“All my books start in my head as films or documentaries that I then have to adapt for a novel. If I can’t see it, I can’t write it,” says Karen Traviss, author of Going Grey. “In every scene, I’m walking the point of view character through a three-dimensional landscape and interacting with it through the characters’ eyes, seeing what they see and thinking what they think. Even my scene and chapter transitions are often pretty much the ones I learned making documentaries and features, almost to the point of dissolves and fades.”
I love this quote, from the IO9 article The Secret of Writing An Action Movie in Book Form. The article and various comments from notable authors pretty accurately describe the way I wrote my novels, which I always self-described as akin to transcribing a movie to book form. In my head, I would compose a scene, imagine dialogue and action that would look and sound good on-screen, and reconstruct that into words designed to capture that action and mood.
I regularly “animated” my characters by picturing certain actors—sometimes in one of their memorable roles, say, Sean Connery playing James Bond… sometimes imagining them in a role that they’ve never played, say, Katherine Hepburn playing Lara Croft—then imagined how they will react in the situations I’d put them in, as if I was watching them act it out on-screen. I also wrote minimal internal dialogues, preferring to have my characters react directly to the events around them in a way that would be obvious to someone watching the scene. That made it easier, for me, to create realistic dialogue, predict actions and reactions, and set the pace and flow of a story.
And I noticed early on that when I wrote my novels, I tended to keep chapters to the same approximate length throughout the book… almost as if I was keeping time with the story and adding predictable and appropriate dramatic pauses-slash-commercial breaks. This was something I didn’t actually plan; it just seemed to happen, almost subconsciously, as I outlined and then wrote the story.
How well has it worked? Well, I’ll just modestly point out my 4.4-star ratings average on Amazon, and leave it there.
Yes, my stories are very cinematic… as opposed to, I suppose, being literary. I tried to match the tone and feel of a movie or television show, compose the same kind of scenes, strike the same kind of dialogue that you’d hear on screen… which, to me, is more natural than the action and dialogue you usually get in a literary novel. It was that ability which prompted a television exec and old friend of mine to invite me to work on teleplays for some prospective projects of his. And I found that writing teleplays wasn’t much of a stretch for me; just taking the kind of storytelling I was already doing, and putting it into an actual script format.
There are differences in the way you approach storytelling from one medium to the next: The staging, dialogue and descriptions you use in one medium, say, books, isn’t the same as what you’d use in movies, or in comic books, or in radio plays. But borrowing the storytelling cues from one can give you great new ways of expressing yourself in another.