time slots for writing. With your stated goal as the motivator, I believe the time you require to write will make itself available to you. The only degree of self-discipline required is to set a reasonable goal and consistently achieve it.
Next thing you discover is your movie has become a book – a good book. Then you move into the editing phase and do so, front to back, more than once, as you want it to be the best movie/book possible. Remember, the success of every movie depends in no small part on the skill of the editor. A book lacking a good editor is a book that’s not as good as it could be.
If you are reading this post, I consider it a given that you have the talent to create an excellent movie/book of your own. Set reasonable goals and do your best to stick with them. Never get down on yourself. With respect to your book, you are the director, so stay in control of the process and it will get done.
Marcus Nannini began his journalistic career when he published his own newspaper in the sixth grade, charging 25 cents for the privilege of reading the only printed copy of each edition. During his undergraduate years, Nannini was a paid reporter and worked three semesters as the research assistant for journalism professor and published author Richard Stocks Carlson, Ph.D. Nannini is a life-long history buff with a particular interest in World War II and the Pearl Harbor attack. His continuing curiosity over several Japanese aerial photographs and the turtling of the U.S.S. Oklahoma lead him to write Chameleons, first as a screenplay and now as a full-length novel.